Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Nathaniel F. McGill has announced here that the controversial referendum will be held as planned, days after Liberia’s Supreme Court granted main opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP’s) request prohibiting the conduct of the National Referendum combined with the conduct of the senatorial election due 8 December.
At a press conference attended at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Monrovia by scores of media representatives Monday, 23 November, McGill accused the opposition of misrepresenting the court’s decision, saying the court did not stop the referendum.
“As you know, as soon as the Supreme Court came up with its ruling, people [were] celebrating, they say the referendum was cancelled. The referendum is not cancelled,” he says.
Mr. McGill indicates that the National Elections Commission (NEC) had announced just the previous day to the press conference that it is in the process of printing the ballot papers for the referendum in line with the Supreme Court’s mandate.
McGill’s comments were backed at the press conference by Liberia’s Solicitor General Cllr. Saymah Syrenius Cephus, who also noted that “the referendum is on course,” adding that there will be separate and distinct ballot paper for each of the article of amendment.
McGill argues that the recommendations in the referendum including reduction of the tenures of the president and representatives from six to five years; nine to seven years for senators; approval for dual citizenship, among others, did not come from President George Manneh Weah, but Liberians themselves.
In response to concerns that President Weah could seek more than two terms if the presidential tenure is dropped to five years, judging from what is taking place in neighboring countries, Mr. McGill insists that the president is not going for third term.
“There will be no third term here,” he says, though suggesting that if the proposition to reduce the tenure of the president goes through successfully, “every Liberian citizen will be qualified.”
“The president still get one more term to run for and if we decide to keep for six years, he get one more term. The president not going for third term, take that one from out of the story,” he explains, while being quizzed by a journalist.
Regarding criticisms that not much education has been provided for Liberians to know what they will be voting on 8 December, Mr. McGill argues that the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) headed by Justice Gloria Musu Scott five years ago took two years to get citizens’ participation on the propositions in the referendum across the country.
Cllr. Scott and the CRC did their work during former President Ellen Johnson – Sirleaf’s regime about two years prior to the inception of the current administration.
Prior to the court’s ruling on 18 November, the government had been facing public criticisms for combining the senatorial election with the referendum, mainly for concerns that there has not been much publicity in terms of awareness for the people to have a clear understanding of what they are expected to be voting for in the referendum.
The senatorial election brings its own stress and serious political tension which have kept the nation on its heels, and this in part has left others thinking that many people here might just get lost on the issues contained in the referendum while focusing on deciding who should be their candidate in the senatorial election.
However, McGill calls on those in the opposition to vote yes to the propositions in the referendum if they love the country and believe that the tenure of the president is too long.
He believes that there has always been conflict in Liberia because people always want to stay in power for too long, but President Weah believes that it is an opportunity for the citizens to always go to the ballot box to decide the leadership.
“The only way you will not support the referendum except you don’t love this country; except you are a greedy politician who wants to stay long in power, you don’t want the people to decide,” McGill argues.
He explains that the referendum is on course, saying the Supreme Court has been misrepresented as it did not halt the referendum.
“The referendum will proceed as planned, and we are asking all Liberians that [this] referendum, these recommendations are not recommendations coming from the president,” he says, adding that the recommendations come from the people of Liberia.
McGill urges all Liberians to vote yes on each of the eight propositions that will be on the ballot box.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday, 18 November prohibited the NEC from printing ballots for the referendum, contrary to a joint resolution of the Legislature and Article 92 of the Constitution, ruling that the NEC proceeded by the wrong rule, therefore, prohibition will lie.
It said the act of the commission in deviating from the clear language of the Legislature’s resolution by combining and condensing the eight propositions into three categories quite contrary to the provision of Article 92 of the Constitution which specifically mandates that each of the eight propositions be stated separately on the ballot to afford voters the opportunity to exercise their right of choice is prohibited.
By Winston W. Parley-Editing by Othello B. Garblah