Abraham G. Massaley
Resident of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
& Former President, Press Union of Liberia (PUL)
It appears that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s aspiration for a second term and the 2011 presidential ambitions of Messrs Winston Tubman, Charles Brumskine, Dew Mayson, Senator Prince Johnson, Ms Gladys G. Y. Beyan, Messrs Gbleyah Kennedy Sandy and Hananiah Zoe are seemingly running paradoxical to the aspirations of the Liberian people, considering the provisional result of the August 23, 2011 referendum. All of these make up the list of provisional candidates recently published by the Elections Commission of Liberia.
So far, 3840 of the 4457 Polling Places nation-wide have reported and the result is not good for those who are constitutionally ineligible (ten year clause) to run for president of Liberia in 2011. Bomi, Bong, Cape Mount, Grand Kru, Rivercess, Sinoe, River Gee, and Gbarpolu have all reported 100%. 317 of the 336 polling stations in Bassa have reported. In Nimba, 500 of the 566 polling stations have reported. In Lofa, 373 of the 378 have reported. Grand Gedeh and Maryland still have one polling station each to report. Monsterrado and Margibi counties are the two remaining counties that still have significant polling places to report.
Liberia has a total of 4457 polling stations. Of this number, returns from 617 polling places mainly in Monsterrado and Margibi counties have not been published by the Elections Commission. But judging from the trend in the referendum results so far, it appears that it is now an uphill battle for those hoping on Preposition 1 passage to run president in 2011.
In Monsterrrado County, 975 of 1477 polling places have reported. According to the result from Monsterrado County so far, nearly 50% voted in favor of Preposition 1 and 50% voted against. The published result so far from Monsterrado County is 59,617 voted YES and 57,543 NO. In Margibi County, 282 of 305 Polling Places have reported. The published result so far from Margibi County is 14,712 YES and 11,949 NO. It certainly does not look good in Monsterrado and Margibi for the passage of Preposition 1, which is seeking to reduce the residency requirement to 5 years for presidential candidates.
Some of us have questioned the judgment of holding referendum barely two months to presidential and general elections and using the referendum result as a basis for conducting the general election. We are on record for opposing the referendum and the Threshold Bill. Of course, it seems meaningless in Liberia to hold a contrary view if you are just an ordinary citizen or group of citizens. Our voices outside government have not been counted.
Even the Supreme Court which should serve as a buffer between the people and the government seems not to care about what ordinary Liberians think. A case in point, last year, I led a group of Liberians to file a petition for a Writ of Prohibition against the Threshold Bill. We spent more than $US6, 000.00 just to do the filing and other preliminary work. So many attorneys that we contacted did not want to be seen as going against the wishes of the Liberian government on a political issue like the Threshold Bill. The Supreme Court did not even decide whether or not to take our case until the Threshold Bill was implemented. Just recently, the Movement for Progressive Change (opposition party) of Simeon Freeman sued to block the holding of the August 23, 2011 Referendum. The Supreme Court went silent on this case and the referendum was held, notwithstanding.
Nearly 70% of the 1.7 million registered voters in Liberia stayed away from the August 23, 2011 referendum. A big defeat for the Liberian government including the National Legislature that was bent on holding a referendum barely two months to general elections. The Liberian people by a margin of 70% have expressed their dislike about how the National Legislature and the Executive Branch forced the referendum down their throat. I hope they will begin to listen to us, the people of Liberia. The fact that the overwhelming majority that even voted, almost unanimously rejected Preposition 2, to increase the age limit of Supreme Court judges sends a crystal clear message of disapproval of the performances of our Supreme Court judges. I hope they too take notice. As Liberians, we don’t have to be in government to be listened to.
The alarming number of invalid votes in the August 23, 2011 referendum clearly attests to how poorly the referendum itself was organized. Of the nearly 500,000 votes that have been counted so far, 64,252 votes were declared invalid by the Elections Commission. This is a staggering number of invalid votes and it only points to how unprepared the nation and the Elections Commission were before going to the referendum. I need not mention the careless printing blunder on the ballot itself. In countries that hold people to accountability, someone at the Elections Commission should have been penalized for that printing blunder. But instead, this serious blunder was declared inconsequential. That was the end of discussion.
What is the essence of wasting millions of desperately needed funds to conduct a controversial referendum? Our people have spoken and they have sent a clear message to the National Legislature, the Executive and the Supreme Court that the Liberian people did not like the way they sought to hastily change provisions of our constitution. The Liberian Constitution is the organic law of the land and the process to change any provision must be carefully done, properly organized and systematically executed. A purported joint resolution without a vote in the senate and the house is not a way we should treat our country and our constitution. We had six years to change some provisions of our constitution if we were really serious about meaningful effort.
Personally, I seriously differ with the assertion by the Chairman of the Elections Commission that a 2/3 majority of the 1.7 million registered voters did not need to say yes to changing any provision of the constitution. But that’s how I understand the language to be, in the Liberian Constitution. Two-thirds of state legislatures must approve any amendment to the United States Constitution. Amending any provision of a country’s National constitution should not be an E-Z process. Besides, Prepositions usually require certain percentage of registered voters in order to pass. That’s why in other countries, people campaign for vote boycott so that the threshold cannot be met.
Granted the NEC Chairman’s assertion, it is now completely difficult to amend at least two of the four provisions including Preposition 1 that were submitted to voters on August 23, 2011. Even going with the Chairman’s assertion, it is becoming harder, from the votes already in, to get a two-third majority to reduce the residency requirement to 5 years. Out of the 3840 of the 4457 Polling Places nation-wide that have reported, nearly half of the voters have rejected Preposition 1 which requires a 2/3 majority for passage.
As it appears, the people of Liberia have debunked the effort to hastily change some major provisions of our constitution including the most important, 10 year presidential clause which in my view was the driving force behind this hurry-hurry, so that those who have not stayed in Liberia for 10 years can be eligible to contest in 2011. What happens now to their candidacies in 2011 is in serious doubt as the Liberian people are on the verge of rejecting at least Preposition 1. But who knows what will be the next step in the quest for the Executive Mansion for 6 years, since the constitutional route now appears more unlikely.