Liberia: National Elections Commission Postpones Lofa County Senatorial By-election
MONROVIA – The Board of Commissioners of the National Elections Commission has announced that the Lofa County by-election scheduled for May 10, 2022, is postponed and will not be held as expected due to ongoing legal issues between the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), Unity Party (UP) and the All Liberian Party (ALP).
Making the announcement over the weekend, the chairperson of the Commission, Mrs. Davidetta Brown Lansannah also announced the NEC has received the budgeted amount of US$1.2 million for the conduct of the election in Lofa County.
As it is, the NEC is awaiting a mandate from the Legislature to schedule a new date for the conduct of the election and it is believed that lawmakers have made an early return because of the situation involving the NEC and the Lofa County by-election.
The Supreme Court now has to decide whether or not the candidate on the ticket of the former ruling Unity Party (UP) should be allowed to contest in the Special Senatorial By-Election in Lofa County.
The decision came after NEC Hearing Office claimed that he lacks jurisdiction to render any judgment in the matter due to the constitutional questions and concerns raised.
The NEC staff ruled that due to the constitutional issues, in this case, the NEC is hereby prohibited from proceeding with any action regarding the endorsement of the Unity Party’s candidate for the Lofa County Senatorial by-election until the Supreme Court considers the constitutional questions involved.
“WHEREFORE AND IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, and so as to allow the opportunity for the Honorable Supreme Court to possibly consider the constitutional questions raised in this matter, the National Elections Commission (NEC) is hereby prohibited from taking any further action or endorsement and form or other documents put forth by defendant(s) herein regarding the fielding of a candidate until otherwise determined,” ruled Atty. Fomba M. Swaray, NEC hearing officer. “It is worth noting that the Constitution governing documents of political parties are not written at the bar of the administrative forum. Hence, questions as to whether a political governing document is wise or unwise, are best directed at the political parties.”
He said “Moreover, questions as to whether such agreement is constitutional or unconstitutional are best reserved for the honorable Supreme Court. Accordingly, this investigation does not make any determination on the Constitutional issues raised by complainants and defendants respectively.”
The NEC hearing officer ruling was regarding a complaint from the Alternative National Congress and Musa Bility faction of the Liberty Party to the electoral body to invoke Section 8.5 (2) CPP framework document as a means of rejecting and denying “any application from the ALP and UP to field candidates in their names in any election until the expiry of the 2023 elections, including up to six (6) months thereafter, same being the agreed contractual life of the CPP.”
However, the Unity Party and the ALP have taken exception to the ruling and filed an appeal for a review of the Hearing Officer’s decision to the NEC Board of Commissioners.
The UP and ALP are arguing that If NEC does not have the right to determine constitutional matters and rights, they should not have the authority to prohibit rights provided by the very constitution — as such they cannot be prohibited, by themselves, from processing the UP candidate for the pending senatorial by-election in Lofa County.
Lofa without senator
For the last two years, Lofa County has been without one of its two senators after former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai faced a hurdle in taking his seat.
His difficulty came when the Supreme Court halted his certification.
Samukai received the most votes in the December 8, 2020 special senatorial election. Of the 11 candidates who vied for the Lofa County senatorial seat, Samukai received 20, 431 votes, followed by independent candidate Cllr. Joseph Jallah with 13,968 votes.
He and two co-defendants were convicted for theft of property, criminal conspiracy, misuse of public money, and money laundering over US$1 million and sentenced to two years in prison, and ordered to restore the money.
The Samukai case, which has been incredibly contentious, came to a crossroads after the Supreme Court revoked the suspension of the two-year jail sentence handed against him and his two deputies for failing collectively failed to comply with the high court’s mandate and judgment to pay 50% of the judgment sum, equal to US$573,828.15, within six months of last year.