That the 2011 election is a major test for Liberia’s democratization and peace came to a fore in the third quarter of last year when the National Legislature, under intense pressure, overcame the standoff with the Executive Mansion by passing a unanimous resolution to retain the electoral demarcations of 2005 for the 2011 presidential and legislative elections. It is perhaps based on this resolution that the National Elections Commission (NEC) commenced the voters’ registration process across the country early this month. The process may be proceeding smoothly, administratively at least; but for some Liberians, it is legally unsettling, and they are about praying the courts for remedy. The Analyst has being looking at the cause of the key petitioner, the newly formed opposition group, National Democratic Coalition (NDC).
The NDC has reportedly directed its lawyers to cause the courts of Liberia to issue a prohibition against NEC to halt the voters’ registration exercise it is conducting in order to rectify the procedure, lest the 2011 elections become the basis for future contentions and violence.
It did not specify the courts it is petitioning for redress. But it contended that it is sure that it was within its prerogative to highlight the anomalies with which NEC was conducting the voters’ registration exercise and to take steps to halt it before it leads to the disentrancement and restriction of a large number of qualified voters or open a floodgate to foreign “intruders” seeking to obtain Liberian voter’s cards.
“Through the courts, we intend to halt and to correct the errant proceedings of the NEC and to return the conduct of these important Presidential and Legislative Elections to procedures established by the Liberian Constitution,” NDC said in position statement read yesterday in Monrovia by its Acting Chairman, Lewis G. Brown, II.
The voters’ registration exercise is a major forerunner to the holding, in October this year, of the 2011 presidential and legislative elections, regarded by both the incumbent and the opposition as watershed and showcase test of Liberia’s democratization, peace and reconciliation, and national socio-economic recovery.
Until NDC threw what critics considered a monkey’s wrench into the process, yesterday, the process had proceeded smoothly with only a low-keyed, but some say crucial, disturbance from Grand Kru County.
The group said the exercise might have been proceeding smoothly, but that it was working against the runs of the Constitution of Liberia as well as the larger interest, peace, and security of the Liberian electorates and nation.
The NDC called the exercise “errant proceedings” and said it is under obligation as a national and legal organization to take a courageous stand against it.
But just why does it think so? In NDC’s view, there are three dicey, procedural missteps.
NEC’s dicey missteps: ‘errant proceedings’, others
“We believe that the NEC is in violation of Article 80 (c) of the Liberian Constitution, which reads in its entirety that “Every Liberian citizen shall have the right to be registered in a constituency (emphasis mine), and to vote in public elections only in the constituency where registered (emphasis mine), either in person or by absentee ballot, provided that such citizen shall have the right to change his voting constituency as may be prescribed by the Legislature (emphasis mine),” NDC contended in its January 17, 2011 position statement.
It said if NEC proceeded with the registration process without first completing the demarcation of the electoral constituencies, those registering now would not only be doing so within no constituencies, but that they would also be restricted to constituencies to be established later by NEC.
“To exercise these rights is to have constituencies determined and demarcated before the voter registration,” NDC said, noting that such occurrence would turn out the electorates’ nightmare, especially in the election of members of the House of Representatives.
NDC said NEC’s sin was that it decided to put the electoral cart before the horse, against constitutional prescriptions, by conducting the voters’ registration exercise without first demarcating the constituencies.
NDC fell short of saying where it stood on the unanimous resolution of the National Legislature authorizing the use of existing electoral districts and constituencies for the purpose of the 2011 elections.
But it argued that this reversed order would not only disenfranchise qualify voters and restrict them to constituencies not their choice, but that it would also deny them the right to change constituencies once the demarcations were drawn “arbitrarily” later by NEC.
The statement, which showered praises on NEC and the international community for remaining committed to the electoral process, notwithstanding the difficulties associated with it, said it felt obliged to pursue the course of rectifying the exercise as a patriotic duty.
It said the National Legislature, which “dropped the ball” having fumbled with the Threshold Bill for two years thereby inadvertently ushering in a constitutional crisis, could take the blame.
