“Unconstitutional & Wicked”, Liberian Political Parties Predict “Chaos”: A Commentary
By: Bai M. Gbala, Sr.
Finally, at long last – after the socio-economic and political double-talk of “you-chop, I-chop”, they talk; self-interest bickering and behind-the-scenes “consultations” of so-called stakeholders; and the disgraceful, troubling yo-yos by, between and among the nation’s powerful, special interests-brokers comprising of the Liberian National Legislature and the Executive; their friendly political-party leaders & members; the politically-connected, wheeling-dealing “business tycoons” and the powerful “magnates” (Ivy League-educated MAs, LLMs, PhDs, etc.), dealers of public dishonesty, Liberia’s celebrated Corruption, Inc.) – the mid-term, October 14, 2014, senatorial elections have been re-scheduled to be held on December 16, 2014, less than one month from the day of decision.
Now, some concerned Political Parties and supporters opposed to holding the elections during the deadly Ebola Crisis declared that such elections are “Unconstitutional & Wicked” (FrontpageAfricaonline, November 19, 2014). The political parties argue:
That “Holding (these) elections on December 16, 2014 is most unlikely . . . considering the time for receipt of claims and related issues”; that the “Elections . . . must be free and fair (even) under the current circumstances, (but) free movement is not guaranteed . . . the Ebola Virus Disease has created fear that lead to withdrawal . . . of people to vote where they may have registered if such areas are Ebola infected . . .” ; that“Elections have been observed, historically, by . . . international bodies, (but) the likelihood of observing (the present) Liberian elections is extremely slim . . . the World Health Organization (WHO) has not declare Liberia Ebola-free . . .”; that “The probability of unidentified, infected persons infecting others is most likely, if these elections are held, in spite of its illegality as per the National Elections Commission (NEC) documents submitted to the (Liberian National) Legislature . . .” ; and that “It will do the country no harm if the election is postponed until after the Ebola crisis, because most of the Preventive Measures are violated by (holding of the) election”.
Simultaneously moreover, the Political Parties and supporters “predict chaos in the country, because the NEC ignores the current, Ebola situation (and the law governing) and proceed with the . . . senatorial elections”. The Political Parties and supporters declared, also, (New Democrat, November 19, 2014) that:
a), “All . . . activities regarding free and fair elections have been compressed (in a very short, limited time). If . . . we (the Nation) conduct this election, it would be illegal; those that would come out (“elected”) of that process would be illegitimate”.
b), “We would oppose those leaders because they were not elected legitimately. Many of us in this country would not yield to their authorities and, then, they would have to use force. Somebody is setting the stage for confusion here”.
c), “This election should not take place . . . To proceed with this election, you are setting the stage for danger”.
The Critical, National Issues
The issues raised by the political parties are profound; in that, those issues constitute or are concerned, basically, with our treatment – recognition, observation, support of and obedience to the Rule of law, the major elements of democratic society, and the critical issue of the survival of the Liberian nation and people. We, too, are opposed to the holding of the elections during this naturally-imposed condition of the “national state-of-emergency that threatens the very existence of the Republic and its citizens.
We wonder, whether or not, our leaders – socio-economic, political and moral-religious – of this nation are listening to the voices of the people, the Ebola experts, our own professionals and, particularly now, the concerned political leaders’ “prediction of chaos”, and that “somebody is setting the stage for confusion and danger” in Liberia, in addition to the Ebola crisis and, in the light of our historic, 15-year nightmare of the NPFL insurgency. The momentous decision - to hold these elections during this period - translates to the following, reasonable conclusions, but impose a profound, negative impact on the nation:
That (d), there will no political education (of the poor, the uninformed majority of the nation’s body politic), a traditional, political campaign by the candidates, with party platform of basic policy and programs of action as required of free, fair, competitive, pluralistic and transparent elections, a fundamental change in our country, the much-preached “transformation”; that (e), holding this “hurry-hurry bust-drawer” elections during the deadly, Ebola Crisis is a conscious, designed bonanza for massive vote-buying by the nation’s political power-holders (and their “sponsored” friends) who hold the keys to the national treasury, mindful of the given, Ebola-imposed, added, economic hardship on the poor, sick, hungry and un-informed majority of our nation’s voters; and that (f), they, the political ruling-class, know very well that holding these elections is improper, unreasonable and illegal, at this time, not only that holding the elections is detrimental to the interests of the nation and people, but also that holding the elections threatens the very existence of the nation and people, as we know it; but, that holding the elections enriches and keeps the powerful in power.
