Elections: Looming Constitutional Crisis Hangs Over Liberia

By P. Oxford Brown

Liberians Politicians are disagreeing with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to suspend the October senatorial election because of the current Ebola crisis.

Senator Jewel Howard Taylor of Bong County, Rep. Gabriel Smith of Grand Bassa and Oscar Bloh of the Elections Coordinating Committee, a subsidiary of Liberia’s Council of Civil Society Organizations, in a panelist discussion recently were divided on suggestions for the revision of constitutional provision, Article 83 (A) for flexibility on electoral time lines in times of crisis.

On the prevailing state of emergency  as declared by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the recent suspension of the special senatorial elections  to fight the outbreak of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease [EVD] until December, Oscar Bloh squarely took the position that ebola and all its attending conditions did not amount to any clear danger to the Liberian state to require a state of emergency, arguing that the president was wrong in the first place when she declared the state of emergency.

In a separate argument at a one day round table discussion, Organized by the Liberia Media for Democratic Initiatives, the panelists sharply disagreed on the suspension of Liberia’s special senatorial elections also.

Bloh said “Liberia cannot be in this type of life losing crisis and yet be contemplating elections to replace 16 senators. I really feel we should wait until at a time when this Ebola situation is finished and then we can hold elections, I say no,” said Bloh. Bloh also told the audience that the state of emergency as was given the president by the Liberian Assembly was wrong.

But, Senator Jewel Howard Taylor is in utter disagreement, said she rejects Bloh’s assertions that the state of emergency was illegal and that the legislature did do its constitutional due diligence in allowing the state of emergency. Taylor said the president had acted constitutionally, when she declared the state of emergency adding that stringent constitutional procedures were observed leading to the declaration.

Senator Taylor however reluctantly agreed with Bloh on the elections suspension and rescheduling until the EVD was under control, but was quick to argue that elections could go ahead if the NEC sees it feasible, citing possible constitutional crisis if the elections were to go beyond January. She said they the senators whose mandate will expire in January should be given the opportunity to stay on until elections were held. This suggestion was immediately rejected outright by Representative Gabriel Smith. The Grand Bassa County Representative who is the chairman of the House’ Committee on Elections took an interestingly dramatic stance in opposition to his Senate colleague. Smith rejected calls by Bloh to rewrite the Liberian Constitution.

He suggested the holding of elections in what he calls Ebola free counties to create the quota needed for simple majority in the legislature so as to provide for continuity in the governance process, hence, avoiding a constitutional crisis in January. Hon. Smith suggested a revision of Article 83 (A) of the Liberian constitution which calls for the holding of elections on the second Tuesday in October in any election year. He said revising this constitutional provision will give the NEC the needed flexibility for electioneering activities especially during crisis times. For the audience of 100, mainly University students and tribal governors, they were unanimous on the conduct of elections; that elections should go on in December as proposed by the National Elections Commission. They fear looming constitutional crisis leading to potential civil unrest,  should the elections fail to go on before January. They also averred that further postponing the elections beyond December will set a precedent for greedy politicians to hinge on to power on the basis of medical emergencies which they suspect may be created for selfish reasons, setting the basis for conflict.

President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf evoking her presidencial powers as contain tin the state of emergency recently handed her suspended the special senatorial elections which should have been held on the second Tuesday in October in keeping with  Article 83(A) of the Liberian constitution which is up for revision and there are now ongoing discussions for a new date. The National Elections Commission is now suggesting mid December for a possible new timeline for the election which is meant to bring on board 15 new members of the 30 member Liberian Senate.

Liberian Capitol, Seat of the Liberian Assembly, Monrovia

Related posts