By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
One of the problems that Ebola outbreak brought into the political scene of the country was whether or not it was possible to hold the Special Senatorial Election which was set for October this year. As it is now an open secret, the second outbreak in August of the Ebola pestilence, affected normal activities. The situation led to the Declaration of a State of Emergency by the President to fight the disease, the closure of schools, as well as the compulsory leave of some employees of the country.
The sticky issue at the time was whether or not it was appropriate in keeping with the Constitution to hold the special elections amidst the spread of the virus, which affects people through body contact. Generally, it was accepted that the country would face a constitutional crisis following the expiration of the tenure of 15 senators by January, next year.
With this, it became obvious that the process could not take place in keeping with the constitution. Therefore, it was extended to December 16, following stakeholders’ consultation at many levels, some with the National Elections Commission (NEC). To add legitimacy to this new change from October to December, a joint resolution of the National Legislature was passed, authorizing the NEC to go ahead with the process on December. Accordingly, the NEC announced the time of the campaign, which is a condition precedent to the casting of ballots on December 16.
However, despite this decision, coupled with the Joint Resolution by the National Legislature, a group of Liberians, comprising former Information Minister Rev. Emmanuel Bowier, former Internal Affairs, Minister Blamo Nelson and the Movement for Progress Change of Simeon Freeman filed a writ of prohibition with the Supreme Court, asking the nation’s High Court to place a “stay order” on the process for health reasons, especially the outbreak of the Ebola Virus. Likewise, another Liberian, Atty Edwin Martin, who is also an official of a group known as “Justice & Public Interest Consortium Africa,” filed similar writ before the court in his own name, outlining similar reasons as those raised by earlier petitioners so as to prohibit, restrain and stop the NEC from further proceeding with the process.
Noticeably, prior to the filing of petitions before the court, many Liberians expressed concern about the holding of this process in the face of this deadly disease. They fear that this could further help to exacerbate the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of many Liberians. Conversely, others said it was necessary to avoid any constitutional crisis. This group is advocating the use of preventive measures, as announced by health authorities to proceed with the process.
With the debate on the issue of constitutional crisis or not and awaiting to hear from the High Court on the status of the petitions, it was learned on Friday that the Court has granted the Writ of Prohibition, thus placing a stay order on the process, which has now reached the campaigning process. The court is expected to meet the parties tomorrow on the subject matter. In view of this, NEC has, accordingly, called on all parties to abide by the court’s stay order, until otherwise.
The Supreme Court’s stay order to the petitions before it came in the wake of campaigning by the candidates, especially candidate George Weah of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and Benjamin Sanvee of the Liberty Party (LP) and independent candidate Christopher Neyor, who are among seven others contesting the senatorial seat for Montserrado County.
My cardinal reason for this article is to bring to the fore the procedure that those who foiled the petitions before the Supreme Court. Prior to this, there were talks and comments about whether any change in the holding of the process in October would bring about any constitutional crisis. Yes, indeed, people were exercising their freedom, as enshrined in the constitution, but this could not have any effect, without using the proper legal forum or channel which is the Supreme Court, which is the “Final Arbiter” of constitutional issues.
As Article 66 of the Liberian Constitution succinctly states, “The Supreme Court shall be the final arbiter of constitutional issues…” therefore, those who fled to the Supreme Court acted properly since it is that court that has the authority or mandate to interpret constitutional issues, as the debate as to whether or not to extend the original time of the special elections would lead to constitutional crisis.
I am hailing those who filed this petition on the subject matter because sometimes we find ourselves engaged in unnecessary debates on issues without proper redress, only because we fail to make use of the proper procedures or channel. Now, with this issue before the proper legal forum, which is the Supreme Court, the argument would be laid to rest. The fact of the matter is that this centered on the constitution, hence, by taking it to that body charged with interpreting the constitution, it is certain that the issue would soon be addressed.
Once more, let me thank those who filed the Writ of Prohibition to the High Court, instead of resorting to unnecessary arguments which do not bring about fruitful results or solutions to whatever issue or problem. This is just what is expected of a people in a democratic society by following the due process or the rule of law.
As we always say that this is a country of law and not men, as such, the procedure pursued by the petitioners should be emulated. Until we see this as the best way forward, instead of necessary fuss and violent acts, I REST MY CASE.