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Senatorial Elections: Only an acceptable and realistic common ground

It may appear as if the Executive and Legislative Branches of the Liberian Government are at variance over the issue of this year’s Midterm Senatorial Elections, already scheduled for October 14. Liberian Chief Executive Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, acting in consonance with the powers vested in her by the 1986 Liberian Constitution and Declaration of the State of Emergency, on October 4, 2014, issued a Proclamation indefinitely suspending the holding of the October 14, 2014 Mid-Term Senatorial Elections, following a communication to the Legislature.

The Proclamation attributed the President’s decision to the current national health crisis: “As a consequence of the measures taken by the Government under the State of Emergency to contain the spread and eradicate the virus, the continued prevalence of the Virus, and other self-surviving measures taken by the people in restricting their travel and contacts, necessary for a free, open and transparent political atmosphere, the National Elections Commission, the Institution clothed with the authority to conduct elections in Liberia, has informed the Government that it has been unable to undertake several of the processes that are prerequisites to conducting the pending 2014 Senatorial Elections, including the deployment of staff in the field to conduct civil/voter education, the recruitment and deployment of the required polling staff at polling centers, the importation of basic, essential and sensitive electoral materials due to the suspension of flights to Liberia, the requisite campaigning by senatorial candidates and the monitoring of the process and activities by the NEC to ensure that there are no violations of the Elections Law and that violations are adequately addressed.”

The October 4 Presidential Proclamation then mandated the National Elections Commission-  responsible to conduct general and special elections in Liberia, to immediately commence consultations and discussions with all recognized and accredited political parties, independent can Save didates, civil society organizations and other stakeholders, as well as national and international health authorities on a new date for the Senatorial Elections. But on Friday, October 10, 2014 following two days of debate, the Legislature unanimously   “disagreed with and rejected” the decision by President Sirlead to ‘indefinitely’ cancel this year’s mid-term Senatorial elections.

The decision by the Liberian Legislature was reached through a Joint Resolution passed by the House of Representatives and Liberian Senate:  “Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the 53rd National Legislature through its special session during its extraordinary sitting mandates the National Elections Commission (NEC) to set a date in consultation with stakeholders for the conduct of the 2014 Mid Term Senatorial Elections not later than December 20, 2014. While the foregoing Constitutional issues raised by the Executive and Legislative Branches may be tangible, Liberians may equally be in total disagreement with the holding of the Mid-Term Senatorial Elections “not later than December 20, 2014” as proposed by the Legislature, in the wake of the unending Ebola crisis.

If and only if members of the 53rd Legislature are predicting that the Ebola crisis would then be over not later December 20 for the Elections based on their own assessment and advice by experts with whom they are associated, there should be no reason or whatsoever to disagree with their mandates to the National Election Commission or NEC to hold the elections not later December 20.

But if the deadly Ebola virus disease remains widespread across Liberia before the date mentioned by the Legislature, and that at all cost there must be elections in any manner and form, the possibility of the process may be very slim or impracticable- because considering the nature of transmission of the virus and owing to various behavioral patterns, no Liberian would want to be ‘misled’ into taking risk to gather in any manner and form for campaign activities (even on radio) or cue at voting centers within the borders of the country.

While the Constitutional implications of the Mid Term Senatorial Elections beyond December, regarding the Senate and Executive may be understood, the safety and well-being of Liberian voters must also be considered- but the life of the people can in no way be “replaced.”

If and only if the Presidential Communication and the Joint Resolution passed on last Friday by the House of Representatives and Liberian Senate were not another “political game” by the Executive and Legislature for Liberians to be that they are at variance over the holding of the Mid Term Senatorial Elections, there should be no reason to “hurry up” with the elections amid the national health crisis. And unless Liberian voters are assured of an Ebola-free environment not later December 20, of course, there should be no cause to worry about “not later December 20.”

Again, one common denominator we all, including the Executive and Legislative Branches of Government, may have on the matter is the mandate by both branches of government to the National Elections Commission to “set a date- be it new or not later than December 20”, in consultation with all recognized and accredited political parties, independent candidates, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders as well as national and international health authorities of the holding of the Mid Term Sensational Elections.

While the foregoing may be fair way of determining an acceptable and realistic common ground- even though the Legislature insisted on a specific time-frame and the Executive proposed an indefinite time-frame, it is now incumbent on our national and international political, civil society, as well as National and international health actors and Elections Commission to discuss and determine a time-frame from a realistic and sincere perspectives consistent with the duration of  current Ebola Crisis and safety and well-being of Liberian voters.

Truly enough, the hope of the Liberian people may now be in the national and international actors, devoid of all political sentiments, for an acceptable and realistic common ground reasonably satisfactory to all stakeholders, including Liberians in general.

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