The Supreme Court of Liberia Wednesday November 1, 2017 issued a stay order instructing the Board of Commissioners of the National Elections Commission or NEC to stay any and all actions in respect of the pending presidential run-off election scheduled for November 7.
The stay order, which is now enforce arises from a petition filed by the Liberty Party or LP praying the superior court for a writ of prohibition on activities leading to the run-off, to enable the electoral body look into its complaint of allegations of fraud and irregularities in the October 10 elections.
The LP has argued that should the run-off be allowed to take place while its complaints are before the NEC, any out come after the run-off results would have defeated the purpose of its complaint before NEC- simply put; it wants a re-run of the October 10 election, but fall short of saying if it is only contesting the presidential.
So, the Justice presiding in Chambers, Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh granted the LP’s prayers and has since referred the matter before the full bench of the Supreme Court, which was expected to look into the merits and demerits of the petition on Thursday November 2, at least as stated in the stay order.
But the action by the LP has left several questions unanswered, at least as far as the time frame provided for in Article 83 of the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia on electoral contest is concerned. Besides it raises further question as to what this would mean to the ordinary Liberian and the implications it would have on the election timetable as prescribed by the same Article 83.
What does Article 83 says-pay keen attention to section C where the emphasis is: A Voting for the President, Vice-President, members of the Senate and members of the House of Representatives shall be conducted throughout the Republic on the second Tuesday in October of each election year.
All elections of public officers shall be determined by an absolute majority of the votes cast. If no candidate obtains an absolute majority in the first ballot, a second ballot shall be conducted on the second Tuesday following. The two candidates who received the greatest numbers of votes on the first ballot shall be designated to participate in the run-off election.
The returns of the elections shall be declared by the Elections Commission not later than fifteen days after the casting of ballots. Any party or candidate who complains about the manner in which the elections were conducted or who challenges the results thereof shall have the right to file a complaint with the Elections Commission. Such complaint must be filed not later than seven days after the announcement of the results of the elections.
The Elections Commission shall, within thirty days of receipt of the complaint, conduct an impartial investigation and render a decision which may involve a dismissal of the complaint or a nullification of the election of a candidate. Any political party or independent candidate affected by such decision shall not later than seven days appeal against it to the Supreme Court.
The Elections Commission shall within seven days of receipt of the notice of appeal, forward all the records in the case to the Supreme Court, which not later than seven days thereafter, shall hear and make its determination. If the Supreme Court nullifies or sustains the nullification of the election of any candidate, for whatever reasons, the Elections commission shall within sixty days of the decision of the Court conduct new elections to fill the vacancy. If the court sustains the election of a candidate, the Elections Commission shall act to effectuate the mandate of the Court.
Has the LP complaint hearing been completed by NEC?
No, NEC is yet to complete its hearing into the complaint filed by the LP before its magistrate. More so, NEC is still working within the frame work of Article 83 (C), which gives it a 30 day period to do so.
Why LP is then seeking a prohibition at this time?
The Liberty Party thinks that by NEC going ahead with the run-off at the time it is yet to complete findings into its complaint, any conclusion into its case after the run-off would have defeated the purpose for its complaint. Hence, it had to run to the Supreme Court to stop NEC from conducting the run-off until its complaint is adjudicated.
What does the constitution says about such complaint?
Article 83 C….The Elections Commission shall within seven days of receipt of the notice of appeal, forward all the records in the case to the Supreme Court, which not later than seven days thereafter, shall hear and make its determination. If the Supreme Court nullifies or sustains the nullification of the election of any candidate, for whatever reasons, the Elections commission shall within sixty days of the decision of the Court conduct new elections to fill the vacancy. If the court sustains the election of a candidate, the Elections Commission shall act to effectuate the mandate of the Court.
Does the stay order mean the LP has won its complaint at NEC?
No, the fact that the LP had its petition for prohibition granted by the Supreme Court does not in any way means its allegations about fraud and irregularities before NEC are true. It is possible that NEC could dismiss such allegations.
Does this mean that the results of the October 10 elections have been nullified?
No, the stay order is not an annulment of the presidential and Legislative elections held on October 10, because no such matter has been brought before the Supreme Court.
Does this mean that the NEC is not credible?
No, NEC has been transparent at every stage of the election and has been opened to scrutiny. Its steps are fully in line with international best practice.
Was its independence compromise by the President?
No, at no point has the National Elections Commission’s independence been questioned or compromise by the president.
What would this mean for the run-off?
This mean NEC has to halt the dispatching of ballot papers to all of its polling centers around the country ahead of the November 7 schedule. Stop all civic voters’ education exercises leading to the run-off. And all other activities NEC had embarked upon for the run-off.
Does this apply to the parties in the run-off too?
Yes, this also means that the two candidates in the run-off should put a halt to all campaigning and wait for the Supreme Court to adjudicate the matter before it.
How long will this take?
There is no known time limit yet, but the fact that elections matters are to be expeditiously heard and determined, the Supreme Court could dispose of the case sooner than we think.
Would it in any way affect the election timetable as provided for by the Constitution?
Yes, this could probably go beyond the time stipulated by the Constitution. It could also result into low voters’ turn out and push the election timetable beyond its constitutional mandate thereby setting a new precedent.
What precedent does this set?
Well in as much as this move is good for our infant democracy, we should be careful that this does not stall the process, where in the future anyone who thinks he or she has been rubbed in an election runs to the Supreme Court without first completing the hearing process before NEC in compliance with the time frame laid down in the constitution.