Today August 14, 2019 is another day set aside to test the credibility of the electoral system Liberia, as the hearing office of the National Elections Commission (NEC) is expected to hand down its final ruling into complaints bordered around alleged elections irregularities and fraud.
The complaints were filed by Telia Urey and Bishop Slebo Frank, two of the Representative candidates who contested in the recent Representative by-election held in Montserrado electoral District #15.
Telia Urey ran on the ticket of the four collaborating opposition political parties, including the Alternative National Congress (ANC) of businessman Alexander Benedict Cummings, the former ruling Unity Party (UP), the Liberty Party (LP) of Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine and the All Liberian Party (ALP) of her father, businessman Benoni Urey. Slebo Frank ran as an independent candidate.
Yesterday saw Urey's and Frank's legal team and the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and the National Elections Commission (NEC) legal team each take the stage and delivered their final arguments after pleading their respective sides for about about a week.
The chief hearing officer of the NEC, Cllr. Muana S. Ville, thanked the two sides for being civil over the course of the week-long adjudication and called on them to show up today at 2 p.m. at the Commission's headquarters in order to receive the verdict of the arguments in the complaints.
"Having heard you all argue and, particularly concluding your arguments today (August 13), we hereby adjourn and extend you the invitation to come here tomorrow at 2 p.m. for the final ruling," Ville said as he knocked his desk with the gavel.
At the time of the hearing, Telia Urey and her co-complainant's lawyers, Cllrs. David Gibson and Lavela Supuwood, argued that today's hearing from the NEC hearing office is not just about District #15 but the entire country, which is yet to prove itself to the world that it is mature enough to handle its internal problems without international intervention.
"Our witnesses have testified that there were also cell phones used. While FRR was available, elections officers also used serial numbers to identify voters. This was a violation of NEC's own regulations," Cllr. David Gibson of the four collaborating political parties said.
Cllr. Gibson said the alleged irregularities in District #15 are sufficient enough for the NEC to nullify the current results since the polling places quarantined are already marked by frauds and severe irregularities.
He and Cllr. Supuwood called on the NEC hearing office to call for a rerun in the July 29 Montserrado District #15 Representative By-Election or declare Telia Urey winner, since she is already in the lead and has submitted into evidence enough proofs to justify that her poll watchers and agents were wrongly treated in order to intimidate them so as to have the freedom to stuff ballots in favor of her closest rival, Abu Bana Kamara.
"It is about time this panel of investigators prove to the Liberian people and the Constitution that they are a team of integrity. They should not think about themselves, but the interest of 39,000 registered voters in District #15," Cllr. Supuwood said.
About the use of addendum, the legal team contested that most of those who were allowed to vote by use of the addendum were not security officers assigned at the polling places, neither were they NEC staff following the process on the field on elections day or agents of international organizations.
"Our rivals did not refute the fact that they used the addendum. They admitted to it and tried providing excuses but we are aware that they were wrong on grounds that the Supreme Court, in the Brumskine versus the NEC in 2017, ruled the use of the addendum out except for election workers, security and drivers or agents of our international partners," Supuwood added.
Supuwood and his colleagues argued that there should have been only the Final Registration Roll (FRR) of the NEC used at the polling centers for the identification of voters, but the NEC staff at the polling places across District #15 and the entire Montserrado used the polling places' serial numbers.
It may be recalled that on July 29, 2019 there was also the Senatorial by-election to fill in the vacancy left by the death of Senator Geraldine Doe-Sheriff. Abraham Darius Dillon, of the four collaborating opposition political parties, won by landslide and has since been certificated by the NEC as Senator of Montserrado County.
Dillon defeated CDC candidate Paulita C.C. Wie and five other contenders.
Urey, Frank and five other contenders ran each in order to fill the vacancy created by the death of Rep. Adolph Lawrence, who died in a tragic car accident in the early morning of March 25, 2019 along the Harbel Monrovia highway. He was on his way from Buchanan where he went to celebrate his 50th birth anniversary.
He left to mourn his wife, Grand Bassa County Senator, Yongblee Kangar Lawrence, children and relatives.
"We, lawyers, are responsible for crises or peace in this country. This whole thing is a trap for us and the onus is on you, the NEC hearing officers, to prove the Liberian people wrong for thinking that you cannot keep our peace," Cllr. Lavela Supuwood cautioned, during his closing argument.
"We are not dealing with a situation that has to do with either or; when it is white call it white, when it is black, call it black."
