Guest Commentary: The Law Must Direct Our Path
By Edward T. Farley, Former Deputy Chief of Protocol, Republic of Liberia
Liberia is on the brink of a constitutional crisis if it has not fallen into one already. On Friday, March 17, barely three days to the commencement of voters registration, the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), of Alexander Cummings, filed a petition before the Supreme Court asking the court to compel the NEC to adhere to the established preconditions of the Liberian Constitution for the conduct of voters registration. The CPP is, therefore, contending that the NEC is proceeding wrongly to conduct the voters’ registration without demarcating the constituencies into which a voter may be registered to vote.
With less than seven months to the elections, the clock to the October 10 Polls is ticking ominously. In a statement released after filing their petition, the CPP said it “is not seeking the intervention of the court to delay the elections.”
Already though, the repeated delays in the timely conduct of the National Housing and Population Census, and especially in announcing the final results, have many seriously concerned about the timely conduct of the 2023 Elections, as constitutionally directed. To date, only a preliminary result of the already delayed Census has been announced. Although there are public concerns around both the integrity and credibility of the census’s conduct and widespread calls for rejection of its results by at least seven political parties, interestingly, the announced preliminary results informed of significant shifts and growth in the population. Important members of the international community have also endorsed the census.
The Liberian Constitution is unambiguous on the ordering processes of the elections. Before an election, when a census determines growth and shifts in the population, the Legislature must immediately determine a new threshold for constituencies, and the NEC must demarcate the new constituencies before registering voters in those constituencies. With a few months to the elections, this constitutional sequencing and flow of activities now appear to be constitutionally distorted, at least this is the impression of the CPP.
The constitutional sequencing is contained in Article 80 under subsections c, d, and e. In part, (c) provides that “every Liberian citizen shall have the right to be registered in a constituency, and to vote in public elections only in the constituency where registered…”. According to (d), a constituency “shall have an approximately equal population of 20,000, or such number of citizens as the Legislature shall prescribe in keeping with population growth and movements as revealed by a national census; provided that the total number of electoral constituencies in the Republic shall not exceed one hundred.” Finally, (e) stipulates that “immediately following a national census and before the next elections, the Elections Commission shall reapportion the constituencies in accordance with the new population figures so that every constituency shall have as close to the same population as possible; provided, however, that a constituency must be solely within a county.”
At its recent opening, the Honorable Chief Justice spoke eloquently and persuasively about the commitment of the court to protecting its independence and ensuring public credibility. Less than a week later, perhaps the most critical matter of the upcoming elections has landed on the highest court’s docket. This is a test for the court. Liberians are concerned and will be closely watching how the court deals with this matter.
It is often said that an outcome is as good as the process to achieve it. Across Africa and in many parts of the world, elections results are triggers for conflicts. Too often, it is not what actually happens on the day of voting that undermines the integrity and credibility of the elections, it is the integrity and credibility of the electoral processes leading up to the voting day that actually trigger the disagreements and raises the levels of tension to boiling points. This is why it is valuable to the elections that contenders are convinced that an honorable court will deal with challenges to electoral matters and processes in a timely manner especially when they call on questions of constitutionality.
Drawing the court’s attention to the looming constitutional question is the right thing to do. Now the court must dutifully respond. It is always best to proceed the right way than to rush our nation onto a wrong path. The right way is the legal and constitutional way. Let the law continue to direct Liberia’s path.