Discovering CPP’s Strategies
A top-notch Liberian international legal practitioner, Representative J. Fonati Koffa of Grand Kru County has discerned the rationale behind the long ruing legal battle between four Collaborating Political Parties, (CPP) and the National Elections Commission (NEC).
For many Liberians who did not know the intent of the CPP, Cllr. Koffa, a former National Chair of one of the parties that made up of the CPP, has provided what others described as a reasonable revelation on the maneuvering of the CPP.
Cllr. Koffa has revealed that the writ of Mandamus, prayed for by the CPP which is calling for the separation of the by-elections from the December 8, 202o senatorial polls as a complete “delay tactic” and a contradiction to the CPP’s call to clean up the voter roll.
Speaking to some reporters in Monrovia following the closure of the third session of the Legislature, Cllr. Koffa, who chairs the House’s Judiciary Committee, counselled that any delay to the elections would result to constitutional crisis.
“We need to swear in new senators in January. There is a window. If we continue to have challenges, some frivolous and some legitimate, that will waste the time of the electorates, and then, we may not be able to accomplish that. And we will get into some constitutional crisis,” he predicted.
The NEC has scheduled the two pending by-elections in Montserrado and Sinoe counties for December 8, 2020 along with the midterm senatorial and referendum polls.
Although the decision of the NEC did not come as a surprise, it followed series of consultations with stakeholders, including the CPP that has already held primaries to feature candidates in the two counties to replace the fallen representatives.
Many Liberians were taken aback when the CPP ran to the Supreme Court days to the launch of campaigns seeking the intervention of the High Court to compel NEC to separate the elections; the CPP did not see the NEC decision as “unconstitutional” until recently when Liberians and candidates were warming to participate in the December polls. The CPP filed a Writ of Mandamus before Justice in Chambers Sie-A-Nyene Youh to order NEC to separate the elections.
The CPP, in the writ stated that holding the by-elections on December 8, 2020 will be in blatant violation of Chapter V, Article 37 of the Constitution which states that elections to fill vacancies created at the Legislature should be held within a 120 days’ period.
Excerpt of the writ: “Given its immediate history of reckless disregard of constitutionally-mandated schedules and times for the conduct of by-elections, petitioner says, that the National elections Commission must be ordered, instructed and mandated by this Honorable Supreme Court, to attend to fulfilling its duties stipulated under Chapter V, Article 37 of the Liberian Constitution without further delay by conducting the By-elections to fill existing vacancies in the House of Representatives on or before October 28, 2020 to fill the vacancy created by the death of Honorable J. Nagbe sloh, and also conduct the by-election on or before November 5, 2020 to fill the vacancy created by the death of Honorable Munah Pelham-Youngblood.”
As the result of the lawsuit, the NEC, along with the House of Representatives and Executive Branch through the Ministry of Justice has been summoned by Justice Youh to state why the CPP’s request should not be granted.
However, prior the appearance of the parties, Cllr. Koffa said, although he does not want to render a preemptive judgment ahead of the hearing, the writ of mandamus was not only an action by the CPP to delay the democratic process, but was in stark contradiction to its call for a voter roll clean-up, a request that had early been thrashed by Justice Youh.
The veteran lawyer noted: “The Writ of Mandamus must fall flat on its face. I am not going to pre-judge what the Justice -in-Chambers is going to say but let it go back… Look at the contradiction. You are complaining about the voter roll clean-up. And then you say, bring elections forward. It doesn’t make sense. It appears to be dilatory tactics because while you are complaining about the clean-up of the voter role, you cannot also be saying bring the elections back and have it now.”
The by-elections for the two counties came as the result of the deaths of Representatives J. Nagbe Sloh (CDC, District #1, Sinoe County) on June 30, 2020 and Munah Pelham Youngblood (CDC, District #9, Montserrado County) a week later on July 8, 2020.
Probably counting from the date it received the information, the NEC, with the approval of the Legislature decided to conduct the by-elections on the same date of the special senatorial elections- December 8, 2020.
However, the CPP, citing Chapter V, Article 37 of the Constitution of Liberia, said the Legislature and the National Elections Commission have the joint responsibility to conduct by-elections within a defined time frame, but no later than 120 days in the event a vacancy is created in the Legislature by death, resignation, expulsion.
In case of a vacancy at the House, the Constitution says, the Speaker should inform the NEC within 30 days, and the NEC will in turn conduct by-elections within 90 days.
However, countering the CPP’s argument, Cllr. Koffa said, given that there was a delay in the process; it was prudent to take into consideration other factors such as resource constraints that may have compelled the House to adjust the elections’ date.
“We have to understand that even in the context of the sphere of our democracy, there are resource issues. The reason, why we will combine them together is because; it is easier to conduct the process.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Koffa added that there is no great harm that is going to happen as a result of that. “So, to me, it becomes a political question. And when the court is faced with political question, it generally deferred to the political branch of government.”