Meanwhile, the Coalition for democratic Change (CDC)'s lawyers trashed Cllr. Supuwood and his colleagues' arguments and termed them as mere propagandas intended to threaten the democracy of the country.
Audience listens intently to the final arguments at the NEC adjudication from the Montserrado District 15 Election
"This is not my personal case. It's good that we are going through thsese processes with open minds. We cannot honor speculations, hearsay, they say, others. The have given no substantial evidence to nullify election results or call for a rerun of the election," Cllr. Kukuyor Whleh Teh argued.
He said that it is frustrating that, the same collaborating opposition political parties, who have willingly accepted the result of the Senatorial by-election, in which their candidate emerged victorious, are the same ones complaining that the NEC is unfair and not willing to give them the victory they think they have gained from the District #15 Rep. By-election.
"The same FRR and addendum were also used in the Senatorial by-election and their candidate won. The best thing, if they are fair to even themselves, was to reject the result, even though their candidate won," Wleh said.
According to him, there was no evidence established that there were people added on the addendum who were not NEC staff at the polling places, security personnel, or those other legally accepted individuals.
"We are not here to speak to speculations. As far as this hearing is concerned, there has been no evidence to prove that those whose names were placed on the addendum list were not legally accepted as per the NEC's own regulations or the Supreme Court's ruling into the Brumskine versus NEC's elections case in 2017," he said.
He boasted that he had not much time to think because there was nothing complex about the allegations pertaining to District #15 Representative By-Election.
"I had no reason to bother myself with so much reasoning or research into their allegations. They are all mere allegations without and base and, interestingly, former Associate Justice, Philip Banks settled the matter when he said in 2017 that, before an election result is cancelled the evidence must be of a substantial standing," Whleh further argued.
He said Telia Urey and her supporters should be willing to accept the ruling and subsequently the election results, whether they win or not.
Wleh added that the issue is not about how many witnesses one produces at a legal proceeding but what matters is the truth that each of the witnesses speaks to.
Throughout the hearing, CDC produced no witness but decided to be a co-defendant to the NEC, simply because they have their interest, Abu Kamara, whom, Cllr. Whleh said, is the presumed winner based on what he and his colleagues believe the remaining 20 quarantined polling places have in store for their candidate.
"NEC produced four witnesses. We were cited by the NEC. Better still even if we were not cited by the NEC we could still have made ourselves a party to this case by law," he said.
He said Frank Slebo was and is still a no factor into the proceedings owing to the fact that he got only 22 votes of the over 10,000 votes so far counted by the NEC.
"He is only trying to save his face but it won't work for him. He admitted as a witness that he signed all the records of counts. What else is there to argue against? He has failed and his partner Telia Urey is a part of the failed class in the political struggle of District #15," he added.
Cllr. Whleh worked alongside Attorney Phil Tarpeh Dixon and others. Dixon is a deputy Minister at the Ministry of Labor.
While the hearing was ongoing, there was an altercation outside of the NEC compund in Sinkor. It is alleged that stones and sachets of water were thrown at opposing sides between the supporters of Telia Urey and those of Abu Kamara.
One of the persons who is said to have had a direct impact of the incident is ALP standard bearer, Benoni Urey. He is the father of Telia Urey.
In an interview with journalists in the fence of the NEC, Urey alleged that he was stoned by some unknown young men while others threw water at him and called him names.
"I don't know why it has to be like this but if President Weah does not speak to his people, things might go out of hand," Urey said, noting that he thought to let it be without calling for any police intervention neither the court.
"I believe that these guys were told to do what they did to me by some higher ups. Maybe it is the President but I am not deterred," he said as he alleged.
About his daughter's fate relative to the NEC hearing office's ruling today, he said that he expects nothing less than a victory verdict for his daughter.
"We could not have come to where we are but, for the President to say that under no condition, while he is President in this country, a Urey will win any election, is alarming. We are not seeking anything wrong but we deserve justice and justice we must get," he said. "We, too, are Liberians and should be protected by the same law that protects any other citizen."
It may be recalled that during the Montserrado By-election campaign period, President Weah, in an appearance at the launch of the senatorial campaign for Paulita Wie, held at his CDC headquarters, said he was speaking not as the President of Liberia but as the political leader of the CDC. He also said that no day will a Urey win election in the country once he serves as the political leader of CDC and, by extension, the President of Liberia.