Liberia: Constitutional Scholar Rules Out Possible Third Term for President George Weah

Accompanied by his wife Clar, George Weah takes oath of office as the 24th President of the Republic of Liberia.

Monrovia — In trying to walk back from her controversial comment in which she expressed the hope that Liberia will get to the point where a referendum would be sought to have President George Manneh Weah sitting as President for a third term, Rep. Munah Pelham Youngblood claims that the recording making the rounds in Liberia was edited to make her look bad. "You would never imagine but this is a prediction, it will come to pass," the lawmaker is heard on a recording.

Now, Rep. Youngblood says the recording was tampered with. "My attention has been drawn to this poor propaganda, lazy opposition. Your cut, edited and paste a full interview just because you want to incite the public against me. It will not hold. I am the intellectual queen, I can defend myself," she said.

The District No. 9 lawmaker said she was responding to an interviewer about what was her projection for the Weah administration... what should the Liberian people expect? At which point she says she responded by saying: "He's going to do the extraordinary to the point I can predict that after his tenure the Liberian people will seek a referendum to keep him for the 3rd term".

Non-Retroactive Constitution Complicates Potential

But is a third term possible for President Weah? Constitutional scholars say, even it was, the current administration which was elected on the laws enshrined in the Constitution would not benefit from such an amendment.

Article 50 of the 1986 Constitution regarding The Executive, states: "The President shall be elected by universal adult suffrage of registered voters in the Republic and shall hold office for a term of six years commencing at noon on the third working Monday in January of the year immediately following the elections. No person shall serve as President for more than two terms."

Cllr. Pearl Brown Bull, who was one of the drafters of the '86 Constitution says: "If we were to pass a resolution now to change for President to come for another term, it will not affect that person or candidate or citizen because the 59 members of the constitutional advisory assembly represented the entire counties and territories was very careful in making sure that we do not set a precedent which would give rise to dictatorship."

The experience of President William V.S. Tubman is often cited by historians. Tubman ruled Liberia for 27 years.

Drafters 'Didn't Want to Breed Dictatorship'

Cllr. Bull says this was the rationale for the drafters of the constitution. The rationale was pushed by the late Dr. Patrick Biddle, who chaired the rules committee of the assembly). "We didn't want people sitting there and becoming dictator because of past events and political stuff. We did not want a repetition. So, even a referendum is to come into effect under this government, it would not affect the current president. It will not apply to them because not only is the constitution is not retroactive but Article 93 forbids it.

President Weah was elected on the 1986 Constitution that calls for six years. So, anyone pushing for such an amendment must find the rationale for changing successive terms."

Article 93 states: "The limitation of the Presidential term of office to two terms, each of six years duration, may be subject to amendment; provided that the amendment shall not become effective during the term of office of the incumbent President.

Article 93 Limitations

Hence, legal experts say, if the constitution was amended as suggested, the incumbent would not benefit from the new amendment because of the prohibition contained in Article 93 of the 1986 Constitution, which states as follows: "The limitation of the Presidential term of office to two terms, each of six years duration, may be subject to amendment; provided that the amendment shall not become effective during the term of office of the incumbent President."

The third term debate in Africa has drawn in recent weeks in the wake of attempts by Guinean President Alpha Conde, the first democratically elected leader, who is currently serving his second five-year term, but looking to hang on to power for another term.

Conde is supposed to leave office in this year under the rules of the 2010 constitution. However, the 81-year-old is thought to be seeking ways to orchestrate a constitutional change that would allow him to run for a third and even a fourth time.

Conde's apparent third-term bid is causing significant deterioration of stability in Guinea. Opposition parties, civil society groups and trade unions opposed to constitutional reforms have established the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC) and called for protests. Security forces have wounded and arrested protesters and one person has reportedly been killed.

3rd Term Firestorm Across Africa

This is not the first time that this scenario has been played out in Africa. In April 2019, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, led the adoption of a constitutional amendment through a referendum, paving the way for him to run again.

Similarly, in Uganda, last year, the Supreme Court upheld a constitutional amendment removing age limits on the presidency allowing the aging President Yoweri Museveni to extend his more-than-three-decade reign. The age limit was the last remaining hurdle after Museveni orchestrated the removal of presidential term limits in 2005.

In July 2018, President Azali Assouman of Comoros dissolved the Constitutional Court and Parliament and organized a referendum extending term limits and the inter-island rotational presidency. In March 2019, he ran and won another term in an election that the AU has refused to endorse.

In 2015, President Pierre Nkurinziza of Burundi secured a constitutional interpretation by the Constitutional Court to run for a third term, after his proposed constitutional amendment to allow a third term was defeated in the Senate.

Ironically, the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance also prohibits any amendment or revision of the constitution or legal instruments that constitute "an infringement on the principles of democratic change of government".

President Weah is in the second year of his first term and is eligible for re-election in October 2023 for a second and final term.

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