Special Senatorial Election Must Be Held Within A Realistic Timeframe
By Dusty Wolokolie
It is being advanced in some quarters of our society that there is evolving a looming constitutional crisis due to the virtual impossibility of holding the special/mid-term senatorial elections on 14th October 2014 as a result of the outbreak of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).
Yes, Article 83(a) of the Constitution provides that “Voting for the President, Vice-President, members of the Senate and members of the House of Representatives shall be conducted throughout the Republic on the second Tuesday in October of each election year.”
But given the severe enormity of the EVD epidemic, the President, with the overwhelming endorsement of the national Legislature, declared a State of Emergency. Under the State of Emergency (Article 86[a], “The President may, in consultation with the Speaker and President Pro Tempore of the Senate, proclaim and declare the existence of a state of emergency in the Republic or any part thereof. Acting pursuant thereto, the President may suspend or affect certain rights, freedoms and guarantees contained in the this Constitution and exercise such other emergency powers as may be necessary and appropriate to take care of the emergency, subject however to the limitations contained in this Chapter.”
Limitations to emergency powers are clearly defined in Article 87(a): “Emergency powers do not include the power to suspend or abrogate the Constitution, dissolve the Legislature, or suspend or dismiss the Judiciary; and no constitutional amendment shall be promulgated during a state of emergency. Where the Legislature is not in session, it must be convened immediately in special session and remain in session during the entire period of the state of emergency” and Article 87(b): “The writ of habeas corpus shall remain available and exercisable at all times and shall not be suspended on account of any state of emergency. It shall be enjoyed in the most free, easy, inexpensive, expeditious and ample manner. Any person who suffers from a violation of this right may challenge such violation in a court of competent jurisdiction.”
Like Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe, I am, by this piece supportive of postponement or suspension of the October 14 senatorial election as has been proclaimed by the until it is determined that the epidemic is under control and there is an appreciable level of management of the situation such that the State of Emergency is no longer necessary, thereby engendering an atmosphere conducive for the holding of free, fair and transparent election. And as Cllr. Gongloe has so aptly and brilliantly articulated in his piece in the 3rd October 2014 edition of The Perspective, “An Argument For An Indefinite Postponement Of The Mid-Term Senatorial Election,” there would be no constitutional crisis as some would want us to believe.
As there is no need to repeat the efficacious arguments propounded by my learned comrade and friend, I can only refer readers of my take on this issue to his legal reliance on Constitutional Articles 33, 38, 43, 45, 46, 54, Senate Rules 7 & 14 and Black’s Law Dictionary 9th ed., particularly Article 46 of the Constitution and Senate Rule 7 which allow for the transaction of business by the Liberian Senate with fifteen Senators without let or hindrance, and thereby the conduct of official business of the national Legislature.
Given the Ebola crisis in the Mano River Union with Liberia being the hardest hit, and with the projection of the medical/scientific experts that it may take the next six to eight months to stem out the outbreak and bring EVD under control, it would be in bad taste for any reasonable, patriotic citizen to call for holding of the mid-term senatorial election any time sooner than six to twelve months from now. Moreover, the Ministry of Finance & Development Planning (MFDP) is projecting a potential funding gap of US$132.6 million for FY2014/2015 in the midst of our country being caught in this epidemic predicament. Where are we going to get the resources to hold election? Certainly not from our donor partners, nor from bilateral/multilateral institutions.
Since the mandate of the fifteen senior Senators (Category A) will expire by the second working Monday of January 2015, we will then be faced with the challenge of filling the vacancies in the absence of election which is very unlikely to be held before that second working Monday of January 2015.
The President of the Republic has just issued a proclamation suspending the Special Senatorial Election of 14th October 2014 and by the same proclamation directed the National Elections Commission to “… immediately commence consultations and discussions with all recognized and accredited political parties, independent candidates, and civil society organizations and other stakeholders, as well as national and international health authorities on a new date for holding the Special Senatorial Elections”.
Since I am convinced, as I think any rational, keen observer of the Liberian political landscape would be as well, that free, fair and transparent elections cannot be held under the present prevailing conditions in our country by 12th January 2015 and probably three to five months beyond, I would propose that the following issues be seriously contemplated and feasible measures be considered for moving forward in a smooth constitutional order of transition in our fledging democratic development: