To: Hon. Albert T. Chie, Protempore
Ref: Postponement of the Mid-term election
I would like to extend my greetings to the Honorable Liberian Senate through your office. As I listened to cross-section of views regarding the debate to postpone the mid-term senatorial election constitutionally scheduled for October this year 2020, and due to the risk and uncertainty posed by the COVID-19 pandemic that has turned over the basics fundamental freedom of individual rights, social -economic and political activities throughout the country.
Mr. Protempore, on the political front, I am deeply worried as a Liberian and nationalist about the ability of post-war Liberia to conduct a free, fair and credible elections in fulfilment of constitutional requirements, meaning the free exercise of citizens’ rights to vote will put national government to test.
With the increase in human right violations and political arrests, the restrictions of media personals and institutions in pretense of enforcing the state of emergency without spelling out these basic rights that had been suspended are of grave concerns and violates fundamental rights engulf with the inability of the government to function properly for the betterment of its citizens as we get closer to the mid-term senatorial elections. After nine (9) years, Liberians are again going to decide who becomes their leaders and this is why this elections is very important and should be handled properly.
Mr. Protempore, the Right to vote is a fundamental; that is enshrine in our organic law and codified under article 25 of the international covenant on Civil and political Rights, Article 13 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights protect these rights. However, the right to vote shouldn’t be seen as a non-derivable right.
In the wake of the Corona virus pandemic, many governments have invoked their emergency powers leading to the derogation of the range of civil and political rights including the right to vote. This can be justified under article 4 of the ICCPR which provides: In time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed, the state’s parties to the present covenant may take measures derogation from their obligations under the present covenant to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with other obligations under international law and don’t involve discrimination solely on the ground of race, colour, sex, language, religion or social origin.
Mr. Protempore, I am calling on you and your distinguished colleagues of the national legislature including the nation’s integrity institutions and our international partners to scrutinize the exercise of these powers to ensure the restrictions of any right including the right to vote meets international standard of legality, necessity and proportionality in a democratic society as ours.
For the postponement of this year’s elections, in my honest opinion, I support the decision to postpone without delay, the October senatorial elections in order to afford you (the legislature) the time to modify the conditions in which elections take place in the wake of the COVID-19 given the risqué presented by this epidemic throughout the world. Example: the juxtaposed with the circumstances in which elections occur in our country is a fact experience which includes packed campaign rallies as well as long queues of voters in polling stations is a typical scenario and reasons to postpone this year election due to lack of established mechanism.
Again, the World Health organization (WHO) continue to advise that social distancing measures which are critical to the containment of the spread of the Corona virus must and should remain in place. Further, mobility restriction measures such as lockdowns and curfews also complicate the free movement of electorates, political candidates and poll workers.
Mr. Protempore, currently as I speak to you, some of your colleagues seeking re-election are massively campaigning with no regard to respect the lock downs rules thereby taking to their advantage the use of power while other private citizens are compel by national security to obey the law. In my mind and consistent with political plain field doctrine, it is unjust and doesn’t promotes an equal opportunity.
As we gear toward setting a new date for the conduct of the elections which I hope, I would like to remind you Mr. Protempore on the decision issued by the Supreme Court of Liberia involving the National Elections Commission versus the Unity party and the Liberty Party, in that ruling, the commission was mandated by the Honorable Supreme Court to execute in good faith the cleaning-up of the voter roll which was obviously marked by fraud and irregularities. In the 2019 by-elections specifically district #15, Montserrado county, it was again proven that the National Elections Commission has not executed the Supreme Court mandate to clean-up the voters roll which led to a bloody election violence and citizens continuous lack of trust in the ruling and operations of the commission.
It is time that you (Senators) who represent the fabric and equal balance of our society act through your oversight responsibilities. If you fail to pressure the elections commission to do a vigor reform in both her electronic database and the voter roll cleaning-up exercises, we foresee dangers that may jeopardize the fragile democracy of our country. But with your present and commitment to serve the Liberian people, we trust your wisdom and leadership to give us that Liberia for our posterity.
You must act now to put in place new measures that will protect and guide both the majority and minority decisions of the Republic. As it is uncertain as to when the Corona virus will be adequately contained to allow for the free movement and normal political and social economic activities, the decision on whether to proceed with the constitutionally scheduled elections or to postpone the elections depends on the severity of the epidemic and you as policymakers.
I am also aware that some of your friends will argue the constitutionality of the postponement, in extension what may be considered as violation of the country’s constitution; for those who will argue on a constitutional ground or what may be considered an eminent constitutional crisis need to understand or need to be told that the survival of our people is greater than a particular clause in the Constitution and this is why we are asking you the national legislature to draft a joint resolution agreeable and timely for the extension and subsequent conduct of the elections.
The enemy we are face with today is a national enemy which puts us in an exceptional period of our country history which, therefore need exceptional approaches for the survivability of our people because there is no country on earth without a population and there is no government without a population. The citizens are the greatest access of any nation.
Mr. Protempore, as we all anticipate a free, credible and fair elections, we must assure that certain factor or conditions need to be considered to ensure the poll meets the requisite standards of democratic elections and are true reflections of the will of the people consistent with the principle of universal suffrage.
Considering the Status of equal voters’ participation in conformity with our national constitution and the universal declaration on voters’ rights is of serious concern that should draw the attention of all of us during this COVID-19 era with special focus on persons already infected with Corona virus, vulnerable populations such as disabled and elderly voters.
For example, in South Korea this year April elections, about forty (40) polling stations were closed in fulfilment of social distancing measures, there was a measure put in place for persons of COVID-19 positive and those already quarantined to vote in a separate polling stations and some were allowed to come after the official closing time of the voting stations.
Another example closer to us is neighboring Guinea who chose to proceed with the conduct of her constitutional referendum and its National Assembly Election that was held in March this year which led to victory of the ruling Rassembement Du Peuple de Guinea (RPG) which won the majority of the seats. That election was preceded and followed by violence especially in the stronghold of the opposition who opposed the results and claiming it as ploy by the 82 years old President to secure a third term in office while the credibility of the elections was highly questioned.
In the case of Liberia, most likely, the results of a free, fair and credible elections are determine by our international counterparts: the African Union (AU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) European (EU), United Nations (UN) and others diplomatic missions near Monrovia. Mr. Protempore, our imprudence of moving on with the election should be compounded by the fact that many local and International observers will be unable to attend and independently verify the credibility of the election in the wake of the virus. Again, various embassies accredited near Monrovia are temporary closed.
The postponement of this process will allow us restore international trust and the modification of our electoral process for an effective and citizens trust process. Mr. Protempore, I would also like to join other Liberians to remind you and your colleagues on your legislative responsibilities including the provisions on strict timelines for elections procedures, guidelines on modification of election deadlines, frameworks for continuity of leadership in the event of emergency and powers conferred on the elections commission.
The issues of digital technology to rescue us.
An alternative to delayed or postponed elections and sidestepping questions about a possible constitutional crisis would be the adoption of alternative voting procedure measures for example, remote voting, electronic database and identifications card as well as public access to Information and Technology. It is time that we progress toward adopting the standard of technology.
Democratic processes cannot be held at ransom by the Corona virus indefinitely. So, mobility restrictions currently in place have implications on preparatory arrangements that have previously require in-person interaction. To avoid delays, government should harness the benefits of digital technologies in election management system. Technological solutions for voters’ education, voter registration and voter identification and verification as well as electronic voting and counting measures would certainly reduce the risks presented by human to human interaction and give a credible results.
Thanks as we look forward to a better Liberia,
Ralph T. Nyemah
River Gee County
Republic of Liberia.