Bringing Sustainable Peace and Functional Democracy to Liberia

By Kolec E. Jessey

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

October 7, 2003

The efforts by the international community and fair-minded Liberians to restore peace to their once peaceful nation will be severely undermined or challenged if certain section of the country’s constitution is not amended to encourage broad participation in the political process. I believe that the constitution should be amended to reduce the years of the presidential term to four years from six years. Additionally, a recall provision should be inserted to allow ordinary citizens “direct democracy” in case of maleficent by political leaders.

Making these changes in the constitution particularly reducing the years of presidential term of the chief executive is crucial in preventing the monopolization of state power by the president, serves as a tool of accountability, and over all offers broader participation by the Liberian people.

This in my view will offer lasting peace and provide sustainable democracy since the people will have the opportunity to replace their leader in four years rather then six years. It will provide an alternative to armed struggle for the coveted presidency of Liberia in which more than 250,000 Liberian lives have been sacrificed and still counting.

There are those who may differ with me and argue that Liberia does not have the requisite resources to conduct elections every four years. I disagree. Liberia has the means to conduct democratic processes that will bring about lasting peace to this failed nation. Anyone who is informed on the Liberian crisis will agree that the source of the decade long civil war is the monopolization of the presidency in which dissenting views are crushed without regard to the rule of law.

I believe that four-year term with the option of a second term as a limit is reasonable for anyone with a concrete plan to bring about meaningful development and positive changes. The six-year term creates an atmosphere in which the president loses touch with the people and focuses on entrenching his/her political power. It provides the incentive in which the president becomes all too powerful by criminalizing political dissent and thereby egregiously abusing power. A case in point of this abuse of power is the notorious Charles Taylor. I believe that if the four-year term was in effect, Liberians would have had the opportunity to rid themselves of this tyrant sooner than the position in which the country is now in.

Moreover, reducing the six-year term of the president to four-year term offer a mechanism in which elected officials become accountable to the people. In other words, if the chief executive is aware that he will face election in a relatively short period of time, he will be in tone with the needs and aspirations of the Liberian people. If the president performed beyond the expectation of the masses he/she will be rewarded with another four-year term. This is almost like pay for performance in that it provides an incentive for good leadership.

There can be no more convincing argument about reducing the years of presidential term to four years than it offers a real chance for participatory democracy in which other politicians are provided an opportunity in relative short time to market their ideas to the Liberian people and provide change in leadership. This will go a long way in averting armed struggle or “war-lordism” to bring about political change.

Now on the issue of a recall provision in the constitution, there are those who will vehemently oppose this as destructive in the political process. But followers of the Liberian political scene will agree that the history of Liberia is replete with croyinism and indifferent to the wishes of the Liberian people. Therefore, a recall provision should be provided in the constitution to allow the masses to directly recall their elected officials in case of maleficent. I believe that the impeachment clause in the constitution is not enough because it gives power to the legislative branch that has proven over the years to be nothing more than a rubber stamped legislature to the commander-in-chief (CIC).

Liberians have a unique opportunity to bring about real meaningful change to their country if they map out the right course of action or approach. One such measure is to ensure that we do not create an all-powerful president who is not accountable to anyone but himself. And one way to avert that is by reducing the presidential term to four years instead of six-years. This will uphold the principle of accountability and ensure a presidency that will not stifle dissent and monopolize power. It will offer diversity of ideas every four years on how to improve the lives of Liberians.

About the author: Kolec E. Jessey is a Liberian journalist who holds a BA in Communication from the University of Liberia and an MBA in Accounting/finance from LaSalle University in Philadelphia.