Rerun or Runoff? Liberia Supreme Court Decides Today
The Supreme Court is expected today to put an end to a legal battle that halted the preparations for the runoff election.
The ruling from the nation’s high court will either mean the country will go for a rerun or runoff, a decision Liberians eagerly await.
According to our judicial reporter, on Wednesday, December 6, a number of international guests were seen on the grounds of the Temple of Justice.
Appearing before the high court last week, lawyers from the National Elections Commission (NEC), Liberty Party and Unity Party, each made a case for their clients.
They cited relevant laws to defend their position but the outcome of their representations lies in the hand of the five justices on bench.
After all the legal drama, the Appeal Court is now looking in the case at bar as to whether or not there’s a merit to overturn the October 10 Presidential and Legislative Elections results or allow NEC to proceed with the runoff.
Prior to Nov 7, 2017, a writ of prohibition was placed on the preparations for the conduct of the runoff by the Supreme Court of Liberia following a petition for a Writ for Prohibition filed by Liberty Party’s standard bearer, Cllr. Charles Brumskine, against the NEC.
Liberty Party requested the Writ of Prohibition and a rerun of the October 10 presidential and legislative elections, citing mass irregularities and fraud.
The ruling Unity Party, joined the Liberty Party’s pursuit of annulling the October 10 polls.
Soccer legend and Senator of Montserrado County, George Weah of the Coalition For Democratic Change (CDC) and the Vice President, Joseph Boakai, of the Unity Party, are poised to contest the runoff election if the high court rules a runoff.
The Hearing Magistrate and Board of Commissioners of NEC denied the Liberty and Unity Parties’ appeal for a rerun of the October 10 elections, stating that they failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove the allegations of mass irregularities and electoral fraud.
In their ruling, the Board of Commissioners upheld the ruling of the Hearing Officer, Cllr. Muana Ville, saying that the parties failed to prove fraud.
“The Honorable Supreme Court has defined fraud as the employment of trick, artifice or deception to cheat or mislead another and it is not sufficient to merely alleged fraud as a basis for relief, it must be established by proof,” Commissioner Davidetta Lassanah reading the ruling on behalf of the Board, said.
In their ruling, they agreed that some transposing errors occurred during the October 10 elections but said were corrected and didn’t have any impact on the overall outcome of the elections and cannot constitute fraud.
“Accordingly, we hold that the Hearing Officer did not err, and the first and second appellant for a rerun of the October 10 2017 elections is hereby denied.”
“Wherefore and in view of the foregoing, appellants appeal is hereby denied.
“The Hearing Officer’s final ruling in these proceedings is hereby confirmed and reaffirmed and it is hereby so ordered,” Commissioner Lassanah averred knocking the gavel.
Lawyers representing the two political parties took exception to the ruling and announced that they would take an appeal to the Supreme Court.
During the argument on the appeal filed by the Liberty and Unity Parties, Cllr. Charles Brumskine and Oswald Tweh of the Liberty Party told the Court that NEC made reversible errors by not disclosing the Final Registration Roll (FRR) to the polling places as the law provides.
Cllr. Tweh further said the elections body had intent of defrauding and holding illegal elections, requesting that the Oct 10th, 2017 elections be annulled and the FRR be cleaned-up.
The LP standard bearer and lead counselor, Mr. Brumskine, argued that the entire election was corrupt and the results should not stand.
“NEC couldn’t deny any of our claims and evidence because if they knew they weren’t true, they were going to bring in polling officers from those places we named.”
“The corruption of the election is sickening and it makes you want to cry. ”
“The NEC Commissioners are either croaky, incompetent, or they don’t know the law,” the learned Cllr. argued.
In their arguments, the UP lawyers, Cllrs Lavela Supuwood and Benedict Sannoh, said though there was no complaint earlier filed against the NEC on failure of making public the FRR, it does not mean NEC followed the legal process.
Cllr. Sannoh said NEC disregarded Section 22.1 22.2 and 22.3 of the Election Laws but rather regarded 22.4 something he said was illegally done.
“Seven [political] parties were given individual flash drives containing the FRR. But we found out that many names were duplicated with the same numbers.”
“We want the FRR to be sanitized and every voter should have an ID number,” Cllr. Sannoh insisted.
Cllrs Musa Dean and Alexander Zoe, the lawyers representing the National Elections Commission, agreed that there were many challenges, but had taken steps to correct those challenges so that they won’t be experienced in the runoff.
They argued that those challenges are not guaranteed for a rerun of the entire elections.
Cllr. Dean further argued that everyone, who voted was valid, including the chairman of the ruling Unity Party, Mr. Wilmot Paye, whose name wasn’t on the FRR, yet voted.
He confirmed that the numbers attached to voters were similar but with distinction on the age, sex and names.
He further stated that the entire case is politically motivated and is not in the interest of the country.
Responding in connection the admittance of challenges at NEC by its lawyers, Associate Justice Jamesetta Howard-Wolokolie termed the investigation following the issuance of prohibition as formal.
The Associate Justice added: “We need to have some training for NEC or else we will continue to have the same thing over and over here.”
As was argued by Cllr. Brumskine, Chief Justice Korkpor slammed the Elections Commission for not following the due process of law.
This is the second time since the electoral process started the NEC has been found of failing to follow due process.
The first was during the denial of Liberty Party’s vice standard bearer, Harrison Karnwea from contesting as running mate to Brumskine over violation of the Code of Conduct.
Delivering the ruling on behalf of the Bench on Monday, Chief Justice Korkpor said – “The NEC though having jurisdiction must proceed properly and legally but by setting a date and proceeding to conduct a runoff election without first hearing and deciding the complaint by the petitioners, which alleged gross irregularities and fraud.
“The NEC was proceeding contrary to the rules, which ought to be observed at all times.”