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Referendum blues: Diaspora Liberians want compatriots vote yes to all

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With just 6 days for Liberians to head to the polls in their bid to decide the future direction of the country in a Referendum, which comes amid a mid-term senatorial election, Liberians in the diaspora have joined the campaign urging their compatriots to vote yes to all the prepositions.

“We are here in Liberia to advocate for the entire referendum. We want the referendum to be held. We support the entire referendum and we’re calling on the people of Liberia to vote yes to all the prepositions on the referendum, even though our sole interest is preposition # 1, which is on dual citizenship. But we think that our appeal to the Liberian people is to vote yes to all items on the referendum, Mr. Emmanuel S. Wettee, Chairman of the All Liberian Conference on Dual Citizenship(ALCDC) told the New Dawn in an exclusive interview Tuesday December 1.

Liberians are expected to decide on 8 prepositions on December 8, the same day they will be electing 15 new members of the Senate. Each of the preposition is intended to amend different articles within the country’s 1986 Constitution.

The prepositions seek amendments to Article 28 to allow dual citizenship, Article 45 and 48 reduction in Senatorial tenure from the current 9 years to 7 years and reduction in the tenure of Representatives from 6years to 5years respectively. Both Senate Pro-tempt and House Speakers will also see a reduction in their respective tenures from 6years to 5years.

The changes in the Constitution also seek an amendment to Article 50, to have a reduction in the Presidential and Vice Presidential tenures from 6years to 5years. It further seeks to amend Article 83 (a) to change the date of the General Elections from the 2nd Tuesday in October to November.

As good as the prepositions appear, they have not been void of controversies, especially from the opposition bloc, which filed a prohibition before the nation’s highest court last month. The ruling from the country’s Supreme Court has left behind it many interpretations. But one thing is clear, most Liberians, if not all are in agreement with the propositions, but differs on the timing.

For Mr.Wettee whose organization represents more than 500 diaspora Liberians from various Liberian organizations within the diaspora including but not limited to ULAA-Union of Liberian Association in the Americas, EFLA- European Federation of Liberians Association, FLACA,-Federation of Liberian Association in Australia, LAC-Liberia Association in Canada, and the United Liberian Association of Ghana believes that the time is ripe for Liberians to decide the future direction of the country.

Why is the Referendum so important to Wettee and his group?

Under the current Constitution, especially Article 28, Wettee and thousands others- natural born Liberians who hold citizenships of other countries are no longer recognized as Liberian citizens. The same apply to children born by Liberian women to foreign fathers. They might declared their citizenship at age 18 or be robbed of same.

Article 28 states:Any person, at least one of whose parents was a citizen of Liberia at the time of thePerson’s birth, shall be a citizen of Liberia; provided that any such person shall uponreaching maturity renounce any other citizenship acquired by virtue of one parentbeing a citizen of another country. No citizen of the Republic shall be deprived ofcitizenship or nationality except as provided by law; and no person shall be deniedthe right to change citizenship or nationality.

An amendment to this Article, would allow dual citizenship-meaning Wettee and other natural born Liberians can still maintain their Liberian citizenship, while being a neutralized citizen of another.

“What it means to be a dual citizen is that you will have right to your country of birth; you will have right to land ownership; you will have right to own certain businesses and above all a woman will have the right to pass her citizenship to her child,” Wetteeflanked by Rev. Marcuus Y. Sherman head of the United Liberian Association of Ghana said.

“In Liberia, as we speak right now,” Wettee continues, “a woman does not have the right to pass her citizenship to her child. As we speak right now, if a child is born by a Liberian woman to a father who is not a Liberian, that child is not a Liberian. And right now as we speak the United Nations notes that there are 40,000 stateless children living in Liberia.”

Thus, a yes vote to dual citizenship would protect not only natural born Liberians who have already obtained citizenship of other countries but also children born to Liberian parents outside the country andthose born with one parent being a foreigner automatically qualifies to be a Liberian citizen. A yes vote to dual citizenship gives protection to Liberians in this category.

What does the diaspora make of the recent Supreme Court ruling?

Wettee who represents an organization of 500 Liberians says the Supreme Court did not put a halt to the conduct of the referendum as is being claimed in other quarters of the country. Instead, Wettee says the court instructed the National Elections Commission (NEC) to separate the prepositions rather than comprising them to three.

He argues that if that process of decompressing the prepositions had required the printing of new gazette as being propounded by others, the court would have said so.

“The Supreme Court did not postpone the referendum. Rather the Supreme Court said look each (preposition) item on the referendum which is approved by two-third of the both House of Representatives and Senate need to be printed on the ballot so that people can have the right to choose, you cannot bundle the eight preposition into three,” he argued.

He avers that to the best of his knowledge, the National Elections Commission has gone ahead to separate the prepositions on the ballot for the December 8 elections. For him the court accepted the opposition request and it is based on that, that the Supreme asked the NEC to separate the items.

Education of voters on referendum symbols

On the argument that the referendum should be postponed because there have not been enough awareness on the symbols, Wettee counters. He says the issue of dual citizenship is not a today issue.

He notes that there have been a lot of education about dual citizenship. “There have been lot of publications on the symbols. The word enough education on the referendum is relative, therefore what might be enough public awareness to me may not be to you,” he argues. He adds that this should not be a reason to call for the postponement of the referendum.

Furthermore, Wettee assumes that the Representatives who represented their people, may have spoken to then sufficiently before signing up to the resolution calling for the conduct of the referendum.

He also opines that with reports that the Ministry of Internal Affairs have been working with NEC to identify the symbols of the prepositions, he believes that there have been massive education ongoing about the referendum.

On fears of President Weah contesting for a third term

“Our people need to read the constitution. Article 93 of the Constitution makes it very clear that if the constitution is amended, under the term of a President that president does not benefit. Nobody is mentioning Article 93, and it is written and the crafter saw that long before.

Article 93 states: The limitation of the Presidential term of office to two terms, each of six yearsduration, may be subject to amendment; provided that the amendment shall notbecome effective during the term of office of the incumbent President. By Othello B. Garblah

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