ExplainersLiberia

How Liberian politicians flout electoral laws ahead of October polls

The race to Liberia’s October 10, 2023, legislative and presidential elections is gradually gaining momentum.

Although political campaigns have officially open today, August 5, 2023, political parties and independent candidates seeking elective offices were already deep into activities that appear pre-campaigning, which is against the elections’ law long before this day.

According to the National Elections Commission (NEC) elections guidelines, section 2.5 (b) found on page 15, pre-campaign activities include “forming of a political movement, association, or others to solicit votes and/or promote an individual aspirant or candidate by way of speech, picture, banner, posters or any other printed materials that tend to promote an individual aspirant or candidate for an elective public office.”

Recently the two main parties in these elections, the ruling Coaling for Democratic Change (CDC) and the main opposition and immediate past regime, the Unity Party (UP) held their political gatherings that saw supporters, partisans, sympathisers and well-wishers of both parties wearing their respective sides’ t-shirts and carrying banners with the photograph of their candidates as seen here and here.

As though this is not enough, the ruling establishment, headed by President George Weah, went further to deploy government institutions in this exercise.

The Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), on July 28, 2023, named its official campaign team members, with some senior officials of government listed.

Among those named on the CDC campaign team, the head of the Governance Commission, Attorney Garrison Yealue Jr., is appointed deputy campaign manager for administration.

According to the mandate of the Governance Commission (GC), it is that arm of the government that “promote (s) good governance by advising, designing and formulating appropriate policies and institutional arrangements and frameworks required for achieving good governance and promoting integrity at all levels of society and within every public and private institution.”

The GC was established due to the 2003 Accra Peace Accord that ended the country’s numerous problems caused by the 14 years of civil unrest in that African nation.

The Act establishing the entity, under qualification section 5.3.4, states that the commissioner must be non-partisan to prevent the governance agenda and process from being political.

Before Mr Yealue’s appointment to the ruling CDC campaign team as deputy for administration, he had pledged his support to the re-election bid of President George Weah.   

Citizens divided

This action by the CDC has caused heated debate within every street corner and intellectual centre in the country.

Patrick Nagbeh, a petty trader in central Monrovia, told DUBAWA he thinks the action by the CDC-led government is wrong and must be condemned by all well-meaning Liberians.

“If this is true, that the CDC has on its campaign team the head of the governance commission, who according to the law should and must not be there, then it is wrong, and the party should withdraw his name from their campaign team list,” Mr Nagbe said.

The main opposition and key rival to the CDC-led government, the Unity Party, has also complained about the CDC’s decision to appoint the head of the Governance Commission to its campaign team, terming the action as a complete violation of the laws establishing the entity.

The Unity Party General Secretary, Amos Toweh, told DUBAWA that the CDC’s action completely violates the entity’s laws.

Center for Accountability and Transparency in Liberia (CENTRAL), an integrity group in the country, has also frowned on the action by the CDC and termed the party’s action as ill-advised and counterproductive to good governance efforts in Liberia.

CENTRAL, in a statement issued Tuesday, August 1, 2023, noted:

“As we all are aware, the Governance Commission has had a history of playing a very critical role in reviving our democracy by promoting good governance in Liberia. This institution has had some of Liberia’s best brains as heads, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Dr. Amos Claudiaus Sawyer (deceased), and others, who managed to ensure that they and the institution stayed neutral during heated political periods.      

A lawyer, Samwar Fallah, faults the law for not spelling out punishment for anyone who violates it.

Mr Fallah said that as it stands, there will only be condemnations against Attorney Yealue but no punishments because, by law, it is the President who heads the Executive that should take actions against an agent of the Executive such as the head of the GC. 

“This is where the Political Question Doctrine comes into law. The head of the GC is an Executive Officer who works under the Executive Branch of Government headed by the President. It is the President who should take action against the Head of the GC for violations of the Act creating the GC as well as the Code of Conduct. But now it is the President party that Yealue is now campaigning for, so it is impossible for the President to take actions,” Mr Fallah said.

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