Liberia Must Embrace Electoral Reforms Ahead of 2023 Elections

editorial

THE AFTERMATH of the December 2020 Senatorial Midterm elections has dealt a major blow to Liberia's electoral system and put the constitution on the brink of a costly deletion that could take years to recover from.

THE CONSTITUTION of Liberia which is the supreme and fundamental law of Liberia has a binding force and effect on all authorities and persons throughout the Republic. Nevertheless, the aftermath of the elections has seen long delays and bottlenecks surrounding the certification of candidates who won disputed elections.

THE CASE OF FORMER DEFENSE Minister Brownie Samukai who scored an impressive victory in the December 8 Special Senatorial Election and later unanimously reaffirmed by the Board of Commissioners of the National Elections Commission is one of the few hanging cases casting dark clouds over the election process in Liberia.

MR. SAMUKAI'S road to the Senate was bumpy from the very beginning. Even his nomination to contest had to be cleared by the Supreme Court when it was contested that he had been found guilty of theft of property and criminal conspiracy.

SADLY, THE FIRST post-election complaint against Samukai was brought about by two individual voters, alleging fraud, but NEC Hearing Officer dismissed said case upon due process, that the complainants had no legal standing. The Second post-election case alleging that some of the tallying papers were not stamped by NEC although they were signed by all pool watchers.

IN THE WAKE OF ALL these recent events, we support a proposal from Senator H. Varney G. Sherman(UP, Grand Cape Mount) pushing for an amendment to Section 4.8 of the New Elections Law that would allow the National Elections Commission and Supreme Court to take a shorter time to hear and adjudicate elections dispute cases in shorter periods.

IN HIS PROPOSAL, the Grand Cape Mount Senator who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee said three successive elections ended in run-off and that it is highly likely there will be run-off election for the 2023 general and presidential elections. "Given the increasing high number of political parties and the requirement that the presidential election be determined by absolute majority (Minimum of 50% plus 1) the evidence from those previous elections convinces me that there will be presidential election disputes in 2023."

THE CAPE MOUNT SENATOR believes that in order to expedite the deposition of a presidential election dispute, the new Elections Law should be amended to provide that the Board of Commissioners shall have original jurisdiction over the presidential election dispute and an appeal from the Board of Commissioners shall lie with the Supreme Court. "Simply stated, for a Presidential election dispute the entire Board of Commissioners, not a subordinate NEC staff, albeit it lawyer, shall be the forum for the first hearing. This will shorten the length of time it will take to dispose of a Presidential election dispute."

WE AGREE WITH SENATOR SHERMAN that once the NEC has certificated a candidate to be the elected person should assume the position for which the election was held pending adjudication of any complaint which arises from the election, that person shall be de-certificated and the person certified at the end of the adjudication process shall assume the position.

SAID THE SENATOR: "At the end of the adjudication provided by law it is finally determined that the person so first certificated by the NEC is not the winner of the election, that person shall be de-certificated and the person certified at the end of the adjudication process shall assume the position for which the election was held. Provided that any compensation or benefits paid to the person who first certificated by the NEC for services rendered shall not be reimbursed to the person eventually certificated at the end of the adjudication process."

THIS WE BELIEVE is a sure bet to avoid future post-election calamities and it is one widely practice in many West Africa countries in the subregion.

THE ULTIMATE GOAL is to ensure timely representation of the people - and in the words of Senator Sherman, will discourage frivolous challenges to election result; and minimizes the cost of elections, which arises from post-election disputes.

THE UGLY FACT of the matter is that fifteen vacant seats were contested for in the Senate on December 8, 2020 with five senators certificated and inducted on the constituted date while 10 others were compelled to undergo litigation due to election disputes cases.

THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE AND MUST never be repeated in Liberia again.

TOO MUCH IS AT STAKE and Liberia has been through so much in the last few years that it will be a travesty not just of justice, but also to the voters who are being denied representation after casting their votes for the candidates of their choice.

IT IS IMPORTANT that those at the helm of power put the necessary steps in place to avoid such disgraceful election aftermath from recurring in Liberia.

THE PERSEVERANCE OF DEMOCRACY is key to Liberia's quest to continue its transition from war to peace. No one should be denied representation and no duly elected official should have to go through this, boggled down by frivolous legal wrangles undermining Liberia's democratic resurgence.

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