24 November 2017

Liberia: NEC Board Rejects Demand for Recusal - Ruling in LP, UP Vs NEC Case Expected Today

Photo: FrontPage Africa
NEC Chairman Jerome Kokoya (right) announcing provisional results

NEC lawyers including Cllr. F. Musa Dean (center) called on the Board of Commissioners to throw out the LP's and UP's case.

The Board of Commissioners (BOC) of the National Elections Commission (NEC) yesterday rejected Liberty Party (LP)'s call demanding its recusal before any rerun or runoff election is held.

Appearing before the BOC, LP officially submitted its motion calling on the BOC to quit and for new commissioners to hear their complaints and conduct either the runoff or the rerun elections, should their plea be granted by the Supreme Court.

The BOC, however, quashed LP's motion and went ahead with the hearing into the ongoing electoral dispute joint case filed against the Commission by the Liberty Party and Unity Party.

The BOC said Brumskine has no legal ground or reason that warrants their recusal.

Over the weekend by NEC hearing office denied and dismissed the two political parties' alleged fraud and irregularities' claims, leaving the two aggrieved parties to appeal to the BOC that is actually the principal accused party in the case.

LP meanwhile took an exception to the BOC's refusal to recuse itself and is expected to formalize its appeal before the Supreme Court.

Notwithstanding, the two parties stood for hearing yesterday to prove before the BOC that the NEC chief hearing officer, Cllr. Muana S. Ville, was in error by trashing their claims as he ruled in the case on Friday, November 18.

In his opening statement, Cllr. Oswald Tweh of LP said the NEC intentionally committed electoral fraud on October 10 and, based on its magnitude, there is a need to allow a rerun of the representative and presidential elections.

"The right of our fellow citizens as delineated in Article 77 (b) of the 1986 constitution was violated on October 10 when they were denied the chance to vote due to the NEC's negligence to make available a comprehensive Final Registration Roll (FRR). The late opening such as 2:30 p.m. of polling places and change of polling centers such as in Fuama, Bong County, without adequate notice to the voters, are among the gross irregularities and fraud that marked the October 10 polls," Cllr. Tweh said.

Article 77 (b) states that all citizens at the age of 18 and above are entitled to the right of voting for all public officials in general as well as special public elections.

He pointed out that the NEC's witnesses, executive director Lamin Lighe and political affairs director Joseph Yarsiah, did not debunk the accusation that the Commission did not create a new FRR at all other points.

On the contrary, Cllr. Benedict Sannoh of the intervening party (UP) disagreed on the call for a rerun but hoped that corrective measures would be taken at the end of the case.

It may be recalled that November 7 was the expected date for the runoff election between Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai of UP and Sen. George Manneh Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) but, due to an appeal filed by LP to the Supreme Court, a stay order was placed on the runoff; thereby calling on the Commission to look into all elections' disputes before it before proceeding with any preparation for the runoff election.

Cllr. Sannoh said the NEC conducted October 10 elections with cruelty and disregard for the constitution. "The ruling of the hearing officer was vague and ambiguous and should be condemned by the BOC if only they consider themselves as a people of integrity.

"Cllr. Ville condemned all of our claims and termed our allegations as presumed allegations," he said. "The NEC failed to abide by its regulation as enshrined in Section 3.6 of the Elections Laws. It calls for the FRR to be published not only at magistrates' offices but at other public facilities across the country to allow voters to verify their voter registration information before the day of elections."

When asked by a member of the board of commissioners, Samuel Joe, whether he (Sannoh) was informed that 75.2 percent of the 2.1 million registered voters voted with enthusiasm on October 10, both Tweh earlier and later Sannoh said as long as thousands of people did not vote due to alleged problems caused by the Commission, the 75.2 percent is not significant.

Sannoh named legal or constructive fraud and actual fraud as the two types anyone may commit. "They are focusing on actual fraud but we are not focusing on that. They have committed legal fraud so as to give a candidate an advantage in the elections. They have repeatedly told us that there were challenges but they failed to be specific," he noted, adding that NEC's challenges are frauds.

He called on the Commission to remove ghost names from the FRR and those who registered to vote and voted multiple times during the elections.

"This call, if heeded to will bring relief to the runoff elections," Sannoh said.

Cllr. Varney Sherman, the lead lawyer for UP, supported Sannoh's statement by pointing at the BOC and directly accused them of masterminding the fraud.

Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine, the standard bearer of LP told the BOC that the legal campaign he is involved in with UP, ALP, and ANC by his side is intended to make his grandchildren express pride tomorrow in having a country free from the bad electoral system.

"What we are pushing here today is not about legal knowledge. Cllr. Musa Dean should know that if only he was looking at the bigger picture we are seeing," Brumskine said, noting that it is unfortunate that the NEC that is accused of doing wrong is the same body investigating the matter.

"It is unfortunate that you are adjudicating a case involving yourself as the accused. You all know conscientiously that the NEC is not just an ordinary government agency. It is an administrative agency responsible to keep peace in the country through the conduct of free, fair and transparent elections," he noted.

He told the BOC and the listening audience that inasmuch as it is said the burden of proof is on the shoulder of the accuser (in this case being his party and UP) it is also possible for the burden to shift from the accuser to the accused.

"For the sake of peculiarity, you have the evidence we need. Produce it and let's see if we are falsely accusing you. Go and think. All of you should go and think," he said firmly, pointing at each member of the BOC.

He referenced Commissioner Jonathan K. Weedor's disagreement with Cllr. Jerome G. Korkoya as a melting point which questioned the entire BOC's integrity, (excluding Weedor).

"I am 66 years old now and have been through the 1979 rice riot, April 12, 1980 coup 'd'état, and the 1989 civil war but never threatened before as I am threatened now. I feel not secure at all and this is only so because I am up for a just cause. A cause to redeem our country from the bad electoral system as carried out by this Commission," he said.

Reacting to LP and UP's arguments, the defense counsel, Frank Musa Dean, said the two parties have failed and should accept their failures.

"The preponderance (prevalence) of evidence is not by the mere testimonies of numerous witnesses. It is not by hearsay testimony as provided by Cllr. Frances Jonson Allison who co-headed the conduct of the 2005 elections as well as served as a Chief Justice of our country," Dean said.

He expressed his sorrow for LP and UP's failure to acknowledge that their own witnesses, Wilmot Paye, chairman of UP and Josiah Flomo Joekai, a defeated candidate in Montserrado electoral district #3, lied in their testimonies that their names were not found on the FRR.

"It is sad to note that Joekai, with all his education, does not know the first law of nature which states that self-preservation is cardinal. Joekai, a former staff of the NEC went to the poll, failed and congratulated Ceebee C. D. Barshell, the victor in the representative race on October 10," he said, adding that Joekai even wrote on social media stating that the October 10 polls were free, fair and transparent.

He said challenges and irregularities can in no way amount to massive fraud as claimed by LP, UP and others.

"The names of some of the voters were not found on the FRR because they queued at their voting centers as early as 3 a.m., the time that queue controllers were not yet assigned to those polling centers. Getting them on their rightful lines was an overwhelming challenge. This led to the creation of addenda to allow them to vote. We did not create a new FRR only because we allowed them to vote by accommodating them through the addenda," Dean said.

He noted that the polls were not held in isolation of international partners. "All the international observers noted the challenges the Commission had at the polls but did not, in any report nullify the efforts of the Commission. They have not called for a rerun. Let LP and UP, the sympathizer, go and sit down. They have no case, BOC, trash it as the hearing office did and if they wish, let them go to the Supreme Court," he said.

The BOC reserved ruling to be delivered today at 1 p.m.

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