By C. Winnie Saywah-Jimmy
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has finally requested the National Legislature to allow her extend her emergency powers by recommending the restrictions of Articles 1, 12, 13, 14, 17 and 24 of the National Constitution.President Sirleaf’s communication is against the apparent backdrop that few weeks ago the Liberian Senate passed on recommendations from its joint committees on Autonomous Agencies and Judiciary requesting discussions with President Sirleaf on the suspension of Article 83(a) of the Liberian Constitution due to the NEC’s inability to conduct election as scheduled.
Article 83(a) states that, ‘Voting for the President, Vice President, members of the Senate and members of the House of Representatives shall be conducted throughout the Republic on the second Tuesday in October of each election year.
The National Elections Commission (NEC) informed that body on August 12 of this year that it was unable to conduct campaign as well as provide the environment to conduct a free, fair and credible election because of fear that the voters’ turn out will be very low and that has the propensity to undermine the credibility of any election.
The Liberian Senate met in its 58th day sitting in plenary and agreed to consider the recommendations put forth by its committees alluding that it is visibly impossible for the NEC to conduct elections at a time when the Ebola virus has become an epidemic that is wiping out the very electorates and seriously hindering pre-campaigning and campaign activities.
The second paragraph of Article 86(a) also states, “Acting pursuant thereto, the President may suspend or affect certain rights, freedom, and guarantees contained in this Constitution and exercise such other emergency powers as may be necessary and appropriate to take care of the emergency, subject, however to the limitations contained in this chapter.”
It seems like the President’s recommendation to have other constitutional provisions suspended might further give her access to also consider discussions already held and decisions reached by members of that body and the Executive on the suspension of Article 83 (a).
Meanwhile, President Sirleaf’s communication to the National Legislature which was discussed in the plenary sessions on Tuesday could not get immediate green-light from that body as each will have to revert to their plenary to deliberate on it and reach a decision that might be made public during today’s sessions.
The communication among other things request emergency powers to suspend the elections and to restrain the movement of citizens during the Ebola period. It also requests the procurement of certain labor or services.
The communication also seeks to recommend the restriction of certain freedoms, including limiting the rights to assembly for any reason as well as restrict certain religious practices in general or specifically and prevent any citizen or group of citizens or any entity protected under Article 15 of the Constitution from making any public statement in person, by print and electronic which have the tendency of undermining the State of Emergency.
Even though the constitutional state of emergency does not state which rights of a citizen shall be limited during such time, President Sirleaf told the National Legislature that the restrictions when granted would fast track the eradication of the virus and anticipate highly that the communication be endorsed immediately.