18 February 2013

Liberia: Spotlight On NEC

The current status of members of the National Elections Commission (NEC) appears to be under spotlight as the opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) says their tenure of office expires next month.

Towards this development, CDC says any reappointment of NEC commissioners should be done in a "broader context or electoral reform and should involve extensive consultations with political parties and other stake-holders."

At a news conference at the party's headquarters in Congo Town Saturday, CDC did not explain the rationale behind its call for extensive consultations on the appointment of new NEC Commissioners. But the party is known to have been openly dissatisfied with the performance of the commissioners in their handling of the electoral process.

Also with more than a year left for the submission of recommendations for a possible constitutional referendum in 2014, CDC warned that the process could fail if more time is not given to the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) to carry on its mandate of reviewing the constitution.

"The CDC notes that constitutional and electoral reforms may fail if reform efforts lack a strategic and coordinated implementation framework. We believe that national security hinges on the quality and content of our constitution. The President has mandated the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) to hold extensive and inclusive consultations to review the constitution and propose appropriate amendments for a National Referendum to be held by 2014.

"Given the complexity of the constitutional reform process, we argue that 2014 is too short a time frame, since these reforms do not merely involve a few amendments but fundamental and significant changes to the constitution as we know it," Nathaniel F. McGill, Secretary General of the CDC told journalists at a press conference at the party's headquarters in Congo Town, Saturday.

Liberia's 1986 constitutions is described by some legal experts as "vague" with many of its clauses that deal with the issue of nationality other crucial national issues being condemned by some citizens.

It came into force during a military regime of late President Samuel K. Doe who brutally seized power from the then True Whig party in a bloody coup.

In the 2011 presidential and general elections, article 52(c) of the Liberia constitution, which prescribed a 10-year residency clause as a prerequisite requirement for one to run for the presidency, came under a serious spotlight by many politicians who described it "undemocratic."

But a Supreme Court ruling setting the clause aside after a failed amendment at a national referendum that year gave majority of the candidates including President Sirleaf an opportunity to participate in the elections.

Just after those elections, and her subsequent inauguration for another term of office, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf set up a committee to review the constitution and propose appropriate amendments for a possible national referendum to be held by 2014.

However, at a press conference, Mr. McGill said that holding any referendum in 2014 would undermine public ownership of the [constitutional review] process.

He said that such a venture would lead to a failure by the CRC to exhaust "those critical issues inherent in attempts to reform the Liberian constitution in its current post-conflict setting."

"Given these realities, we call on the constitutional review committee to hold a national conference on reform to tease out reform agenda.

"We are aware that the CRC has been holding consultations with stake-holders but we note these consultations must now be catapulted to national visibility, where all relevant stake-holders, including political parties and civil society will have a credible say on the reform process, "he suggested.

A constitutional reform would also affect the content of the electoral law and therefore, the two should move simultaneously, according to the CDC scribe.

There are reports that the tenure of some commissioners at the National Elections Commission (NEC) would expire by March this year.

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