In this last-ditch argument against holding of these elections during this period of the Ebola Crisis, we will, and must, present the chronology of the validated evidence adduced in support of postponement, in the effort to capture, with emphasis, clarity and precision, the Legal, Rational Foundation of Presidential Actions – Declaration of the State of Emergency, Request for Postponement of the scheduled, October 14, 2014, Senatorial Elections, definition of Measures and Request for Presidential, Emergency Powers, all in lawful response to the naturally-imposed, Ebola Crisis-condition of a national state-of-emergency.
The Liberian Constitution
According to Article 86(b) of the Liberian Constitution, “A state of emergency (exists and) may be declared only where there is a threat . . . affecting the existence, security or well-being (socio-economic and political) of the Republic, amounting to clear and present danger (to the survival of the nation). Also, Article 86(a) provides that “The President (of the Republic) may, in consultation with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the 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 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”.
Ebola Epidemic & the President of Liberia
“In March this year”, the President wrote and told the National Legislature earlier that there was an outbreak of the Ebola virus disease in our sub-region, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. As a result of the continuous spread of the virus with enormous loss of lives, human tragedies and an impairment of health, safety and “security of the citizens of the Republic and grave risks posed to the existent and sovereignty of this nation which presents a “clear and present danger”.
Consistent and in compliance with the Liberian Constitution, and in response to the Ebola, national Epidemic, the President of Liberia declared a National State of Emergency, duly approved by the National Legislature on August 8, 2014, and closed all schools, colleges, universities, public entertainment centres and large public gatherings.
On October 1, 2014, The President followed the declaration of the State of Emergency, duly approved by the Legislature, with request for the postponement of the October 14, Mid-Term, Senatorial Elections and the required, Presidential, Emergency Powers necessary to carry out or implement the defined Measures in order to combat the spread and, eventually, eradicate the Ebola virus and epidemic.
Thus, by her letter to National Legislature addressed to the Speaker of the House, the Honorable J. Alex Tyler, dated October 1, 2014, the President wrote, “This letter constitutes our formal request to the Legislature approving these measures . . .”, with detailed, relevant, constitutional citations and support as follows:
A. Article 1 of the Liberian Constitution – Alteration of Election Time and Manner (Not cancellation) “The President may by proclamation, after the period and manner provided . . . under the Constitution for elections by which the people cause their public servants to leave office or bill vacancies . . . As a result of the continuous spread of the virus with enormous loss of lives, human tragedies and an impairment of health, safety and “security of the citizens of the Republic and grave risks posed to the existent and sovereignty of this nation which presents a clear and present danger. We declared, with your approbation, state rights of freedom of movement, rights of assembly, and large public gatherings, the closure of schools and public entertainment centres. All of these measures were taken to combat, contain and eradicate the spread of the virus”.
B. “As a consequence of these measures taken under the State of Emergency to contain the spread and eradicate the virus by restricting travel and contact . . . the National Elections Commission (NEC) has informed us of its inability to undertake (that is, that it is not possible to hold elections without undertaking) several of the processes that are pre-requisites to conducting the October 14, 2014, Senatorial elections”.
C. Article 12 - Labor. “The President may, by proclamation, procure certain labour or services during this state of emergency. In this fight against Ebola, we will be requiring services and labour from each and every community in Liberia for the combat and eradication of the disease whenever and wherever necessary and possible. Accordingly, the privileges, freedom and requirement of services and labour provided for in this Article will be affected whenever and wherever possible and necessary”.
D. Article 13 - Free Movement. “The President may, by proclamation, limit the movements of certain individuals, groups or communities as the case may be to prevent the further spread or contain the epidemic in certain areas. As you are fully aware, the movement of our citizens and residents from place to place is a key factor for the spread and transmission of this deadly and dreadful Ebola virus. To stop and contain the spread of this virus, the movement of individuals, groups or communities as the case may be is a manifest necessity. Accordingly, the guarantees and safeguard provided in the Article 13 of the Constitution will be affected”.
