THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF the National Elections Commission (NEC) that it would be holding a referendum to put a citizen’s stamp on four constitutional provisions that the National Legislature had passed into law in August this year has once again brought the significance of the generosity of spirit in Liberian politics to the fore. The referendum grew out of the intense desire by Liberia’s political elites to change some provisions of the 1986 Constitutions in order to address controversial political questions. Key amongst the questions are the residency clause; the absolute majority requirement for elective office, which invariably leads to cost-intensive runoffs because it of involves more than half dozen candidates; and the national elections timetable and political campaigns, viewed in proximity to the annual rainy season that ends in October.
IN JULY THIS year, the Legislature presented to the government the referendum package containing four amendments requiring the stamp of the citizens’ authority in keeping with Article 91 of the Constitution. NEC will now conduct the referendum following internal financial adjustments with partners’ approval. For some unsuspecting Liberians and international partners, that should be enough to have every Liberian – voter or candidate – rest assured of free, fair, transparent, and cost-saving elections on the second Tuesday of December 2011. That is if all things go according to expectation – residency time cut by half; legislators elected on simple majority, accruing to Liberia some US $44.9 million in runoff savings; and the chief justice of Liberia given lifetime tenure. It seems a simple resolution of issues critical to the smooth conduct of the 2011 watershed presidential and general elections.
NO WONDER ALL seems perfect from the distance; but it is not so, viewed closely, carefully weighing benefits against risks. A closer view reveals the potential drawbacks of some of the amendments, specifically the cost-saving motive for the amendment of the absolute majority requirement, which disregards the negative impact on democracy and society. This amendment poses serious risk to democratization in Liberia a decade or so down the road. The absolute majority requirement may be capital-intensive and undesirable at this time of economic difficulties when the nation relies exclusively on partners to fund its elections; but it plays a crucial safety guard role in preventing what former foreign minister Lewis Brown described as “creeping minority rule with dangerous ethnic flavor”. Should Liberians put their stamp of citizens’ approval on the amendment of the absolute majority requirement and live with the bitter consequences in the future or reject the amendment in view of these consequences, lose the partners’ cooperation, and jeopardize the crucial 2011 elections? This is the most crucial national dilemma of our times one that requires carefully weighing risks against benefits, putting nation first, and brandishing the generosity of spirit.
NATIONALIST LIBERIANS AND the nation’s political leaders must wake up and look beyond the cost-saving alibi of the amendment to see the lurking tribal hegemony and class buildups that are likely to lead to communal tension. They must do so also to see the eventual amendment of absolute majority requirement for presidential elections and the advent of lifetime presidency; and most of all finally, to see the eventual breakdown of democracy years beyond 2011! When they do, they must make the conscious effort to do something about it – now or never.
THEY CAN TAKE one of three actions: They can do nothing now and be compelled by citizens’ post-poll discontent and the bruise to the political ego to issue protest notes about vote rigging or vote manipulation and lead rancorous rallies of discontent in the streets and rundown communities of Monrovia. They can brood over the possible danger the simple majority system poses to democratization in postwar Liberia and accuse the government and partners of conspiracy but be diplomatic about it in order to avoid rocking the boat. Or, they can push for an exclusion of the amendment from the referendum, proffer an alternative, and begin work on that alternative right away. Democracy is the rule of the majority; there is therefore no question that the use of minority vote to make democratic leadership decisions is undemocratic, to put it mildly. This is one of the dangerous socio-political contradictions this nation cannot afford right now; no, not after a decade of war for reasons of political exclusion based on the infamous, de facto “So Say One, So Say All System”.
SO, HERE IS our recommendation to the political opposition and the Liberian people: work out an amalgamation; avoid the coalition processes that are currently ongoing behind closed doors with mutual fears and insincerity amongst participating parties and leaders. When you do, field one candidate in the 2011 presidential and general elections for each electoral position. This will drastically reduce or even eliminate the need for runoffs, which NEC says consumes 65% of the budget. This will definitely stop the conspiracy, if there is any, to impose minority rule on the Liberian people. The sacrifice counterbalances the headaches of having to live in a nation where a minority decides the leadership and rule the discontented but voiceless and scattered majority.
IT MAY SOUND weird and may presents as a denial of political participation, but not if one carefully weighed the benefits against the risks in view of examples elsewhere in democratic countries. The United States of America, Liberia’s mentor that is 75 times larger and perhaps a hundred times more populated than Liberia, fields two candidates for elected posts with opening for perhaps an independent candidate. And it works; no hassle, no contentions. In some Europeans countries, political leaders work around the temptation to make laws to impose minority rule on the people for economic reason by supporting each other’s bid for control of parliament and forming coalition governments after the polls are closed and victory is achieved. We do not recommend the European model for Liberia because the nation’s political institutions are still largely evolving from one-man sponsorship, still shaking themselves out of the cocoons of own-party status (or are they?). The amalgamation alternative is suitable for Liberia because it can be perfected and formalized in the future, resulting permanently into a two or three party nation thereby remedying tendencies toward the formation of class or tribal hegemonies for political and economic security.
CONSIDER THE ALTERNATIVES, save the nation of future headaches, and save the nation’s burgeoning democracy. The achievement of this feat will worth nothing less than the show of a generosity of spirit and love of country.