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EJS Democratic Tolerance Should Not the Abused – Democracy Not Disrespect

Whether it is uncontrolled excitement of having the right to speak, write, and to assemble freely for the first time since the independence of Liberia or the lack of understanding of the tenets of democracy, have left observers in wonderlands. This democratic euphoria in Liberia often times challenges the Liberian constitution and the fundamental rights of the President and officials of Government.

The Liberian Constitution under Chapter iii Article 11 a&b is clear on issues relating to the fundamental rights of Liberians. It says in paragraph (a) “that all persons are born equally free and independent and have certain natural, inherent and inalienable rights among which are the right of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of pursuing and maintaining the security of the person and of acquiring, possessing and protecting property, subject to such qualifications as provided for in this constitution.”

(b)” all persons irrespective of ethnic background, race, sex, creed, place of origin or political opinion, are entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, subject to such qualifications as provided for in this constitution.”  Article 15 (a) becomes clearer on guiding principles on the utilization of those rights. It says in part that “every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof.” In the simple Liberian parlance, it means “where your rights end, mine begins.”

Albert Einstein was asked by the American intellectual community what democracy meant to him and he responded in these words: “Everyone has the right to say yes and everyone else has the right to say no. that’s my idea of democracy.” The learnt Einstein was both philosophical and practical. In a world of over six billion people, there are different shades of opinions on various subjects or issues. It is therefore not possible for all to flow in the same direction. For this reason, democracy becomes necessary to convey the thoughts of people through freedom of expression guaranteed by constitutional provisions.

The constitution gives guidelines for the exercise of those thoughts because it is not possible for everyone to have the same mental attitude, rectitude and emotional control in dealing with situations. There are those who are guided by objective principles and those by prejudices and intents to convert such freedoms to opportunities that would undermine the freedoms of others and the peaceful course of society.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s remarks in Harlem, though harmlessly said on grounds that she was not the President of the Republic of Liberia at the time, and knew not what had been done by some women but got to know at a much later time, have become the distracting tension at the moment. There are those who are analyzing the remarks from objective points of view and there are those who are influenced by their own prejudices and utilizing their democratic rights to overheat the nation and drive it towards crisis. Well, as others would say, they have the democratic and constitutional rights but so are those who have the same rights but prefer to move the nation forward and keep it secure.

The names Bhoffol Chambers and Acarous Gray have become phenomenal attributes to anything that demonizes President Sirleaf and contributes to an environment of tension. The exercise of their democratic freedoms are overzealously pursued and languages employed against the President of the Republic of Liberia are darkened with sarcasms, vilifications and descriptions that leaves one’s mouth open as to whether democracy has become an empowering instrument to disrespect authorities or capture any opportunity to change the tranquil environment of Liberia into a tension built one that sends fear signals in the society.

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Democracy is pursued and enthroned not for chaotic purposes but to provide for an environment objective and positive exchange of ideas in a civil and respectable manner. It appears that this is not fully understood by some overzealous citizens who take the liberty in insulting the President under the banner of democratic rights. An old man who claimed to have been one of the PROs during the Tubman’s Administration confided to this column that Tubman understood the excesses of Liberians and therefore restrained their civil liberties. While this was wrong, it seems true that Liberians have not gained the level of maturity in the exercise of their freedoms and are not very appreciative of the unhindered democratic rights extended by President Sirleaf. 

Instead of declaring the President as a living legend of dispensing civil liberties, she has become the victim of abuse of the rights extended which is unparallel in the political and governing history of the Republic of Liberia. The abuse of democracy is certainly a violation of democracy. It has to be noted first and foremost that the President is flesh and blood subject to emotions, pains, weaknesses, errors, as well as negative and positive dispositions. Like everyone else, she has children, families, friends and supporters who would not always take kindly to abusive utterances against her. Democracy is respecting the personality of each other; whether it is the governor or the governed and expressing and/or contributing ideas that would impact the nation positively-not negatively.

Dr. Chambers, Hon. Gray, and Mr. Ralph Brown have failed to also capitalize on the successes and gains of the President’s interaction with world leaders at the just ended UN General Assembly that would bring benefits and development to Liberia. Both Chambers and Gray have not addressed Liberians on developments they have influenced in their Electoral Districts and what their constituents have benefitted through the mandate they have received from them that give them some level of affluence. Were they elected as pro-democracy activists or elected to castigate the President perennially on radio and television stations? Have they understood and executed their mandates?

The demand for the President to apologize for expressing her views about the reportage of some journalists is not being democratic and is within itself a violation of the President’s rights to self-expression, enjoying and defending life and liberty, of pursuing and maintaining the security of her person as enshrine in Article 11 (a) of the Liberian Constitution. I think the press should not pursue such course as the press itself has, on unaccountable times, inflicted the President through publications, accommodation of studio guests and callers who issue invectives against her without personal and state reactions like the past. We need to appreciate her bold steps in ensuring democracy.

Interestingly, the press also does release sensitive information with names of sources unquoted. This is ethical to protect one’s sources and those who plead to remain anonymous. The President also has a right as well. Analysts believe those women spoken about by the President who allegedly hid their children’s voting cards might have done so to avoid past errors made when young people sang “you kill my ma you kill my pa, I will vote for you.” This could not have been electoral fraud as those cards were not used. Further, parents are looked upon to provide guidance to their kids. This was 2005. It is now a spilled milk that cannot be made into butter.

However, the commendable action of the new CDC leadership to distance itself from the CDC’s Legislative Caucus decision to impeach the President is a demonstration that there is a new leadership style that the former Secretary General, Acarous Gray and his militant colleagues have not yet captured. It is a new CDC that is different from the chaotic CDC which they bred and controlled. The Party’s leadership role has, since convention, continued to attract responsible and peaceful minded citizens. This course should be consistent. This is living today as if tomorrow were elections. It is important that Liberians learn to treat the President and other leaders with respect and not abuse their democratic tolerance. If we do not imbibe this quality, we might plunge ourselves into a police and security state if a non-tolerant President takes over.

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