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S/Court red-cards Referendum

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-As CPP draws first victory

Liberia’s Supreme Court has granted main opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP’s) request prohibiting the conduct of a controversial National Referendum that was due to be combined with the conduct of the senatorial election on 8 December by the National Elections Commission (NEC).

“Wherefore and in view of the foregoing, the alternative writ of prohibition issued is sustained and the peremptory writ for is granted,” the nation’s highest court ruled in a unanimous decision Wednesday, 18 November.

Prior to the court’s ruling, the government has 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.

But the Supreme Court on Wednesday prohibited the NEC from printing ballots for the referendum, contrary to a joint resolution of the Legislature and Article 92 of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court rules that the NEC proceeded by the wrong rule, therefore, prohibition will lie.
It says 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.

According to the Supreme Court, the petitioners having demonstrated that they are duly registered and certificated by the National Elections Commission as two separate and distinct political alliances with common concern relative to the conduct of the December 8, 2020 referendum, they have a stake in the matter and can therefore join in an action to assert any right common to them.

The Supreme Court continues that the court held that prohibition will lie where it is established that the respondent has assumed jurisdiction not otherwise ascribed to it, exceeded its designated jurisdiction or in the exercise of its lawful jurisdiction, proceeded by wrong rules other than those which ought to be observed at all time.

However, the Supreme Court details the NEC did not assume jurisdiction not ascribed to it by setting December 8, 2020 as the date to vote in the referendum since it is not sooner than one year from September 30, 2019, the date of the joint resolution of the Legislature.

It notes that this is in compliance with the constitution and it did not exceed its jurisdiction, nor did it proceed by rules other than those which ought to be observed at all time.

The Supreme Court explains that Article 92 of the Constitution is devoid of any time frame for the dissemination of information and awareness on the referendum.

The court indicates that it is not in the position to determine what constitutes sufficient public awareness and information, especially where the petitioners have admitted in their petition that indeed, some public awareness was undertaken by the NEC on the referendum.

Regarding this aspect of the case the Supreme Court determines that the institution is not proceeding by wrong rule, and therefore prohibition will not lie.

By Ben P. Wesee–Edited by Winston W. Parley

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