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LIBERIA’S LOOMING CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS: A SEETHING INFERNO

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Liberia’s recent history is characterized by political disputes, and a cataclysmic civil war which reports say led to the death of more than 2000 thousand people. The country’s recent history also recalls the election of the first woman president in Africa in 2005. Twelve years later, the president is struggling to deliver a smooth transition to the Liberian people.


In the build up to the October 10, 2017 elections, the President came under a fusillade of criticisms, in some cases, she was insulted by members of her political party. Her main wrongdoing has been her refusal to support her own political party, which ushered her to the presidency, and her negation of the man who stood with her for twelve years as her vice president. By losing the support of the president, Vice President, Mr. Joseph Boakai has lost the moral and political support he craves as the chosen successor. He also lost the financial resources he would have received from government to lunch a credible campaign.

Meanwhile, Madam President has been accused of delivering this critical support to the opposition, first to the Liberty Party of Charles Brumskine, and later the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) of the internationally acclaimed footballer George Weah.  The October 10, 2017 elections were conducted peacefully as everyone had hoped. No sooner the results were announced that George Weah and Joseph Boakai would face each other in a run-off, Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party refused to accept the results, alleging fraud and irregularities and filed a complaint with the National Elections Commission (NEC). The NEC, conscious of its rules and mandate, set a date for the run-off, but Charles Brumskine took exception and filed a complaint to the Supreme Court, seeking prohibition against holding of the run-off before he is accorded due process by NEC.

The High Court agreed with him and ordered the National Elections Commission (NEC) not to conduct the run-off election…… “until the complaint filed by the petitioner is investigated by NEC, and, if need be, the appropriate appeal process to the Supreme Court of Liberia is availed and the matter is decided by the Supreme Court.”

The High Court further said “Given the critical nature of the complaint, subject of these prohibition proceedings, and its implication on governance of the nation, the NEC is directed to give urgent attention to the expeditious hearing and determination thereof…”

By the time the Supreme Court handed down its ruling, it was clear that no matter what the NEC did, Charles Brumskine would return to the Court with an appeal. This is the game plan to stall the run-off and ensure that by 15 January 2018, the current government becomes illegal, paving the way for all to now begin the scramble for positions in an interim government.. Reports of delays are therefore not surprising because that is precisely what the Liberty Party and the Unity Party desire in the hope that this matter drags on beyond the mandate of the current government.

Running down the mandate of the current government and creating a leadership vacuum in the country is fraught with challenges. Firstly, the question of succession will arise. Secondly, arguments will be made about the formation of an interim government, which could exacerbate the prevailing polarization among political parties and other stakeholders in the country.

Not unexpectedly, I have read from the FrontpageAfrica Publication, that Liberty Party and Unity Party issued a joint statement on November 16, 2017, in which they alluded to succession provisions of the Liberian Constitution in the event that the mandate of the current government expires. In my view, Liberia needs to be careful here, and this is why.

Legal ramifications associated with succession in this case should not be taken lightly. Under Article 63(b) of the Liberian Constitution, “Whenever the office of the President shall become vacant by reason of death, resignation, impeachment, or the President shall be declared incapable of carrying out the duties and functions of his office, the Vice President shall succeed to the office of President to complete the unexpired term.” This implies, in my view, and legally appropriate, a government in office, or a CONTINUING GOVERNMENT whose chief executive cannot perform his functions for obvious reasons. Emphasis in this provision should be placed on UNEXPIRED TERM. In other words, this provision does not speak to a situation where the mandate of the government has expired. Simply put, after January 15, 2018, there would have been no government. The framers of the Constitution did not foresee what could become a conundrum.

By January 15, 2018, without a new government being inaugurated, the Executive Branch of Liberian Government would have suffered a leadership deficit. And since the Vice President who is a contender in the election saga cannot succeed to the office of the President, also because there would have been no UNEXPIRED TERM to complete, any succession arrangement under Article 63 (b) of the Constitution would have no legal basis. In a CONTINUING ADMINISTRATION, the Speaker would be in direct line of succession under Article 64 of the Constitution. However, the Speaker is also a contender and the government by January 15, 2018, would have had no mandate for him to succeed to.

The National Legislature has to convene in its 54th session to elect a new leadership but this is further complicated by the fact that a large number of members of the lower house were only recently elected during the October 10, 2017 elections. Will NEC be allowed to certificate them under an election whose results are being challenged? Failing their induction the House of Representatives will not be able to elect a new Speaker and could further lack quorum to carry out any business. There will be no legal basis for the Deputy Speaker to ascend to the office of President under Article 64 for the same reason that there will be no governing administration. Under the same article 64, “Members of the Cabinet in the order of precedence should succeed to the office of President when the Deputy Speaker is barred. Here again, cabinet ministers would not have legal basis to continue to function in their respective duties under an executive branch without a head and a mandate.

There have been assertions that the President Pro Tempore of the Senate would succeed to the office of President. This too doesn’t seem to have any constitutional basis and may not be constructive.

In the event the succession provisions cannot resolve the impasse, there will be calls for formation of an interim government. The age old division in Liberia will emerge again and political parties and stakeholders will queue to go to another Akosombo or Abuja conference to form an interim government. There will be crisis. This internal problem of Liberia will again threaten the peace, security and stability of the sub-region, especially neighboring states.

The international community has invested a lot to safe Liberia and keep it peaceful. There should be no going back to anarchy and brutality. Liberty Party and Unity party should see reason to withdraw their complaints. They have made the point, and NEC will learn from its mistakes. Liberia now needs to move on. LIBERIA SHOULD NOT BECOME PARIAH AND A DISTABILIZER AGAIN.

KOTONO GBEZE
BBA, LL.B, MA
Texas, USA
Email: kgbeze@gmail.com

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