Liberia Likely to Experience Delay in 2017 Presidential Elections

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Monrovia – In only a matter of weeks, Liberia’s National Elections Commission will commence unveiling the list of candidates certified to contest the upcoming presidential and legislative elections.

“The bottom line is if you do not have Ombudsman in place, everyone will be allowed to run because the Senate is dragging its feet on the confirmation process of those appointed by the President” – A source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

But one small nagging issue continues to complicate and already complicated election process: The controversial Code of Conduct and the fate of the Ombudsman Committee expected to decide the fate of many political figures affected by the ruling.

In March, the high court ruled that the Code of Conduct, signed into law by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2014, is legal and binding on the republic for all its intents and purposes.

The Act, which was submitted by the Executive to the National Legislature in 2009, states that all officials appointed by the President shall not engage in political activities, canvass or contest for elected offices, use government facilities, equipment or resources in support of partisan or political activities, among others.

The Act also stipulates that: “Wherein, any official of government who desires to contest for public elective office shall resign said post at least two years prior to the date of such public elections; b) Any other official appointed by the President who holds a tenured position and desires to contest for public elective office shall resign said post three years prior to the date of such public elections.

Ruling on a petition for Declaratory Judgment filed by legal counsel of Bong County Superintendent Selena Polson-Mappy, the high court declined to confirm her plea that the code of conduct is unconstitutional, unmeritorious both in fact and in law.

Accordingly, section 5.2 also states, “Wherein, any person in the category stated in section 5.1 herein above, desires to canvass or contest for an elective public position, the following shall apply; a) Any Minister, Deputy Minister, Director-General, Managing Director and Superintendent appointed by the President pursuant to article 56 (a) of the Constitution and a Managing Director appointed by a Board of Directors, who desires to contest for public elective office shall resign said post at least two (2) years prior to the date of such public elections; b) Any other official appointed by the President who holds a tenured position and desires to contest for public elective office shall resign said post three (3) years prior to the date of such public elections.”

Since the court’s ruling, attention has shifted to the controversy regarding the issue of the Ombudsman. President Sirleaf recently appointed a committee headed by former Police Director Chris Massaquoi. Other members of the committee include Atty. Edward Dillon, as a member.

A third member Attorney Massa Jallabah, was later removed over age requirements. She was replaced with the former president of the Press Union of Liberia, Elizabeth Hoff who also served as Deputy Minister for Technical Services at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.

Fears are increasingly heightening amongst political observers the Ombudsman issue could complicate the process leading to the October elections.

“The bottom line is if you do not have Ombudsman in place, everyone will be allowed to run because the Senate is dragging its feet on the confirmation process of those appointed by the President,” said a source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Senate, according to sources, have been reluctant to complete confirmation of the committee which could in the end give many of those eyeing political office a free pass into the electoral process.

The Senate set up an ad hoc committee to vet the Ombudsman and its mandate. Two consecutive sessions designated to hear the Committee’s report during Plenary did not materialize.

Senators contended that they needed to be served copies of the Committee’s report for their perusal before it is put on the floor for discussion.

At the same time, many senators are tight-lipped on their opinion on the composition of the Ombudsman, with some noting that they are waiting to see what’s in the committee’s report.

The ad hoc committee is being headed by Senators Jewel Howard Taylor and Morris Saytumah.

The President, according to sources has been under immense pressure from current UP officials in her government to find a way for them to contest, a risk political observers say could further complicate the upcoming presidential and legislative race.

But even if the Ombudsman crew follows the high court ruling, there is a possibility that many of those likely to be affected will take their filings to the Supreme Court.

The opposition Liberty Party, whose standard bearer Charles Walker Brumskine recently tipped FDA former MD Harrison Karnwea as his running mate is also said to be rethinking the move with one aide suggesting to FrontPageAfrica that Cllr. Brumskine is being urged to explore other options.

One name that is popping up is Edith Gongloe Weh.

The sister of former Solicitor General Tiawon Gongloe is enjoys immense popularity in vote-rich Nimba and performed well against Senator Prince Johnson in the 2011 senatorial race.

Also in the air, is the fate of former Central Bank of Liberia Governor J. Mills Jones who has criticized the Code of Conduct ruling and has threatened to continue with his quest for the presidency.

Key Remaining Dates Leading To Elections:

May 3 to June 20, 2017: Civic Voter Education for exhibition will be held

June 9-30, 2017: Accreditation of party agents, media and observers for elections will take place

June 10-20, 2017: Exhibition of provisional registration roll and distribution of voter ID cards

June 10-24, 2017, objections and appeals on exhibition to be held and determined

June 20, 2017: The Commission will publish voters’ roll regulations

July 1, 2017: Release of final voter registration figures

July 2-24, 2017: candidate nominations

July 20 to November 30: NEC will begin the accreditation process of civil society and community based organizations

July 27, 2017: Preliminary list of candidates published

 August 8, 2017: final list of candidates published

 August 8-October 8, 2017: Presidential and representative campaign period

August 8-October 8, 2017: Presidential and representative campaign period

August 15-September 30, 2017: Candidates debate period

August 15-September 30, 2017: Candidates debate period; October 10, 2017, election day and October 25, 2017, announcement of final results

October 10, 2017, election day

October 25, 2017: Announcement of final results

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