Liberia’s Supreme Court has mandated the National Elections Commission (NEC) to announce the results of the special senatorial election held in Gbarpolu County, over two months after court cases prevented announcement of final results in which female independent candidate Gbotoe Kanneh is presumed to lead unofficial results.
The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, 24 March reversing a ruling of NEC’s Board of Commissioners in which the electoral house sought to conduct a full scale investigation in complaint of election violence.
The ruling is a slap in the face of ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) senatorial candidate and sitting Gbarpolu County Representative Alfred Koiwood whose lawyers had called for a rerun in 13 voting precincts in addition to the disputed area where rerun was held on 7 January this year.
Who becomes the Senator of Gbarpolu County will only be known when the NEC announces its final results from the election held in Gbarpolu. Following the 8 December 2020 polls, Madam Kanneh was said to be in the lead, but a electoral dispute in Nomodatahum bordering neighboring Sierra Leone prompted a rerun in that town.
Without the official results her supporters again claimed she had topped the votes after the 7 January 2021 rerun, but the NEC could not announce official results pending conclusion of election cases filed by the ruling CDC candidate Koiwood.
However the Supreme Court says where a complaint alleges election violence which has [a nature of] criminality as in the instant case, it is the Ministry of Justice that has the sole authority to investigate.
The Supreme Court orders the NEC Board of Commissioners to proceed forthwith to announce the results of the Special Senatorial Election held in Gbarpolu County in keeping with Section 2.9 of the Elections Law.
The Court also orders its Clerk to send a mandate to the NEC to resume jurisdiction over this case.
The court’s decision Wednesday followed an intense legal battle that on 16 March when it began querying lawyers over Gbarpolu County’s stalled senatorial election, amidst a series of legal actions that had disrupted pronouncement of final results by the NEC since conducting a rerun on 7 January 2021 in a disputed area.
A nationwide election was held on 8 December 2020 for 15 senatorial seats, but electoral violence in Nomodatahum, Gbarpolu County, bordering Sierra Leone, prompted a rerun to be held on 7 January in the affected area. But final results for 7 January 2021 polls are yet to come out due to legal challenges that have emerged since.
The ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) on behalf of its senatorial candidate Rep. Alfred Koiwood filed the petition before the Supreme Court for the writ of prohibition against the NEC.
Representing Madam Gbotoe Kanneh earlier on 16 March, a team of lawyers which includes Liberia’s former Chief Justice Gloria Musu Scott, said “the final result was never announced by NEC.”
Madam Gbotoe’s team of lawyers contended that there is no way that the 8 December alleged election violence can affect the overall result of the election on grounds that the rerun in Nomodatahum was conducted on 7 January following negotiations and mediations to which both sides had allegedly agreed.
But the team stated that it was before the Supreme Court because the NEC went beyond its preliminary findings and announced that it was due to conduct a full scale thorough investigation which the team fears, “may affect the announcement of the results.”
Cllr. Arthur T. Johnson, representing sitting Gbarpolu County Representative and senatorial candidate, Alfred Koiwood, said the investigation conducted by the NEC on the election violence in Gbarpolu County will affect the result because there was also complaint from citizens of Gbarpolu in addition to complaint filed by his client.
He claimed that there was a complaint that Madam Kanneh brought in Sierra Leoneans to vote into the elections, adding that when they saw the town filled with strangers when they woke in the morning.
But in a query, Associate Justice Yussif D. Kaba asked Cllr. Johnson as to why he had to bring about complaints from the nine other precincts when he limited his complaint to what transpired in Nomodatahum without mentioning the case from the nine precincts.
In responding, Cllr. Johnson said they called for a rerun for the 13 voting precincts. But Justice Kaba noted that such a call was made without the counsel making any reference to the other places, even though he is praying for the court to order rerun in places he did not reference.Justice Kaba noted that Cllr. Johnson wanted to further complicate the matter by adding the other nine areas.
However Cllr. Johnson said it is not to complicate the matter, arguing that it was illegal that the NEC had allowed a rerun when there was already a complaint filed before the same commission asking it not to go ahead with the election because there was violence.
According to Cllr. Johnson, the NEC went ahead and summarily dismissed the complaint, which led him to go to the Supreme Court. Cllr. Johnson insisted that no one participated in the preparation for the conduct of the rerun.
In a communication dated 8 January 2021, Associate Justice presiding in Chambers of the Supreme Court of Liberia Madam Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh ordered the NEC to halt all actions, pronouncement or announcement on election from affected area (s) of Gbarpolu County, pending the hearing and decision of the complaint filed before the county’s Elections Magistrate.
“By directive of Her Honor Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh, Associate Justice presiding in Chambers, you are hereby informed to stay all actions/or pronouncement or announcement on the election of the affected area (s) of Gbarpolu County, pending the hearing and decision of the complaint filed before the Elections Magistrate of Gbarpolu County, up to and including the hearing and disposition of appeal by any party even up to the Supreme Court,” the order dated 8 January read.
Prior to the court’s order, the rerun had already been conducted on 7 January, pending pronouncement of official results when the process was then halted by the Chamber Justice. However unofficial reports appeared to project Madam Kanneh to have maintained her lead over her rival Rep. Alfred Koiwood, though official results are pending the outcome of the election case.
The election violence emerged in Gbarpolu after angry youth acting on the instructions of the Clan Chief stormed voting centers on Election Day, 8 December and took away the boxes containing ballot papers and other voting materials.
Reports of voters’ intimidation flared with many locals reporting the presence of a traditional (country) devil ordered in town by the Clan Chief, a diehard CDC supporter, which prevented many people from accessing the town.
In December, delegates of the main opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) including the party’s head of secretariat Cllr. Aloysious Toe were arrested by state security officers in Gbarpolu County, amid continuing electoral violence that had stalled the senatorial election led by female independent candidate Gbotoe Kanneh.
The CPP said its delegation got arrested and detained beyond statutory period when it traveled to the county on a fact – finding mission to possibly lend technical support to Madam Kanneh.
By Winston W. Parley