The electoral process is gaining speed in the run-up to Presidential and General Elections in the West African nation of Liberia.
The body charged with the conduct of these elections, the National Elections Commission (NEC) is currently hearing appeals and objections to the exhibition of the provisional voter rolls following which the official voter list will be publicized.
The Provisional voter roll is a compilation of names, ages, photos and center codes of individuals across the country who have registered to vote.
Voter registration was held across Liberia from February 1st – March 7th . However, the NEC extended the registration period for an additional week saying “extension was necessary to make for time lost at the initial stage of the process when many cameras were malfunctioning.”
Concurrent with the hearing of appeals and objections, the NEC is entertaining the Nomination of candidates from all political parties certified to contest for Presidential and Legislative positions. The Nomination period ends on July 11th.
According to the NEC, anyone seeking Nomination must appear in person and be in compliance with the following stipulations:
1. Aspirant MUST be a Liberian.
2. Aspirant MUST attained the age of 25 years for Representative and 35 years for President and Vice President.
3. Aspirant for Representative MUST be domiciled in the constituency one year prior to the elections.
4. Aspirants for President and Vice President MUST be resident in Liberia for not less than 10 years prior to the elections. And,
5. Aspirant MUST be a tax payer
Liberia has 21 registered political parties. The United Nations, in June, 2017 estimates Liberia’s population at about 4.7 million. Political parties are targeting about 2.5 million of this electorate. An estimated 1 million Liberians are registered to vote.
Already, there is some controversy cropping up regarding those in the employ of the Government who are desirous of participating in the upcoming election process. In March 2014, Liberia’s National Legislature passed a National Code of Conduct (CoC) for all public officials and employees of the Government of Liberia.
Part V of the CoC, addresses political participation and states that “…5.1 All Officials appointed by the President of the Republic of Liberia shall not:
a) engage in political activities, canvass or contest for elected offices;
b) use Government facilities, equipment or resources in support of partisan or political activities;
c) serve on a campaign team of any political party, or the campaign of any independent candidate…”
Additionally, section V further states that, “…5.2 Wherein, any person in the category stated in section 5.1 herein above, desires to canvass or contest for an elective public position, the following shall apply;
a) Any Minister, Deputy Minister, Director-General, Managing Director and Superintendent appointed by the President pursuant to article 56 (a) of the Constitution and a Managing Director appointed by a Board of Directors, who desires to contest for public elective office shall resign said post at least two (2) years prior to the date of such public elections;
b) Any other official appointed by the President who holds a tenured position and desires to contest for public elective office shall resign said post three (3) years prior to the date of such public elections;..”.
Code of Conduct – Liberia:
doc/Act_Legislature_202014).pdf Prescribing_A_National_Code% 20of_Conduct%20(Final_Version%
On March 6, Liberia’s highest judicial body the Supreme Court, while upholding the CoC, opined that “… the Act was enacted on the wisdom of the Legislature in the supreme interest of the Liberian people to protect the resources of the country from abuse by public officials and to create a plain/level political field for all contesting candidates.”
The view held in some quarters is that the CoC was rammed through the Legislature to eliminate some government officials who might be using government resources and influence to campaign for future elected office.
The Office of Ombudsman which was created to design regulations for implementation of the provisions of the CoC, is, itself, facing legal and capacity hurdles capacity in addressing the plethora of political issues which are already arising from attempts at enforcing the CoC.
Support for and against implementation of the CoC is mixed.
Dr. Mills Jones, a former National Bank governor, leader of the Movement for Economic Empowerment political party and presidential aspirant, who is directly impacted by the CoC has slammed the law as illegal, saying, “We will resist that law, we DON’T CARE WHETHER IT WAS APPROVED BY THE COURT OF PONTIUS PILATE…"
The diaspora civic umbrella organization based in the U.S. the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), in a press statement issued in May, affirmed its fullest support for the implement of the CoC. According to ULAA, “… there is no constitutionally protected right for anyone to remain an Executive branch appointee and contest for elected office at the same time; or utilize the resources and benefits of that appointment to seek elective office…”
In its May 8th editorial, a local daily, the News newspaper held that “…The National Code of Conduct for Public Officials and Employees of the Government of Liberia is one of the best laws Liberia can rely upon to help transform the country. And any attempt to undermine this law, Liberia is headed for nowhere. It is our position that the Code of Conduct be implemented to the fullest to avoid confusion during and after the October elections…”
A current lawmaker and Presidential aspirant Senator Oscar Cooper notes that “…“As Legislators, we are under obligation to clean the law up, especially those clauses that Liberians and politicians are having problem with to ensure that the elections are competitive, violence free and credible..”
A former Minister of Finance and Foreign Affairs Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan is quoted by the South Africa Today website on May 14 as saying that “…At this stage, any one of us still harboring qualms with the Code is left with two options – lobby and secure the amendment of the Code of Conduct through the Legislature with the subsequent approval of such amendment by the President, and/or go to court if you feel injured by the application of any provision of the Code…”
Another voice of opposition against the implementation of the CoC has come the Inter Religious Council of Liberia. Fabric Radio FM 101.1 quotes the Council on June 13 as saying, “…the code of conduct is discriminatory, with the intent to hunt certain individuals…”
Meantime, On June 13, Liberia’s National Legislature issued an amendment to Part V of the CoC which relates to electoral matters. According to the Amendment, “…appertaining to elections matters, shall be adjudicated by the National Elections Commission (NEC), as prescribed under the Elections Law; and any remedy sought from such adjudication shall be referred to the Supreme Court as provided for under the Laws and Constitution of the Republic of Liberia…"
Liberia’s NEC which has tried to stay above the CoC controversy. Although the passage of the CoC amendment will require compliance once signed into law by the President, the NEC has not indicated its position on adherence as it relates to individuals who are directly impacted by the law.
Liberians vote on October 10 for President and Legislators. Two term incumbent and first elected female in Africa President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is barred from running for a third term.
By Emmanuel Abalo
Philadelphia, PA USA