After an agonizing wait, the Supreme Court has now spoken. It has not annulled the elections results as prayed for by the protesting political parties. It has instead ordered a runoff election based on the attainment of certain benchmarks, prime amongst which is the clean-up by the National Elections Commission (NEC) of the Final Registration Roll (FRR).
This ruling has indeed brought a sense of relief to weary Liberians longing for a speedy conclusion to the elections imbroglio.
We hail the decision by the Supreme Court and we commend the Liberian people for exercising patience and maintaining a peaceful demeanor despite the apparent tension which had characterized the rather drawn out appeal process. The general calm with which the Supreme Court's decision was greeted is indeed testamentary to the fact, as pointed out in previous Editorials, that our system of Jurisprudence, established nearly 200 years ago, is indeed resilient enough to withstand the ravages of time.
According to Associate Justice Phillip A. Z. Banks, who read the summary of the Opinion of the Court, there were three issues on which it had to decide. First was the question of jurisdiction, meaning whether the Supreme Court was the proper forum for redress of the contesting parties' complaints; the second was whether Chairman Jerome Korkoya should have recused himself from the hearings into the appeal from the parties; and the third, whether or not the appellants proved by a preponderance of evidence that the elections were characterized by gross irregularities that made a rerun of the elections necessary.
On the first issue, Justice Banks pointed out that contrary to the ruling of the NEC Board of Commissioners that the Supreme Court was the wrong forum to seek relief, it was indeed the proper forum for redress of the parties' complaints.
On the issue of Korkoya's recusal, the Court correctly opined that NEC Board did not refute allegations that Korkoya had made remarks dismissing the complaints as baseless and were delay tactics.
The Court observed that the NEC Chairman is the ultimate head of the Commission and in another role he serves as head of the Board of Commissioners that sits on appeals. Because of his dual role, the Chairman cannot make comments which will show partiality. Therefore, according to Justice Banks, comments made by Chairman Korkoya were prejudicial to the parties and so the Board of Commissioners was in error to deny motion for recusal.
And finally, on the issue of widespread fraud and irregularities, the Court noted that while the parties did produce evidence to support their claims, the evidence was, however, low in magnitude and scope to constitute sufficient grounds for annulment and a rerun of the entire exercise. And the Supreme Court reminded the parties that they had the primary obligation to ensure that they were represented at every polling center but which they apparently failed to do.
The Court issued a scathing criticism of National Elections Commission (NEC) Chairman Jerome Korkoya for his refusal to recuse himself from presiding over the NEC hearings of the parties' complaints. This has led to widespread but unfounded speculations that NEC Chairman Korkoya is also ordered to recuse himself from presiding over the runoff elections.
This Newspaper, however, holds the position that the issue of NEC chairman Korkoya's recusal from presiding over the runoff elections was not decided by the Supreme Court simply because there was no motion before it calling for his recusal. Going forward, this is a matter which the parties will have to raise because the Court cannot do so sua sponte (of its own volition).
We think that the contesting political parties will have to run back to the Supreme Court to seek its mandate that Chairman Korkoya recuses himself from presiding over the runoff election.
The Court stressed the integrity of the Voters Roll which has been our most overriding concern and which the Supreme Court has addressed it in clear and succinct terms by ordering the NEC to clean up the Final Registration Roll (FRR). How and how long it is going to take is now the question on the minds of the public. Admittedly, this is a matter which the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has taken up with the dispatch of several experts to Monrovia.
Strangely enough, President Sirleaf has not extended a formal invitation to ECOWAS as protocol requires. It means, in effect, that the clean-up exercise undertaken by ECOWAS experts will have no legal effect. And amidst reports that NEC officials have begun tampering with the cleaned-up Voters Roll, we have every reason to suspect that the recommendations contained in the report of the ECOWAS experts have already been trashed.
Finally, will this matter be laid to rest in time to grant President Sirleaf's heart desire to turn over to a successor in befitting and appropriate ceremonies is the ultimate question only she can answer.