Liberia: Is a 'Step-Down Protest' Unconstitutional?

opinion

Since members of the "Council of Patriots" announced December 30 as a day of a nationwide protest to call on President George Weah to 'step down' from power, many people, mainly those of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and other loyalists, have condemned the planned protest and described it as "Unconstitutional."

In recent days, Justice Minister Musa F. Dean added to the public condemnation by stating that the "Step down" campaign is not only unconstitutional but also 'treasonable.' Treason is a crime of trying to overthrow your country's government or of helping your country's enemies during war (Merriam Webster Dictionary).

Also adding to the voices condemning the planned protest is the political leader of the Alternative National Congress (ANC), Alexander Cummings. In a radio broadcast, Mr. Cummings said he would rather support a protest that seeks to compel the government to address the economic crises in the country but not a "Step down" campaign which he says is unconstitutional.

Our concern for this issue as a newspaper is not about taking sides with either party, but setting the basis for the argument whether or not the Liberian Constitution frowns on citizens calling on an elected President to step down if they find it necessary.

Article 1 of the Liberian Constitution states: "All power is inherent in the people. All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness so require. In order to ensure democratic government which responds to the wishes of the governed, the people shall have the right at such period, and in such manner as provided for under this Constitution, to cause their public servants to leave office and to fill vacancies by regular elections and appointments."

We are not constitutional lawyers or the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution; nevertheless, the English Language written in the above article is clear and comprehensible to all and sundry that the people shall have the right "At such period" and in "Such manner" to cause their public servants to leave office and to fill vacancies by regular elections and appointments." Furthermore, it did not differentiate the presidency from the rest of elected public servants.

In terms of the treason, as noted in a letter from the Justice Ministry to the Council of Patriots (CoP), it is yet to be established how this right can be equated to overthrowing the President or helping the enemies of the country to undermine its sovereignty when the right to ask public officials to leave offices is not restricted but encompasses all elected and appointed officials.

Additionally, Article 63 (b) also puts it this way. "Whenever the office of the President shall become vacant by reason of death, resignation, impeachment, or the President shall be declared incapable of carrying out the duties and functions of his office, the Vice-President shall succeed to the office of the President to complete the unexpired term. In such a case, this does not constitute a term."

The argument now is, who declares the President incapable and what constitutes incapability? The English Dictionary defines Incapability as the quality of not being capable physically or intellectually or legally to perform a task.

For assembling to protest, Article 17 of the Constitution states that "All persons, at all times, in an orderly and peaceable manner, shall have the right to assemble and consult upon the common good, to instruct their representatives, to petition the Government or other functionaries for the redress of grievances and to associate fully with others or refuse to associate in political parties, trade unions and other organizations."

Protest, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, means something said or done that shows disagreement with or disapproval of something; an event at which people gather together to show strong disapproval about something.

Taking into account constitutional provisions and key definitions associated with the issue on hand, a protest calling on the President to step down can be argued to logical conclusions.

There are two suggested approaches the Daily Observer can recommend to mitigate the situation. Firstly, it will be in the interest of the government not to flaunt its power but to seek dialogue with the aggrieved citizens to abandon the protest as suggested earlier by Nimba County District #7 Representative Roger Domah.

Lastly, the Justice Ministry should ensure to provide security to protect the protesters and not to refuse their request for security protection. This will help not only in the protection of the peace, but will build confidence of the public in the security of the country.

Like the June 7 Protest that locked the city down the whole day, the organizers have continuously said that the protest will be peaceful. Therefore, let the government through the Justice Ministry provide security protection instead of creating a condition that will escalate the problem.

This is even more urgent now that an obscure group which calls itself the Independent Council of Patriots (INCOP) led by former representative and Deputy Minister Rufus Neufville, has threatened to organize a counter protest to coincide with the December 30 protest planned by the Council of Patriots(COP).

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