However, it noted that this was no time for any blame game. Rather, the group said, it was time for righting the wrong, as it was never late to do what is right.
“We act today knowing that if unchecked and uncorrected, the procedures of the NEC will impair and hinder the rights of Liberian citizens; open wide the doors of our Presidential and Legislative Elections to fraud without consequence; dilute the votes of Liberians in determining the outcome of the 2011 elections; and could undermine our hard-earned peace by unnecessarily exposing our society to election-related violence. None of us can afford this nor should we permit this to happen later when we can do something to stop it from happening now,” NDC said.
NDC contended that its action was also intended to protect the impartiality of NEC since, if it proceeded as it was now doing, it runs the risk of being accused of gerrymandering or engaging in electoral fraud.
But NDC said putting registration before demarcation is not NEC’s only misstep; it said the Commission is also guilty of conducting the exercise in a way that opens the floodgate to non-Liberians who might seek voter’s cards.
NEC has reportedly determined that individuals wishing to register to vote in the 2011 elections would be deemed qualified on the “sworn testimony of two other registered voters who shall appear in person before the Registrar and confirm the applicant’s eligibility to register”.
But NDC, which insisted that the constitutionally prescribed guidelines must be followed, noted that the current eligibility requirement violated articles 27, 28, and 80(c) of the Constitution of Liberia.
Articles 27 and 28 prescribed the methods for establishing one’s Liberian citizenship, testimonies of other citizens, not being one of them.
“We believe that to just allow any two voter registration card holders to merely say that a third person is a Liberian, and to cause that to be sufficient to afford the third person the value of Liberian citizenship, absenting any other requirement, is wrong firstly, because of the constitutional implications; secondly, because of the overwhelming possibility that it offers for fraud without consequence; and thirdly, because it will make our country dangerously insecure,” the opposition coalition group contended.
According to the group, once NEC issued the voter’s cards in what appeared an honest process, it would be difficult to undo because there was no precedence that the government has the national ability to retrieve, correct, and punish a fraudster or an imposter.
“We are worried that with this rule, we risk diluting the votes of Liberians; exposing our society to election-related violence; and having the outcome of our elections determined by invaders against whom, thanks to this rule, we will be helpless,” NDC said.
The coalition’s third contention for which it is seeking judicial redress, according to the position statement, is that certain senators were claiming the constitutional nine-year tenure as senior senators. Whether with the nod or acquiescence of NEC, NDC did not say.
Article 46 of the Liberian constitution of 1986 states in part: “the Senators shall be divided into two categories as a result of the votes cast in each county. The Senator with the higher votes cast shall be Senators of the first category [whose seats] shall be vacated at the expiration of the ninth year. In the interest of legislative continuity, the Senators of the second category shall serve a first term of six years only, after the first elections. Thereafter, all Senators shall be elected to serve a term of nine years.”
In NDC’s sight, no one currently serving in the Liberian Senate is qualify to claim the nine-year tenure, perhaps first because the Constitution has been in force for more than two and a half decades and because the sitting senators were elected under extraordinary prescriptions in 2005.
“We have instructed our lawyers to move the courts to relieve us of the claims by some politicians to tenure of nine years commencing from the 2005 elections which were specially designed and implemented under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA),” it said.
NDC did not say what CPA said about senatorial tenure, but it insisted that while the decisions on the proceedings and claims it was complaining about were left with the courts, it thought the protest was necessary so that it would not be faulted for not meeting its side of the national responsibility.
It said it felt compelled to act because, for the Liberian society, the 2011 election was a “wonderful chance to test the citizens’ will to freely disagree without enmity and to decide our future, together, without violence”.
“This election, conducted by Liberians, under the full glare of constitutional authority, is redemptive. It reminds us that although we may not be where we know we ought to be yet, we have come a long way,” NDC said.
NEC could not be contacted late last night for comment on NDC’s observations and determination, and to comment on whether it received any court citation regarding its current activities.
The Analyst hopes to obtain the Commission’s side of the story in subsequent editions.