I am convinced that the leadership of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) is engaging the National Elections Commission (NEC) and the Liberian people in bad faith. If not mindful, the party and its leadership risked prosecution for gross violations of Liberia’s Elections Law (the Law). If found guilty, the party certification could be revoked; its leaders could be fined, imprisoned, and disqualified from holding elected public offices.
Here are the facts as we know:
1. The CDC has established a number of preconditions for its participation in the November 8, 2011, run-off presidential election. The preconditions, which keep changing daily, now include: the reconstitution of the NEC’s Board of Commissioners and the recount of all ballots cast in the general elections, held on October 11, 2011. These preconditions are being made even while the CDC’s initial complaint is pending before the Commission.
2. The NEC, in an official report on October 25, 2011, declared that the CDC has failed, so far, to provide the evidence to substantiate the allegation of fraud against the Commission. The CDC has yet to refute the NEC’s official report.
3. The CDC has since chosen to adjudicate its pending complaint in the media, instead of following the procedure prescribed by Law.
Here are my views of the facts:
1. I believe that the CDC withdrawal from the November 8, 2011, presidential run-off elections will be a violation of Section 10:16 of the Law. Section 10:16 states: “Any candidate may withdraw from contesting an election and notify the Commission before ballot papers are printed and the election writs are issued and served.” The fact the CDC contested the presidential elections, held on October 11, 2011, it cannot withdraw from the run-off election — it is not a choice — it is the Law.
In addition, the CDC’s demand for the reconstitution of the NEC Board of Commissioners is without legal merit. The Law is unambiguous: the Commissioners can only be removed for “proven misconduct”– an allegation of fraud is certainly not evidence of misconduct.
2. The CDC cannot pick and choose the sections of the Law it wants to obey: the party cannot file a formal complaint and then fail to cooperate with the NEC to address the allegation. The burden of proof is on the CDC; it is not on the NEC.
3. The attempt by the CDC to adjudicate a pending complaint in the media is prejudicial; it seems to be a deliberate strategy, designed by party leaders, to undermine the credibility of the NEC.
The CDC, by these actions, may just be setting a stage to challenge the legitimacy of any future Liberian government that is not a CDC-led government.
Here are the potential risks facing the CDC:
Will the CDC participate in the presidential run-off election on November 8, 2011? The answer is: we really don’t know! The CDC itself seems to be ambivalent, given numerous inconsistent statements that have been made by party leaders. I would, however, hope that the party participates in the run-off election and give its supporters the opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to elect the leader of their choosing.
Nonetheless, it appears to me that the CDC and its leadership may already be in violation of Sections10:18 and 10:19 of the Law. Section 10:18, in part, cautions political parties and their leaders to avoid the “dissemination of propaganda which contains statement intended to create political unrest…on account of disagreement with the elections results.”
Section 10:19 of the Law forbids political parties from making public statements that may prejudice pending cases before the Commission. In part, Section 10:19 states, “it is an election offense of any political party or any person or group of persons to comment in any manner or form, on the merits of proceedings tending to arouse public opinions, sympathy, and confusion in the Liberian society.”
If the NEC pursues legal actions against the CDC and its leadership, and if they are prosecuted and found guilty of violating the Law, they could face harsh penalties: The NEC could revoke the party certificate of registration, party leaders could be fined thousand of (US) dollars and imprisoned for up to 10 years, and party leaders recently elected as legislators, for example, could be disqualified from serving in the legislature.
Here what the CDC and its leaders should know:
Ii is time that leaders of the CDC realize that they have to play by the rules. Party leaders cannot knowingly continue to violate the Law without consequences. If, however, party leaders believe that their brand of intimidating political rhetoric is protected by the Constitution, then they must also recognize that the same Constitution equally guarantees the right of every Liberian to live in relative peace and safety — without fear and intimidation.
The CDC cannot continue to intentionally undermine the electoral process of which it is a participant; the party has already won an impressive number of legislative seats through this same electoral process that it now condemns. If the CDC is now claiming that the general elections, held on October 11, 2011, were fraudulent, then it must do the right thing and reject its legislative victories. If, however, the party is willing to accept the results of the legislative elections, then it must also be willing to accept the result of the presidential election.
I am not suggesting, by these observations, that the general elections, held on October 11, 2011, were perfect. Yet, we now know that the elections have been declared as largely free, fair, and transparent by nearly all credible national and international observers. How can everyone else be wrong? The CDC must rethink its current political strategy before it is too late; the run-off election is just six days away.
It is my opinion that the CDC, along with its leadership, by deeds, is pivoting on the wrong side of our emerging democracy. The party’s preconditions for participating in the presidential run-off election are unreasonable and unjustifiable. Furthermore, it is clear that the current political reality is in contrast with the CDC’s unsettling political agenda. Let the CDC and its leadership be reminded that Liberians deserve to have political leaders who are committed to playing by established rules, certainly not leaders whose actions negate the rule of law.
After all, I truly believe that the CDC is in dire need of effective leadership; at this critical juncture in our democratic history. The current leadership is failing the party; it is rapidly dragging it down the path of political irrelevance and its potential political demise — but it does not have to happen!
About the Author: Joseph Saah Fallah is a Liberian economic, social and political commentator with residence in the USA. /email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.