Toward Liberia 2011 Presidential and General Elections: Demystifying the Elections and Tenure of Senators in Liberia
By J. Kerkula Foeday
April 27, 2011
All of the aforesaid plus news from Liberia that some candidates have begun declaring their intentions for senatorial seats lead me to conclude that indeed there clearly appears to be a deficit of understanding the fact about the elections and tenure of senators in Liberia. This commentary, therefore, will attempt to clarify this seemingly unfortunate misinterpretation of the fact.
First and foremost, let us look at the provisions of the Liberian Constitution that underscore my argument that there should be no elections for senators in the 2011 Presidential and General Elections in Liberia. Article 45 and Article 46 constitute the bases of my argument. Here’s what Article 45 says: “The Senate shall be composed of Senators elected for a term of nine years by the registered voters in each of the counties, but a Senator elected in a by-election to fill a vacancy created by death, resignation, expulsion, or otherwise, shall be so elected to serve only the remainder of the unexpired term of office. Each county shall elect two senators and each senator shall have one vote in the senate. Senators shall be eligible for re-election.” This article is very clear when it comes to when to elect senators. It provides that senators should be elected after every nine years, meaning that a senator is supposed to stay in office for nine years.
Article 46 on the other hand, which is often misinterpreted by some people (including some law-makers) because of its apparent ambiguity, provides that “Immediately after the Senate shall have assembled following the elections prior to the coming into force of this constitution, the Senators shall be divided into two categories as a result of the votes cast in each county. The senator with the higher votes cast shall be the senator from a county shall be placed in the same category [sic]. The seats of senators of the first category shall be vacated at the expiration of the ninth year. In the interest of legislative continuity, the senators of the second category shall serve a first term of six years only, after the first elections. Thereafter, all senators shall be elected to serve a term of nine years.” This Article appears to be ambiguous and has led to misinterpretations of the fact. Some understand and interpret this article to mean that there are two categories of senators in the Senate in terms of votes cast: “junior senators” and “senior senators”. And they think that “junior senators” are to serve a constitutional term of six years. This is not (or let me say this should not be) the case. The categorization of senators as “junior” and “senior”, in my opinion, should be based on years of service. But this categorization argument, however, is an aside as far as the constitutionality of the elections and tenure of senators are concerned as provided for in Articles 45 and 46.
Article 46 is not ambiguous if one considers the context of the entire article. The Article begins with this introductory clause: “Immediately after the Senate shall have assembled following the elections prior to the coming into force of this constitution”. Three questions readily come to mind and stand out here: When did the current Liberian Constitution come into force? Which elections immediately preceded the year the Constitution came into force? When did the Senate assemble? Answers to these questions unveil the context in which Article 46 was framed. The current Liberian Constitution came into force in 1986. The elections that preceded 1986 were the 1985 Elections. The Senate assembled in 1986. So, if Article 46 is (of course it should) be interpreted in this context, then there should be no confusion and misinterpretations. In fact, the last sentence in this Article addresses what may appear to be an ambiguity. It says: “Thereafter [after 1986], all senators shall be elected to serve a term of nine years”.
My ultimate aim in this commentary is to call attention to and respect for the Liberian Constitution. Until the Constitution is duly amended, we’ve got to respect every provision in it. I mean the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Administration as well as subsequent administrations, including the National Elections Commission responsible for organizing and conducting elections in Liberia must respect and adhere to all provisions of the Constitution.