E. Article 14 - Religious Restriction. “The President may, by proclamation, restrict certain practices, generally or specifically, if she finds that such practice further endangers the public health and contributes to the spread of the virus. In many of our counties, where certain religious and tribal practices such as the bathing and worshipping of dead body is religiously observed, the spread, transmission of the disease have been prevalent and the death toll have been enormous. To prevent the death and spread of this disease, these practices will be restricted whenever and wherever it becomes necessary”.
F. Article 15 - Restriction on Speech. “The President may, by proclamation or executive action, prevent any citizen, groups of citizens or any entity protected under Article 15 of the Constitution from making any public statement in person, by print or electronic, which may have the tendency of undermining the State of Emergency, confusing the public on the nature of the health care threat, otherwise causing a state of panic about the health care or security condition of the station, “because falsehood and negative reporting on the state of the affairs is likely to defeat the national effort in the fight of the Ebola virus, it is important that such be discouraged and prevented. Accordingly, the Government of Liberia will restrict speeches that will confuse the citizens and residents including the raising of false alarm thereby creating fear during the state of emergency”.
G. Article 17 - Assembly. “The President may, by proclamation, limit the right to assembly for any reason.
H. Article 24 - Expropriation of (private) property. “The President may, by proclamation, appropriate any private property or prevent the use thereof in order to protect the public health and safety during the state of emergency without payment of any kind or any further judicial process. Provided, however, that the property will be released to the rightful owners upon the end of the state of emergency and that the Government pays for any damages . . .”.
Thus, it is clearly and precisely shown that the President’s Request for postponement of the elections; Presidential, Emergency Powers; and the Measures defined are relevant not only to and the prevention of the condition of the Ebola Epidemic, but also consistent with Liberian Constitutional provisions herein cited; that is, that the request is relevant and consistent with the Constitutionally-guaranteed bill of rights, the temporal denial/rejection of which, during the state of emergency, will, no doubt, prevent the spread of the Ebola virus and, eventually, eradicate the Ebola Epidemic.
Response by the National Legislature
However, to this request the National Legislature gave an unqualified NO. Unlike the President who provided supporting, constitutional citations, the House of Representatives gave no reason, defined by constitutional, statutory or any other, legal citation, but based its denial/rejection on generalities, emotion, grand-standing, political party-politics and apparent “Legislative Greed”, according to the FPA newspaper (FPA, November 24, 2014).
The FPA reported (FrontpageAfricaonline, October 13, 2014) “A joint resolution of the Senate and House . . . the National Legislature . . . mandates the National Elections Commission (NEC) to set a date . . . for the conduct of the 2014 Mid-Term Senatorial elections not later than December 20, 2014”. However, by mandating the National Elections Commission (NEC), an Executive Branch Agency of Government, “to set a date for the conduct of an election, the National Legislature is not only in manifest violation of Article 3 of the Liberian Constitution (on the principles of separation of powers), but also that it may be argued and reasonable to conclude that the National Legislature is, in fact, aiding & abetting the rapid spread of the Ebola virus and the Epidemic; in that, the NEC will be, and is, under obligation to undertake several of the processes that are pre-requisites to conducting the 2014, senatorial elections. Basically, these include the deployment of its electoral staff and policy workers nationwide; authorization of political campaigns, rallies and gatherings, processes that necessitate the rightof public assembly, during this period of the rapid spread of the Ebola virus, nationwide, and the risk of infection and instant death, due to the Ebola Epidemic.
Finally, we conclude with this thought, expressed elsewhere regarding the holding of these elections. Some prominent, opposition politicians, former candidates for President and still posturing for the position of Liberian chief executive; they published newspaper spreads congratulating the National Legislature for rejection of the “President’s absolute Power Quest”, while others accuse the President’s request as “dictatorial”, although the President’s written request says nothing about “absolute power” and that the “Emergency Powers” requested are consistent with the Nation’s Constitution. As compared to the President’s written request, these fabricated charges are a distortion of validated evidence - the facts of reality.
We wrote elsewhere that an American wisdom holds that “there is no free lunch; one who wants to eat lunch must pay for it”. Similarly, we of the Liberian Nation want to live, to survive the Ebola Epidemic; therefore, we have to, and must, pay a price –temporal curtailment or denial/rejection of some of our constitutionally-guaranteed rights, as defined, during the period of the epidemic. “One cannot have his/her cake and eat it”.
Therefore, these Elections must be postponed!!