A top legal battle among four political stakeholders emerges this afternoon, Monday, 19 October at Liberia’s Supreme Court on key contentions hanging over the 8 December 2020 Senatorial elections.
What arguments each of the four parties representing the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), National Elections Commission (NEC), the Legislative and Executive branches put forth in the case and how the Supreme Court rules will finally decide the fate, confidence and morale of this senatorial election that has already seen a wave of violence.
The full bench of the Supreme Court of five Justices is sitting on this matter today because the initial decision taken in chambers by one of the Associate Justices denying the CPP’s petition for a writ of mandamus to halt the election process did not please the opposition bloc which is made of four political parties.
The CPP’s last hope of legal challenge is the full bench of the Supreme Court which it is asking to halt the election process and have the NEC enforce the court’s earlier order to clean up the 2017 Final Registration Roll (FRR).
According to an assignment released Wednesday, 14 October, the Supreme Court has set Monday, 19 October as the date for argument in the case at 2:00pm.
In pursuit of a full cleanup of the 2017 Voters Roll, the CPP petitioned the Supreme Court recently, seeking the issuance of a Writ of Mandamus against the National Elections Commission (NEC) and the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) – led Government.
The CPP had complained to the Supreme Court that with callous disregard of the consequences, the NEC had failed, neglected and refused to clean up the voters roll as ordered by the Supreme Court, mandated by the Liberian Senate, the House of Representatives and recommended by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
It therefore asked the court to issue a writ of mandamus and halt the election process until the Final Registration Roll (FRR) of 2017 is fully cleaned up ahead of the conduct of the 8 December 2020 senatorial election which has been building up serious political tension mainly in Montserrado County between the opposition and the ruling CDC and in few of the 15 counties here. However the Justice in Chambers denied the CPP’s petition to issue the writ of mandamus.
That decision received a reaction from former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf through a tweet on Saturday, 10 October when she wrote that “The recent decision of the Supreme Court of Liberia to deny the opposition appeal for a cleanup of the Voters Roll is a strike at our hard earned democracy.”
Besides Mrs. Sirleaf’s reaction, the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) on Monday, 12 October also reminded the Supreme Court of the grave consequences Liberia has suffered due to the crisis created out of fraudulent elections, challenging the high court to therefore demonstrate fairness in deciding election cases in the next two months leading to the senatorial election.
At the formal opening of the Supreme Court Monday, the president of the Liberian National Bar Association Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe cautioned the court to take judicial notice of the historical fact that all threats in constitutional and other governance of Liberia over the years have been negatively impacted by electoral dispute.
Meanwhile at the program Monday, 12 October, Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr. assured all Liberians, political parties and associations or organizations that during the ensuing senatorial and all other elections here, the Supreme Court will continue to be fair in its actions and decisions, saying the court has no friend or foe in deciding elections or other cases.
The CPP’s move to petition the Supreme Court came at a time there have been dissents against the Voter Roll Update (VRU) in preparation for the December 2020 Senatorial Election, with some reports suggesting mass voters’ trucking and some potential voters engaging in multiple registrations and obtaining multiple voter cards.
CPP which is comprised of former ruling Unity Party, Alternative National Congress, Liberty Party and All Liberian Party, says a clear and credible Voters Roll is an indispensable prerequisite for the conduct of free, fair and transparent democratic elections.
Instead of cleaning up the voters roll, the CPP alleges that the NEC has with the approval of the government, unilaterally announced and embarked on a mobile voters roll update with focus on Liberians of voting age including those who have attained the age of 18 years and above.
Further, it says the NEC has focused on those who have relocated from previous voting places to another, those who have lost their voting cards and those who didn’t register during the last voter registration in 2017. It notes that the integrity of the FRR used for the 2017 general and presidential elections was challenged by the Unity Party (UP) and Liberty Party (LP).
Following UP and LP’s challenge, the CPP recalls that the Supreme Court acknowledged several irregularities in the voter roll and ordered the NEC to conduct a full cleanup of the roll in consultation with and information to the political parties.
According to the CPP, since the exhibition of the provisional voters roll was carried out on the 12th of June 2017, the total valid registered voters viewed in the database was 2,045,483.
From this analysis, CPP says the ECOWAS report concluded that between the time of the exhibition of the FRR and declaring the FRR, a total of 138,146 records were added to the voters roll. The CPP laments that there is no evidence up to date that these additional 138,146 voters added to the FRR have been removed from the voters roll.
It says the findings of a technical team deployed to Liberia by ECOWAS clearly showed that the 2017 Voters roll was defective and could not form a basis for free, fair and credible elections.
The CPP further claims that the conclusion is compelling and inescapable that 170,000 suspected duplicates were never extracted from the voters roll and remain there up to date, rendering the FRR defective and unfit to lay a basis for elections.
It notes that if 170,000 suspected duplicates were removed from the provisional registration roll, the total number of the voters on the FRR ought to have been 2,012,956 and not 2,183,629 voters as reported by NEC on its final voters roll on 11 September 2017. By Winston W. Parley