Liberia Risks Constitutional Crisis Over Delayed Elections


Monrovia – The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has become concerned about the current state of affairs surrounding the Presidential elections in Liberia.

Report by Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]

In a statement, the UNSC applauded political leaders for upholding the rule of law and channeling their grievances of the legal process, but urged that cases before the National Elections Commission (NEC) and the courts be adjudicated expeditiously. 

“The members of the Security Council called on Liberian claimants and institutions to resolve any disputes, including pending litigation, in an appropriate, fair, transparent, and expeditious manner with a view to permit the timely conclusion of Liberia’s electoral process and a peaceful transition of power to a new President in accordance with timelines outlined in Liberia’s Constitution,” UN release stated

But while expediency remains key to ordinary Liberians and the country’s international partners, the Liberty Party and its cohorts are not leaving any stone unturned in seeking justice to their claims, despite fears of they exhausting the timeline provided by the Constitution for turn over of power to the next democratically elected President. 

Having been denied their call for the cancellation of October 10 election results on basis that it was characterized by fraud and irregularities, the opposition Liberty Party in collaboration with the ruling Unity Party appealed to the NEC Board of Commissioners, but at the same time called on the Commissioners to recuse themselves from hearing the appeal. 

According to the Liberty and Unity Parties, the Chairman of the NEC, Cllr. Jerome Korkoya, had made statements that prejudiced case. 

At the hearing of the appeal on Thursday, the Board of Commissioners headed by Cllr. Korkoya, denied the motion for recusal on ground that the statement of the single individual on the board – the chairman – cannot affect the decision of entire board that comprises seven members. 

“The fact that the chairman made statements deemed unfavorable by complainant is not a legally sufficient ground for recusal; moreover decisions of the board are reviewable by the Supreme Court. Wherefore and view of the foregoing, because complainant motion for recusal has no legal basis in law, same is hereby denied and hereby so ordered,” Cllr. Korkoya said. 

While the Board is poised to render its ruling into the appeal to overturn ruling of Hearing Officer Muana Ville on Friday, November 24, 2017 at 13:00 GMT, the aggrieved party announced that they would take an appeal to the Supreme Court for the recusal of the Board of Commissioners from the hearing. 

 This would ultimately halt the ruling if filed before 13:00 GMT on Friday, November 24, 2017 in order to give the Supreme Court to the chance to look into the motion for recusal.

And should the ruling by the NEC, if it goes on; goes against the political parties, an appeal would definitely be taken at the Supreme Court. 

The Constitutional Crunch 

While these legal wrangling goes on between the political parties, the NEC and the Supreme Court, the constitutional timeline for handing over power is also running out day-by-day.

Many have predicted constitutional crisis if Liberia does not get a democratically elected President before the expiration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s tenure in January 2018.

Regional leaders including the Presidents of Guinea and Togo have expressed concerns about this constitutional crisis and called on all stakeholders to allow the rule of law take its course. 

On Tuesday, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari said the current political challenges in Liberia would be resolved through constitutional means. 

He also urged all parties in the crisis to exercise patience while waiting for the verdict of the Supreme Court. 

Buhari gave the assurance when he received the President Faure Gnassingbe of Togo, who is the current Chairman of ECOWAS, at the State House, Abuja on Tuesday. 

He expressed hope that the outcome of the country’s Supreme Court verdict would be acceptable to all in order to ensure a peaceful transfer of power. 

In an interview with the FrontPageAfrica, Cllr. Pearl Brown Bull, one of the signatories the 1986 Constitution, said the current political situation was not envisaged when the Constitution was being framed. 

She, however, critiqued the decision of the Liberty and Unity Parties for alleging fraud when, according to her, they do not have evidence to prove fraud. 

Cllr. Bull, however, declined to give an opinion on whether or not an interim government would permissible under the law with the unfolding situation. 

However, former Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism who now serves as Liberia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Lewis Brown, recently opined that a delay in the conclusion of these elections within the timeframe envisaged by the Constitution has the unfortunate effect of spinning the nation out of constitutional orbit, and thereby ushering us outside the security of the Constitution. 

Article 50 of the Liberian Constitution provides in part that  – “The President shall be elected by universal adult suffrage of registered voters in the Republic and shall hold office for a term of six years commencing at noon on the third working Monday in January of the year immediately following the elections.”

At least three months earlier, on the Second Tuesday in October of the election year, the Constitution provides for the conduct of election. 

Article 50 establishes limits on the Presidential term of office, and further defines the timely procedures for the smooth and orderly transfer of power to a successor. 

Mr. Browne wrote in a recent open letter to Liberians: “Of course the Constitution is about orderliness and security of individuals and the State, and it does provide for other safe and orderly transitions of power.

These are contained in Articles 63 and 64, and must never be understood to contradict Article 50. 

Article 63 and its multiple subsections address vacancies to the Offices of President and Vice President, on account of deaths, resignation, impeachment or the declaration of incapability to carry out the duties and functions of their respective offices – the guidelines and procedures for which declarations, the Constitution directs the Legislature to determine “no later than a year after the coming into force of the Constitution.” 

It is important to note that all such vacancies to which Article 63 refers are vacancies created while the President or vice President has actual terms to be carried out. They do not refer to vacancies created by the constitutional expiration of a term of office.” 

Article 64 of the Constitution states: “Whenever the Office of the President and of the Vice-President shall become vacant by reason of removal, death, resignation, inability or other disability of the President and the Vice-President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be sworn in as Acting President until the holding of elections to fill the vacancies so created.

“Should the Speaker be legally incapable or otherwise unable to assume the office of Acting President, then the same shall devolve upon the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.

“In any further line of descent, the office shall devolve in order upon the Deputy Speaker and members of the Cabinet in the order of precedence as established by law. The Elections Commission shall within ninety days conduct elections for a new President and a new Vice President.” 

Mr. Brown went on to explain constitutional line of succession were never intended nor can they be used to cure vacancies created by the expiration of the actual constitutional term of these elected offices. 

Brown: “Only the conduct of elections and the solemn and sacred inauguration of a President and vice President about three months thereafter can fill the vacancy created by the successful expiration of a constitutional term of Presidential office.” 

Brown also lamented that there is no constitutional power assigned to anyone or any agency of the government to determine a constitutional successor to a President or vice President at the constitutional expiration of the term of office of an incumbent President or vice President, safe through the conduct of democratic elections and the free will and expressions of the registered voters of Liberia; nor is there a constitutional duty assigned to anyone or any agency, through an appeal to the provisions of Article 64, to extend Presidential terms or undermine the constitutional limit of such terms. 

Mr. Brown: “We ought not to ever forget that there are always certain to be consequences when we allow ourselves to fall outside the safety of the Constitution. We cannot therefore emphasize this point enough, where no unexpired term for a President or Vice President exists, there cannot similarly exist a constitutional line of descent or succession to be invoked or applied.”