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Uncertainty hangs over 2017

-Dissenting justices warn

The recent majority decision made by Justices of the Supreme Court to disapprove the certification of two senators-elect, has left two dissenting Justices spelling trouble over the pending 2017 elections as the 73 seats in the House of Representatives will be up for grab.

The two justices fear that the recent ruling will give rise to a litany of disputes over elections results creating a significant level of uncertainty across the country.

Associate Justices Jamesetta Howard Wolokolie and Sie -A-Nyene G. Yuoh, in a joint opinion, said in the case of two complaints against each of these Representatives elected by any of the losing candidates, the NEC will need to process 146 complaints within 30 days.

Thus, the dissenting Justices warned that “should these complainants also feel encouraged to petition the Supreme Court to prevent these Representatives-elect from being certificated and seated, there will be a significant level of uncertainty across Liberia over the status of the election.”

The justices opinion is a fallout from the  January 2, 2015, petition filed by  two political parties and individual candidates who participated in the elections of December 20, 2014, for a writ of prohibition before the Justice in Chambers, Justice Philip A.Z. Banks, III, against the NEC and certain declared winners of the election, praying the Court to prohibit the NEC from certificating those declared winners and to de-certificate those already certificated.

They had alleged in their petitions that they had filed complaints of certain elections irregularities before the board of NEC in fulfilment of the constitutional requirement that any party or candidate who complains about the manner in which the elections were conducted or who challenges the results shall have the right to file a complaint with the NEC not later than seven days after the announcement of the results of the elections.

The petitioners contended that despite the complaints not having been heard and disposed of, the NEC had proceeded to certificate the winners so declared. Petitioners prayed that the NEC be prohibited from certificating the winners so declared, and for those already certificated, the NEC be made to de-certificate them until the petitioners’ complaints filed are heard and finally disposed of.

Upon filing of petitions by Alhaji Dr. Fodee Kromah, the National Patriotic Party (NPP) and The Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and its candidate, Professor Ansu D. Sonii, on January 2, 2015, a day before the certification by the NEC of declared winners of the election, the Justice in Chambers cited the parties to a conference on January 5, 2015, but in the meantime, mandated the NEC to stay the certification of Counsellor Varney G. Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County, Morris Saytumah of Bomi County, and Jim Womba Tornoniah of Margibi County, pending the outcome of the conference.

Gbleh-Bo Brown and Commany B. Wesseh, declared winners of Maryland County and River Gee County respectively, being shortly certificated before the petitioners’ petition contesting their election were filed,  the Justice in Chambers also invited them to a conference but declined to send an order to the NEC to have them de-certificated.

Thereafter, there began an influx of petitions praying for decertification of declared winners of the elections which this time the Justice refused to consider.

It is from this background that Justice Wokollie and Justice Youh said they did not go along with their majority colleagues’ interpretation of Article 83 (c), which requires that only those candidates whose elections are not contested or who have had complaints against their elections as winners heard and decided can be certificated to take political office.

The majority justices include Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr, Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh and Justice Phillip A.Z. Banks,

“…This, we say, is a misinterpretation of this provision of the Constitution and will be a recipe for disaster,” the dissenting justices warned.

They criticized the majority’s view that it would be difficult if not impossible to remove a declared candidate who is certificated and seated than staying his certification and have him seated only until after the challenge to his election results is finally disposed of.

They additionally contended that there is nowhere in the 1986 Constitution or the New Elections Laws that mandates the certification of a declared winner; and that there is nothing on the pages of Liberia’s Legislative history that compels or obligates the NEC to issue certificate to  declared winners.

Justices Wokollie and Youh said laws here are completely silent on the issuance of certificate to declared winners.

While agreeing that it was logical that one appearing before the Senate must show evidence from the NEC which declared him the winner, they however said they were dissenting becasue certification could be done on the day of the declaration of the winners since there is no law indicating when a candidate can be certificated.

They argued that if the 2014 Special Senatorial Elections were held under normal condition without the Ebola interruption and the date of the election had not been changed, the election would have been held on October 14, 2014, following which the NEC would have had up to October 29th 2014 to declare the winners of the election.

A candidate dissatisfied with the election results had up to November 5, 2014, seven days to file their complaint, the justices said, adding that the NEC had up to December 5, 2014, thirty days, to hear the complaint and make a ruling.
The candidate if dissatisfied with the ruling of NEC had up to December 12, 2014, that is seven days to appeal NEC’s ruling to the Supreme Court.

And the NEC then had up to seven days, that is December 19, 2014, to send up the records of the hearing to the Supreme Court. The 19th of December 2014, being on a Friday, the Supreme Court because of the exigency attached to election’s matter may have assigned the matter for hearing at most on Wednesday, December 24, 2014, giving the parties ample time to file their brief, according to the dissenting justices.

“Thereafter, the Supreme Court had up to December 31, 2014, to render its decision on the matter; that is seven days after hearing. With this ideal situation, NEC Could then have safely certificate the winning candidate a week before the Legislature  assembled in regular session on the second working Monday in January; that is, January 12, 2015.”

“Does this provision of the Constitution mandate non-certification of a candidate who has been declared the winner of a legislative election from taking seat until the complaints filed against the elections result which declares him the winner by NEC is heard?,” they wondered.

By Winston W. Parley

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