Liberia: Voting Rights for Diaspora Liberians Under Legislative Review

-- As well as campaign finance, party registration fees

A law aimed at amending the elections law, including political party and candidate registration fees, benchmark on financial expenditures of campaigns, as well as allowing Liberians in the Diaspora to vote, is under review at the House of Representatives.

The Plenary of the House has mandated the Joint Committee on Election and Inauguration, the Judiciary and Good Governance and Government Reform, to review for two weeks, beginning Thursday, May 16, 2019, the proposed "guidelines relating to the registration of political parties, and independent candidate of the amended version of March, 2011, and the New Election Law of 1986, which was amended in 2003, 2004 and December 2014".

A decision by Plenary was reached on Thursday, May 16, 2019, during the 30th day sitting, following a communication from Montserrado County District #11 Representative Richard Koon, urging his colleagues to consider reform in the election law, which is practiced in other countries, and political party and candidate registration fees as one of the key components considered for any reform.

According to a copy of the communication, which is in the possession of the Daily Observer, Koon suggested an amendment to include registration of political parties.

Section 8.1 (b) is proposed for amendment, "because the 1984 census results show that Liberia's population was a little over two million. Section 8.1 (b) of the guidelines relating to the registration of political parties and independent candidates, of the amended version of March, 2011, states, "500 qualified voters per county and in at least six counties". At the time, we had 11 counties. In 1847, there were five counties; in 1964, the number increased to nine, and 1984, two additional counties were added making it 11.

In 1984, five hundred qualified voters per county and from six counties out of 11 counties, made it a minimum requirement of 3,000 qualified voters for the establishment of political party.

The last census recorded in 2008 was 3.662 million, and that was 11 years ago. At present, based on a UNFPA report, it is established that Liberia's current population stands at 4.732 million since 2017.

Rep. Koon wrote: "It is in this situation that we think it is not proper to maintain 500 qualified voters per county, and at six counties only; we now, therefore, see it proper that the formation of political parties should constitute 3,000 qualified voters per county in at least 12 of the 15 counties. Therefore, equipping a qualified political party to have a minimum established membership of 36,000 qualified voters for the formation of said political party to become necessary."

He pointed that each political party should maintain an updated bank account with a balance not less than US$300,000 or its equivalent in Liberian dollars.

Redline in Candidates Campaign and Registration

In his communication, Koon said the time value of money is the concept that the amount of money available at the present time is worth more than the identical sum in the future due to its potential earning capacity.

He said the core principle of finance holds that, provided money can earn interest, any amount is worth more if received sooner. In this situation, Koon said, application and registration fees need to be adjusted to suit present day realities.

"In as much a candidate can spend for election during campaign what is stipulated by law, such increase as proposed should not be debated. President, not more than US$2 million; Vice President, not more the US$1 million; Senator not more than US$600,000, and Representative not more than US$400,000. These fees will also financially strengthen the financial capacity of the NEC," Rep. Koon said.

Application and Registration fees of aspirants and candidates shall amount to the Liberian dollar equivalent of the president, US$25,000; vice president, US$15,000; senator, US$10,000; representative, US$5,000 and for any other elective public office, the amount shall be determined by the Commission and shall not be less than US$1,000.

Liberians in the Diasporas to Vote

Koon has meanwhile called on his colleagues to amend the New Election Law to allow Liberians in the Diaspora to vote at the embassy in the country in which said Liberian is residing or as prescribed by the NEC.

He argued that every political party should have a diaspora chapter, and Liberians in the Diasporas are major sponsors of many of the political parties in Liberia.

Rep. Koon added, "Liberians in the Diaspora also sent remittances to family members, and friends, and these remittances have also helped in the erection of properties, and established businesses for the diaspora Liberians."

"As the bill emanates for Liberians in the Diaspora to have dual citizenship; there should be a count for their rights to vote in presidential election. Liberians in the Diaspora remit a little over US$580 million in 2017, which also speaks volumes that Liberians in the Diaspora should also vote in the presidential election in every election year." Rep. Koon argued.

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