14 July 2010

Liberia: National Referendum Imminent

The leadership of the National Legislature has passed a Joint Resolution proposing a constitutional Referendum to amend certain provisions of the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia.

The National Elections Commission and its International partners in February and March, 2007, organized two in collaboration forum with political parties, alliances, coalitions, civil society organizations on electoral law reforms with National and International stakeholders.

At the consultative assembly, it was unanimously agreed by all stakeholders to amend certain provisions of the 1986 constitution in keeping with Article 91 of the Liberian Constitution, conduct a referendum to amend certain provisions of said constitution.

The draft bill was sent to the National Legislature by the National Elections Commission (NEC) along with the controversial threshold bill, and it has stayed over two years in the corridors of the National Legislature like the population threshold bill with lawmakers been heavily divided on numerical, political and geographical lines.

The draft bill has on numerous occasion surfaced in committee rooms in both Houses of the National Legislature with the setting up of a joint conference committee on the Resolution to look at the nitty-gritty of the bill and were tasked with the responsibility to advise their respective plenary.

After the Joint Conference Committee's probe into the bill, its findings and recommendation was presented to Plenary of the House of Representative, proposing that a constitutional referendum should be held in order to amend certain provisions of the 1986 constitution of Liberia.

The joint conference committee amended Article 52© of the constitution reducing residency for the presidency from ten (10) years to five (5) years prior to elections.

The portion of Article 52© which reads" resident in the Republic of Liberia ten years prior to the election, provided that the president and vice president shall not come from the same county" is amended to read" resident in the Republic five years prior to his election, provided that the president and the vice president shall not come from the same county.

Article 72(b) was amended so that the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court shall serve for life, except for the judges of the subordinate courts of Record who may be retired at age seventy (70).

Article 83(a) was amended so as to change the current constitutional election date and provide a new constitutional date for president, vice president, members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives, Chiefs, city mayors and city councils.

Voting for the president, vice president, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives shall be conducted throughout the Republic of Liberia on the first Tuesday of Dec ember of each election year. Elections for city mayors and their respective councils and chiefs shall be conducted within three years following general and presidential elections.

Article 83(b) of the constitution was also amended so that election for all public officers shall be done on a simple majority rule of valid votes cast in any election in Liberia, except for the president and the vice president which shall be by absolute majority of the valid votes.

If no candidate obtains an absolute majority in the first ballot, a second ballot shall be conducted on the second Tuesday following, the two candidates who received the highest number of votes on the first ballot shall be designated to participate in the run off election.

Two-thirds of the membership of the Senate and the House of Representatives have seen the need to amend certain provisions of the Liberian constitution, do make this proposal to be ratified by two-thirds of the registered voters, voting in a referendum conducted by the National Elections Commission not sooner than one year after the passage of the Resolution into law in accordance with Article 35 of the Liberian Constitution.

It is not clear whether these constitutional provisions will be used during the coming 2011 presidential and general election as observers are thinking that the process of holding referendum is capital intensive.

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