LIBERIA: Court Clears Elections Commission, As New Election Date Set For Dec. 20

National Elections Commission (NEC) has again somersaulted on its mandate to conduct polling for the 2014 Special Senatorial Election.

The new date set for the election is now Saturday, December 20, 2014 and not December 16, as was previously announced, NEC indicated yesterday in Monrovia.

According to a press statement signed by the Commission’s Communications Director Joey Kennedy, NEC took the hard decision in collaboration with political parties and independent candidates at an urgently arranged meeting at the Commission’s headquarters in Sinkor, Monrovia.

“The decision to reschedule the election from December 16 to December 20, 2014, is intended to compensate for time lost as a result of the Stay Order imposed on the election and campaign activities by the Supreme Court,” the electoral body said.

Providing their reliance on said decision, NEC maintained that the new date is in “consonance with Joint Resolution #002 recently adopted by the Legislation.”

Joint Resolution #002 mandated the Commission to hold consultation with stakeholders aimed at deciding a new date since October 14 due to onslaught of the Ebola virus in Liberia.

The 53rd National Legislature’s Joint Resolution instructed the Commission to decide a new date of polling no later than December 20, 2014.

While political rallies were ongoing, few political parties inclusive of Movement for Progressive Change (MPC) Alliance for Peace and Democracy (APD) and National Democratic Coalition (NDC) filed a lawsuit, forcing the High Court to place a Stay Order on the process.

Indeed the Supreme Court lifted the Injunction on 13 December, but failed to set a new date. Though clothed with the responsibility to conduct elections but not to set polling date for legislative and Presidential elections as provided for under the Constitution, the Commission announced December 20, 2014 as voting day, and at the same time, urged political parties and candidates to assist in informing the electorate about the new date for the election as they proceed with their respective political campaigns.

The Commission called for parties and candidates involved with the election to restrict their political activities within the framework of the law and measures agreed to at a recent Inter Party Consultative Committee Meeting held on December 3, 2014.

According to NEC, several issues were decided, including but not limited to, “no street Parades, campaigns will only be conducted in districts/communities; and gatherings will not exceed 250 persons.

However, political commentators termed the restrictions as “mere bluff” stressing that NEC does not have the capacity to monitor these processes, let alone prosecute violators.

Political Campaigns for Saturday’s poll will officially end at 6:00 PM on Friday, December 19, 2014.

According to the 1986 Constitution, the electoral body should have conducted election for the first category of senators elected in 2005 after the coming into force of the Constitution as provided by under Articles 46 and 83 respectively.

However, with the controversies associated with the poll including who has the authority to change election date and the lawsuit filed against the process, not forgetting the presence of the Ebola virus in the country; credibility remains a major challenge for Liberia’s young democracy.

The Supreme Court of Liberia late Saturday afternoon ruled to lift the stay order it earlier imposed on all activities relating to the Special Senatorial Elections scheduled for December 16 this year. The decision was reached in a 3 against and 2 in favor of the Stay Order.

Those in favor of the stay order — Associate Justices Philip Banks and Kabineh Ja'Neh — argued that the Ebola epidemic, due to which the state of emergency was declared, resulting in the suspension of several constitutional rights, including the the postponement of the October 14 Special Senatorial Elections, still exists. They further argued that the National Elections Commission have so far not put in place any safety measures relating to campaign activities, which are expected to create large gatherings of people, and pose a threat to the gains Liberia has made so far in the fight against the spread of Ebola. If the elections go on, they further argued, it would undermine the safety guidelines put in place by local health authorities and international partners.

Those ruling against the stay order, including Associate Justices Jamesetta Wolokolie and Sianeh Yuoh, with Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor serving as a tie-breaker, argued that the issues raised in the petitions called into reference the separation of powers. The Ebola situation in Liberia, they said, is a political matter — not a constitutional matter — and therefore should be the responsibility of the Executive and Legislative branches of government to decide vis-a-vis elections. Therefore the Supreme Court stay order to halt elections activities could not hold.

All justices agreed, however, that the Executive, in consultation with the Legislature, can set elections dates.

Interestingly, there were three different petitions for the stay order before the Supreme Court. The most prominent of them, by the party incling Rev. Emmanuel Z. Bowier, Blamo Nelson, the National Democratic Coalition, Movement for Progressive Change and Milton and Nathaniel Barnes, was thrown out because the Supreme Court said the the petitioners did not follow the right procedures in filing the petition. The lawyer representing that party, Cllr. Lavelah Supuwood, who is also a former associate justice of the Supreme Court, was therefore fined US$300 for 'misleading' his clients.

Also, the request of Ministry of Justice to dismiss the petition for a stay order on the elections activities was denied by the High Court because it was filed too late.

The other petitioners, which include: Justice for Public Interest Consortium of Africa; as well as Cllr. Edwin Martin, who filed as an eligible voter, were the two petitioners whose filings were accepted and ruled upon by the Supreme Court.

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