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Seats for Sale or By Choice: A New Dimension Set by the House

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Due to popular demand, the last edition of thoughts, politics, and people was a repeat of  Senator Abel Massalay’s article on the collaboration between the Executive and Legislative Branches of Government. We did promise to bring you a special on Liberia ’s Maritime but due to the absence of the Commissioner and the bureaucratic red tape associated with entering the premises, we have been unable to reach the authorities. Nevertheless, we shall endeavor to meet with Beyan Kesseley and explore the operations of the Bureau. Please accept my apologies.

Today, there are many explosive political issues that are attracting the attention of the electorates. One of such issues is the increase in election fees. Presidential candidates and their running mates are to pay US$7,500 and US5,000 respectively instead of US$2,500 and US$2,000 in 2005. Senators and Representatives are to pay fees of US$2,500 and US$1,500 instead of US$700,00 and US$500,00 in 2005. These would be the new standards set if the Senate should concord with an Act to amend section 20.2 of the New Elections Law of Liberia passed in the House amidst controversy.

Just why did the House originate such stringent and costly measures for citizens to serve their people and their nation? According to the Act, the conduct of the 2011 Elections imposes huge financial burden on the Elections Commission in the face of competing development priorities and as such, the passage of the Bill will alleviate such burden. In other words, electorates may be compelled to search for financially potent candidates who can meet the new standards if passed into law and forsake those in whom they firmly put their confidence.

The Amendment of Section 20.2 of the New Elections Law is not the submission of the National Elections Commission but that of two Honorable Representatives known to have opportunities and some affluence who themselves are contesting the Legislative Elections. In the view of opposing forces, these increases are not primarily intended to fund the commission but to deprive strong contenders who are financially incapable to meet the new standards thus providing easy win for them.

According to impeccable sources, Honorables Edwin Melvin Snowe and Elijah Sieh are the arrow heads of this new standard. If the contents of the Bill are honest, they are making substantive contributions to the Commission. But on the other hand, these Honorable Men, as lawmakers, are responsible for the passage of the National Budget which includes the budget of the Elections Commission. They have been Legislators for about six years now and never thought of the huge financial responsibilities attached to the conduct of the 2011 elections. Why did they not lobby for budgetary increase in the Commission’s budget until now?

In conversation with the Chairman of the House Committee on Elections, Honorable Gabriel Smith, the purpose of the Bill is not to create standards or deprive aspirants. According to the Honorable Chairman, the increase cannot prevent Liberians from rallying around their candidates, saying, “at least Liberians are not that poor that they cannot raise funds for their candidates.” Though he supported the Bill, his concern is the timing.

The passage of the Bill was hosted in the face of mounted differences and the passage was even more controversial. In the opinion of Honorable Mathew V. Z. Darblo of Cape Mount County , “there was a stenographic error in the counting of those in favor of the Bill and those against. He believed the votes against were 18 to 17 but stenographer count placed the votes to a 17 tie which was broken by the Honorable Speaker in favor of the passage.

It is expected to have a rough sail in the Senate which has become an intense center for lobby against the Bill. At today’s session of Plenary, the Bill might under go its first reading and sent to Committee Room. Perhaps, due to the urgency attached to having all set for the Elections, the first reading might constitute the second and third reading and open for debate and passage.

Already, Representatives Snowe and Sieh are at high points of criticisms and condemnations. Other Legislators believed that the passage of the Bill has exposed the Legislature to condemnation and ridicule. Political commentators believed that the move has been crafted to give current Legislators the advantage as they have over the years amassed wealth and wish to perpetuate themselves in office. The Bill is being seen as selfish and undemocratic. If such is given concord by the Liberian Senate, a new dispensation of “wealthy men take it all” will be an evil precedent set in the political history of Liberia .

Analyses of political opinions around also predict a rough political terrain in Liberia . How we handle issues is of vital importance to the stability of Liberia . One of the best ways to handle the season according to an expert is to objectively look at issues, debate them, form opinions, and act upon them rather than the usual culture of personality attacks. Liberia ’s politics have always thrived on attacks and what worries most Liberians is the conversion of national concerns into personal issues. It is argued that if we depart from this trend, the electorate will benefit immensely and make sound decisions based on less emotions and wise judgments.

The political environment has immensely undergone a change. With the election of Winston Tubman as Standard Bearer of the CDC, the opposition NDC to whom he had earlier pledged support is weakened. On the other hand, each political party has unbroken confidence while the Unity Party sees it self as a colossal. In all these, one thing is essential and that is providing the Liberian people with acceptable platforms and not criticisms and condemnation of each other. We hope this would be the case.

In this new development, the Liberian Senate now holds the keys to either ignite more controversies by passing the amendment of Section 20.2 of the Elections Law or defeat same to democratize the Elections. The timing is wrong and the Legislature should not pass its responsibilities of budgetary appropriation to the democratic choices of the people. In the words of a friend, Legislative elections are now for sale not the choice we wish to make.

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