By Lincoln G. Peters
Liberia’s Supreme Court is expected to rule shortly after hearing the election case filed by the opposition Unity Party (UP) against the National Elections Commission (NEC), alleging violation of election laws.
“And so we have listened to your response and we have listened to the argument of the applicants and we will come out with a decision that will be balanced and that people will abide by the decision of this court,” the court said last week.
The Supreme Court of Liberia reserved ruling and suspended the matter last week after listening to the arguments from lawyers representing the opposition UP and the NEC.
During the hearing, Liberia’s Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh said the Supreme Court could not stop the conduct of the 10 October 2023 presidential and legislative elections, as UP demands publication of the final voter registration roll (FRR).
The election law here requires the NEC to publish the FRR and share copies with political parties and independent candidates 30 days before election day.
The NEC has allegedly violated the legal requirement with less than 12 days before the 10 October presidential and legislative elections are conducted.
Liberia’s main opposition Unity Party (UP) which took the matter up to the Supreme Court, has over the past weeks been issuing threats against the government’s alleged plot to rig the elections.
In its petition for a writ of mandamus, the UP requested the court to issue a peremptory writ requesting the NEC to produce, publish, and distribute or issue the FRR in keeping with the law.
During the hearing Thursday, Chief Justice Yuoh informed political parties, particularly the UP and the public that the Supreme Court doesn’t have the authority to legally prevent the 10 October elections.
However, Chief Justice Yuoh noted that the Supreme Court is placed in a dilemma when election matters are not timely placed before the court.
According to her, the law states in Chapter 4 of the Elections Law that no change in a definition of constituencies or a voting precinct shall apply to an election if the election day is less than 12 months after the day the change is published unless the commission announces at less 120 days before the elections day.
She added that this is not practical in the present case, but that is the law.
She assured Liberians that they would look at every side of the matter and come up with a balanced decision.
“So, to come at the eve of the elections, I mean just at the ninth hour to the elections and raise these issues, it becomes so difficult for the court,” said Chief Justice Yuoh.
She indicated that the court cannot legislate, and it cannot even legally say the election must not be held because it does not have the authority to say when the election should begin or when it should stop.
She stated that she believes that the harm posed by the NEC by violating the Election Law by registering four thousand voters at a precinct has the propensity to disenfranchise voters apart from congestion.
“I have been listening to your answer, it’s like NEC is now between a wide and a hard place. Because even with the context of the law, the provision of the law – Chapter 4 is narrow or even prohibits the NEC from doing what it’s even doing now,” she said.
“The law defines what a constituency is and voting precinct. Chapter 4 also talks about that. The law is clear because the law defines what a constancy and precinct are.”
Meanwhile, Chief Justice Yuoh said they have appealed to political parties to have a qualified legal team because everything about elections is time-binding.
“And I am only saying this for members of the public to see how the head and the back of the court is placed against the wall by lawyers who come at certain times to bring cases before this court of last resort,” she said.
“But I just wanted the public to be aware of what’s happening here and today. So, you see the dilemma the court is placed in when elections matters are not timely placed before the court.”
On Thursday, the full bench of the Supreme Court reserved ruling and suspended matters involving the appeal filed by the UP against the NEC alleging Violation of Chapter 4 of the Elections Law.
During the argument, UP lawyers said the NEC violated Chapter 4.1 Paragraph 2 of the Elections Law by registering four thousand voters at a precinct.
“We brought the NEC here because they have violated the Elections Law by registering four thousand voters at a precinct instead of three thousand,” the UP lawyers said.