14 December 2017

Liberia: New Run-Off Date By NEC Upsets Legislators

Photo: Boakai Fofana/AllAfrica
An Elections Commission official outside a polling station (file photo).

The December 26 date for the runoff of the 2017 presidential elections might be altered by the Legislature as the lawmakers have vowed to punish authorities of the National Elections Commission (NEC) for "usurping legislative function when the commission unilaterally set the runoff date without the their approval."

On Tuesday, December 12, NEC Chairman Jerome Korkoya and the Board of Commissioners announced December 26 as the date for the runoff election after the stay order was lifted by the Supreme Court.

The Legislature, as the first branch of government, has the authority to make laws, make representation and exercise oversight. The Legislature also signs resolutions to make laws and the joint resolution of the Legislature is to propose constitutional amendments. This resolution and other resolutions require a two-thirds affirmative vote in each house, and are not submitted to the President.

Based on that, the Daily Observer yesterday gathered that the Senate has written an additional communication to Korkoya expressing concern for singlehandedly setting a new date for the runoff outside the constitution and without the approval of the legislature.

The NEC chair was earlier summoned to appear before that body on Tuesday, December 19, at 12 noon to address some pertinent problems the commission is faced with in the wake of the pending runoff presidential election.

The Senate's unanimous decision yesterday followed the reading of a communication from Lofa County Senator Stephen Zargo in which he requested the plenary to invite "the officials of the NEC, including its chairman to come over to appraise the honorable body on how the Commission intends to fix the problems associated with the election as contained in the modification of the Supreme Court opinion."

On the runoff date, the chairman on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Senator Dan Morias, is expected to lead the pending debate of the 'NEC's gross insubordination.'

Also, the Daily Observer has learned that the House's Chairman on Elections and Inauguration, Grand Bassa County District #3 Representative Gabriel Smith, is expected to write the plenary of the House of Representatives to summon Korkoya to answer "why he cannot be held in contempt for usurping the function of the legislature in setting the date of the runoff after the constitutional date of the runoff was never held."

Legislative pundits are arguing that the NEC should have written the Legislature on the deferral of the November 7 runoff and the lifting of the stay order by the Supreme Court, and thereby seeking the wisdom of the Legislature in setting a new date for the exercise, as it was done for the 2014 Special Senatorial Election.

They further argued that the Legislature should have established a joint committee, comprising members of the two houses, to establish a new date for the runoff approved by both plenaries.

It may be recalled that in 2014, the Joint Conference Committee on the 2014 Special Senatorial Elections of the Legislature set December 20, 2014, for the Special Senatorial Elections after the NEC proposed December 16. The elections were originally scheduled to be held on October 14, 2014, as defined by the Constitution. However, they were postponed until December 16 due to the Ebola outbreak. Shortly after December 16, they were postponed again until December 20.

Meanwhile as the National Elections Commission (NEC) moves on with preparations leading to the runoff election, Unity Party (UP), which is expected to go against the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) has written to NEC chairman Cllr. Jerome G. Korkoya requesting to participate in the cleaning up of the FRR.

In a letter from the party's legal counsel, Cllr. Benedict Sannoh requested the NEC to get UP involved in the cleaning of the FRR be included

"Accordingly, I have advised the chairman of Unity Party to meet with you in this regard with the view of moving forward with the process not unilaterally but collectively with the Unity Party," he said, adding that the fullest cooperation of the Commission is solicited in the interest of consolidating the democratic process that the Commission is charged with.

The letter noted "The Supreme Court's opinion contemplates close collaboration between NEC and the political parties and where this collaboration is not forthcoming it will leave the Unity Party with no alternative but to revert (return) to the Supreme Court with the request for clear directives as to how this mandate should be implemented.

"In our mind, there should be no announcements as to when the election should be held until the Supreme Court's mandate is fully implemented in particular the clean-up of the FRR."

Cllr. Sannoh, bringing the Commission to speed with the Supreme Court's mandate, said "You will also vividly recall that when the judgment of the Supreme Court was read on Saturday, December 9, at the NEC headquarters I made a submission on the record to effect that since the opinion of the Supreme Court does not state with clarity what cleaning up of the FRR entails, and the issue having been raised by Unity Party, the NEC should conduct the clean-up of the FRR in close collaboration with the two parties involved in the run-off."

He said further that in response to his submission then, the Commission said that it is not opposed to the suggestion and that in fact the Commission was invited by the UP to a meeting at 4:00pm on Saturday, December 9, to discuss the way forward.

"It is my understanding that the meeting was held, but I am reliably informed that the meeting ended abruptly and did not discuss the way forward and did not put into place any mechanisms for collaboration between the NEC and the party in furtherance of the execution of the Supreme Court's mandate," he said, adding "We are very concerned about this development."

When contacted, NEC's public affairs director, Henry Flomo said he was not aware of Chairman Korkoya receiving said communication. A phone call was also placed to get a response from Cllr. Korkoya but a man presenting himself as his (Korkoya) security guard said he was in a meeting and could not provide any response.

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