MONROVIA, Montserrado – Voters in Montserrado have raised issues with the National Elections Commission’s being legally authorized to resolve electoral disputes.
NEC is the official electoral management body, which has the sole responsibility of announcing election results in Liberia. Article 83 of the constitution also grants the commission additional power to receive and adjudicate cases of complaints coming from the elections.
This role, according to some young voters in Montserrado, creates a conflict of interest for the commission, where it serves as a defendant and the judge. The voters are recommending that this power be extracted from the NEC’s responsibilities as part of any electoral reform, ahead of future elections.
The young voters told The Bush Chicken that NEC’s electoral dispute resolution powers create a system of skepticism over its integrity, and delays adjudication of electoral dispute matters.
Ernest Hallowangar, a graduate of the United Methodist University, said he thought NEC’s position as a judge and defendant in adjudicating election dispute matters makes it vulnerable to corruption.
“Elections matters’ hearings should be channeled to the judicial system. NEC should only be responsible to conduct elections and announce election results,” Hallowangar said.
He said only the Supreme Court should be given the responsibility to hear election disputes, giving the position of NEC. He called on members of the National Legislature to support a change in the law to take away that responsibility from NEC.
The chair of Liberty Party Youth Wing, Cephas Flanzamaton, also emphasized the need to establish an independent electoral tribunal as an auxiliary of the Supreme Court, which could adjudicate complaints coming from elections.
“That part of the law is not in the interest of the nation. It is in the best interest of our democracy if they passed such a law. If the lawmakers cannot purpose such a bill, I will support and gather support for any civil society organization that will want to petition the lawmakers for the passage of such law. Our democracy is at risk if we don’t rectify such law,” Flanzamaton said.
“Let’s not burden the NEC with everything. Let’s allow [them] to focus on elections, instead of disputes during the election, which causes lots of delays in the conduct of elections”.
He also called on members of the 54th National Legislature to prioritize the process of reforming the country’s electoral system and management process by amending the appropriate laws.
Banana Elliott, the Federation of Liberian Youth’s second vice president, also stressed the importance of the need to revisit the provision on the NEC’s judicial power and responsibilities.
“I might agree if NEC is to only handle cases that involve political parties and candidates, but not when NEC is the one being complained [about], especially where they will not rule against themselves,” Elliott said.
FLY’s deputy secretary, Ernest Jallah, also said it was important for NEC to take a neutral position in conducting and managing elections, instead of playing a judicial role that creates a potential conflict of interest.
“NEC should not be a decision maker in dispute, especially where they are there to defend themselves, they should only be responsible to conduct elections,” Jallah also said.
NEC’s chairman, Jerome Korkoya, speaking during a pervious interview with The Bush Chicken, rejected calls to establish a separate body to assume NEC’s judicial responsibilities.
“NEC is the referee not by accident, [but] because NEC develops the rules for the elections,” he said.
Taking away NEC’s electoral dispute powers could be a long drawn out process, as it will require a change to the constitution. Amending the Liberian constitution requires a proposal approved by two-thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives or a petition submitted to the legislature and signed by at least 10,000 citizens and approved by two-thirds of the legislature. That proposal then needs to be voted on and approved by two-thirds of registered voters in a referendum no sooner than one year after approval by the legislature.
This article was produced with funding from Internews for the Citizens in Liberia Engaged to Advance Electoral Reform (CLEAR) project.