The Supreme Court has given the National Elections Commission (NEC) a go – ahead to schedule the conduct of a runoff denying the Liberty Party its request for a re-run of the October 10 polls, which the party contested as being marred with fraud and irregularities.
By so doing, the Court lifts the stay order issued on 31 October as a result of a writ of prohibition filed by LP and UP and orders the NEC to schedule the runoff in accordance with the Constitution and the New Elections Law.
“That notwithstanding our findings that indeed there were some irregularities, fraud and violations of the New Elections Law, as well as the Rules and Regulations of the NEC, we hold that there is no evidence to show that those violations were in such magnitude that they rose to such level to warrant setting aside results of the Presidential and Representatives Elections held on October 10, 2017,” the court said in its final decision read by Associate Justice Phillip A.Z. Banks on Thursday, 7 December.
The decision to uphold NEC’s ruling and gives it the go ahead for a run-off was taken by majority of the Justices with one dissenting opinion.
Reading the majority opinion Thursday at the jam – parked Supreme Court, Justice Banks acknowledged that the two protesting parties established that there were some irregularities of violations of the New Elections Law as well as the Rules and Regulations of the NEC in the conduct of the 2017 Presidential and Representatives Elections.
The ruling Unity Party and opposition Coalition for Democratic Change were schedule to face off in a runoff on 7 November before a Supreme Court order halted the process on the eve of the runoff.
The Supreme Court now says it agrees that the protesting parties presented some evidence in respect of certain violations, but it observes that the parties failed to show that the evidence pervaded the entire spectrum of the elections throughout or in a considerably wide or most parts of the country.
The Justices say they do not see from the records that the parties demonstrated that there was a conspiracy by the NEC as an institution, or that the NEC sanctioned the conduct of those persons who were alleged to have committed elections violations or irregularities.
“We do not believe that the evidence reached that threshold. As important as the evidence was, the fraud and irregularities complained of and shown by the testimonies of the witnesses were limited to the generality of the elections rather than indications of widespread intentional gross conspiracy conduct by the NEC as an institution,” the Supreme Court rules.
The Court says it affirms the ruling of the NEC’s Board of Commissioners declaring a runoff election, but with modifications. It mandates the NEC to fully comply with the standards of publications of the FRR as in keeping with law and discussed in the opinion.
The superior court says the NEC must conduct a full cleanup of the FRR to have it comply with the provision of the law and make it available in published hard copies to all elections magistrates and polling places across the country in accordance with law prior to any runoff election being conducted.
It prohibits the NEC from permitting anyone whose name is not found on the FRR from voting, given that the FRR is the only electoral document which speaks to the eligibility of votes, and that any addendum to the FRR be limited to only those listed in the NEC’s polling and counting manual.
The Court further instructs that poll watchers that did not register at their places of assignment and whose names are not on the FRR should not be allowed to vote. The Court prohibits NEC Chairman Cllr. Jerome George Korkoya, the Board of Commissioners and any staff of the NEC from making public or any pronouncements and utterances relating to any matters which may grow out of the runoff election or any statement in regard to any complaint filed with the Commission as such could create some semblance of bias, prejudice or view of the case.
Meanwhile, Associate Justice Kabineh M. Janeh gives a dissenting opinion against the decision of his colleagues in the majority, arguing that the majority concedes, recognizes and accepts that there is a dire need to do a thorough cleansing of the elections system.
“But the majority seem to have conveniently ignored what the size of that dirt is what needs to be cleaned, but elected simply to order same removed, cleaned and sanitized,” Justice Janeh says.
He adds that the majority appears to disregard the impact that the dirt now recognized to exist at the NEC had on the initial elections, and how has the existing dirt impacted the “valid vote cast” during the first round of the elections.
The Associate Justice stresses that the other problem with the order by the majority is that “we” do not yet know the actual size of the problem faced by the NEC, warning that “this is critical as to the full implementation of the order given by this Court as far as cleansing the system is concerned.”
He says after considering all that his colleagues have said, what he has seen is strict non – compliance to the law, outright violation of the Liberian Constitution and the Elections Law in this Republic.
“To conclude therefore, it is unfortunate that I have found myself incapable to harmonize my legal conviction with those of my extinct colleagues …, hence this dissent,” Justice Janeh concludes.
By Winston W. Parley