The Supreme Court of Liberia last Friday made a decision that has the tendency to shove a monkey wrench into the 2017 electoral process. The Court’s decision, by the narrowest of margins—three for and two against—to uphold the highly controversial Code of Conduct could further disrupt the electoral process, and plunge the nation into a constitutional crisis. The Constitution decisively gives the Supreme Court the final word on interpretation of the law, clearly stating that it is the Court’s sole prerogative to determine whether or not a law, such as the Code of Conduct, is unconstitutional.
Now that the Court has spoken, albeit by the narrowest of margins, what are “the people” left to do, since the Court’s decision is final? Yes, Article 1 of the Constitution places power inherently “in the people.” Yet they, the people, cannot exercise that power without invoking Article 2 of the Constitution, which gives the Supreme Court the ultimate power “to declare any inconsistent laws unconstitutional.” So what happens if we are dealing with a perceived imperial presidency, especially if aggrieved parties chose to invoke Article 1 of the Constitution?
Article 1 states, inter alia, “All power is inherent in the people. All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness require it. In order to ensure democratic government which responds to the wishes of the governed, the people shall have the right to at such period, and in such manner as provided for under the Constitution, to cause their public servants to leave office and to fill vacancies by regular elections and appointments.”
But the same Constitution that gives the people the inherent power, also clothes the Supreme Court with the power to limit the exercise of that power. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, on assuming the presidency in 2006, pledged that she did not want an “imperial presidency.” But thanks perhaps to what some might consider her exceptional skills as a politician and other
peculiarities; she seems to have garnered exactly that, for she gets almost anything she wants from the Legislative and Judicial Branches of government.
It was she who pushed through the Code of Conduct legislation, primarily to stop one man, then Central Bank Executive Governor J. Mills Jones, from contesting the presidency, and the Legislature willingly obliged. The Code of Conduct became law.
The Superintendent of Bong County, Selena Mappy-Polson, who was also directly affected by the Code of Conduct, petitioned the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court for redress. That was because the Code restricted her from running for Representative of Bong County unless she resigned her position as Superintendent three years before. Like Governor Mills Jones, she chose not to, hence the necessity for her to run to the Ninth Judicial Circuit seeking redress. That court denied her petition, so she took appeal to the Supreme Court. Now that the Supreme Court, the nation’s final legal arbiter, has spoken; she, Governor Jones and any other political aspirant from the Executive Branch, who failed to resign with the three-year stipulation, are now left out in the cold.
What is their next recourse? This question particularly concerns Governor Jones, who has spent a lot of money on his determined presidential bid. Will he bring his thousands of supporters to the streets to demand that the Legislature overturns the Code of Conduct law? Barring that, what would be the next move for Dr. Jones’ Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE)? This remains to be seen.
But we must be reminded of the warnings by two of our key international partners, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). UNMIL’s Advisor Michael Page and Christopher Formuyoh and other members of the high-powered delegation from the Washington, D.C.-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) warned that it is Liberians themselves, not the international community that must take primary responsibility for the 2017 elections. The two organizations are insisting that the Liberian government and all Liberians must do everything possible to ensure that these elections are conducted in a free, fair, peaceful and transparent manner. Yet we have seen many disturbing signs on the horizon. The latest is the Supreme Court’s decision last Friday.
Another, reported several days ago, was the cross-over of a leading figure from Ellen’s government, Forestry Development Authority’s Managing Director Harrison Karnwea, to the opposition Liberty Party, while he still maintained his job—a clear indication that he did so with President Sirleaf’s full backing. It left people bewildered as to whether she was ditching her own Vice President, Joseph N. Boakai, the ruling Unity Party’s new standard bearer. This can only lead to confusion among the electorate and could be a threat to the all-important peaceful transfer of power that all Liberians and the international community are hoping for.