A Comment on 2003 Electoral Issues

By Dr. Al-Hassan Conteh.

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

March 6, 2003

There is value in the current debate on electoral and constitutional issues emerging from Counselor Mohamedu Jones' paper on "Liberia's 2003 Elections," which he presented at the March 1, 2003 MDCL meeting. This is so if only because it forces one to think about conceptual issues relevant to the current status of Liberia.

In this light, some of the legal issues need further research, peer review, and clarification because their explanations have raised many unanswered questions. Three issues that come to mind are the un-recoverability of the framers' intent, Article 52(c) (the "Ten Year Clause"), and the census.

On the first issue, Mr. Archie Bernard's suggestion that the surviving framers be interviewed makes a lot of sense. For example, many of the 25 and 59 Liberians who served on the National Constitution, and the Constitutional Advisory Assembly respectively are just phone calls away. I am sure they would be more than happy to put this issue to rest if they were requested to comment on the framers' intent. In this light, Mr. Bernard's comments are significant, because he was the Secretary General of the latter institution.

Interpretation of Article 52(c) is difficult because there are no benchmark, "Federalist Papers" as Mr. Nyanseor suggested sometime ago at this web site. One alternative hypothesis is the following conditional one. If you were running for president in 2003, and your running mate were from a different county, you would be eligible if you resided in Liberia on October 14, 1993, provided you were a natural born Liberian citizen 35 years of age or above, and owned $25, 000 minimum in real property. Another hypothesis might be any "ten-year period before October 2003," as Counselor Jones suggested. Here lies the problem: the question of duration of last continuous stay and the destabilizing effects of the first Liberian civil war of 1989-1996 must be accounted.

Regarding the census, the conditions, which complicated the demography of the 1997 elections, are now worse. A review can illustrate many of the complexities on the ground. The Liberian Constitution calls for a majoritarian formula, where the President and Vice President are elected on a nation-wide basis, while senators and representatives come from the counties and electoral districts respectively. The electoral districts should be demarcated on the basis of the constitutional provision of 20,000 eligible voters per constituency. This was impossible in 1997 because of the protracted, seven-year war. The optimal formula, the international community reasoned, was one that would bring about reconciliation in the population. This was why it facilitated the Proportional Representation (PR) system. Votes received by the parties were divided by total number of seats to obtain the national quotient that was used to apportion the number of seats amongst the participating parties. Population dynamics (or the changes in demographic factors) determine the composition of voters by age and gender. These include fertility, mortality and migration. The voting cohorts for 1997 were born between 1900 and 1979 (i.e., the Pre-coup Generation). Births after 1979, including those of the war years, were therefore inconsequential in determining the age structure for the July 19 1997 elections. By contrast, mortality and population distribution were relatively more important. War casualties are very difficult to estimate, however. Deaths due to the first Liberian civil war have been estimated as between 150,000 - 200,000 by the United States Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. With this information, the Liberian population was projected from the 1984 census to provide estimates that guided decision-making and planning for the elections. These projections used a Component Method that corrected for the 38% of the pre-war population that was internally displaced and 27% of the population that was classified as refugees at the time.

According to the 1984 census, the population of Liberia was 2,101,628. The projected population, by Component Method, was 2,803,500 for mid-year, 1997. The distribution of the projected population of the then 13 counties was as follows: Bomi 3%, Bong 12%, Bassa 6%, Cape Mount 4%, Gedeh 5%, Grand Kru 2%, Lofa 11%, Margibi 8%, Maryland 3%, Montserrado 29%, Nimba 15%, Rivercess 1% and Sinoe 2%. This distribution has since changed according to a recent Demographic and Health Survey, which the Government of Liberia and the UNFPA conducted. Partly based on these results, the Liberian Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs has determined that it would take at least 18 months to conduct, process and disseminate the results of a national census. Considering the effects of current insurgency, one must re-echo Counselor Jones' fourth recommendation regarding the GOL's request for UN electoral and related assistance to bring about stability in Liberia. Conducting national elections without these measures would be futile.

About the Author: Al-Hassan Conteh, Ph.D., is a Research Fellow at the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA.