By Atty Philip N, Wesseh (PNW)
Tomorrow will indeed mark another indelible event in the history of this country as eligible voters would be going to the polls in a special senatorial election throughout the country to elect individuals to fill vacancies as nine senators, referred to as “Senior Senators”’ end their nine year tenure next month since their elections in 2005. Already, the National Elections Commission (NEC) has published the list of 139 qualified candidates, some of whom are incumbents for Saturday’s polls. The exercise is being conducted in keeping with Article 46 of the 1986 Liberian Constitution.
That provision of the Organic Law of the country succinctly states, “Immediately after the Senate shall assemble following the elections prior to the coming into force of this Constitution, the Senators shall be divided into two categories as the result of the votes cast in each County. The Senator with the higher votes cast shall be Senator of the first category; and the Senator with the lower votes cast shall be Senator of the second category; provided that no two Senators from a county shall be placed in the same category. The seats of the Senators of the first category shall be vacated at the expiration of the ninth year. In the interest of legislative continuity, the Senators of the second category shall serve a first term of six elections. Thereafter, all Senators shall be elected to serve a term of nine years”.
Today I’ve decided on the issue of “making history” because I do not know in the chronicle of this country whether we have been through such an exercise. Perhaps in those days because it was a one-party state and that political pluralism was a problem, the nation did not experience such thing as it is happening today with many candidates, even, including a son of the sitting President.
Again, I stand to be corrected because the country is older than me, and it is possible that special senatorial elections were held before. But what I do know is that the revised constitution of 1985 during the regime of the military government of the late Samuel K. Doe extended the tenure of senators from six years, as was contained or stipulated in the 1847 Constitution, to nine years. As the Constitution review process continues, there are calls to revert to that provision on the tenure of senators.
The Constitution of 1847 that preceded the country’s independence on July 27, 1847 had provisions for only few senators as there were only few counties- Montserrado, Sinoe and Grand Bassa. Article II, Sec. 5 of the 1847 Constitution on the issue of the Senate tenure states, “ The Senate shall consist of two members from Montserrado County , two from Bassa County , two from Sinoe County , and two from each county which may be hereafter be incorporated into this Republic. No person shall be a Senator, who shall not have resided three whole years immediately previous to his or her election in the Republic of Liberia, and who shall not when elected, be an inhabitant of the county which he or she represents, and who does not own unencumbered real estate of not less value than one thousand two hundred dollars in the County, and who shall not have attained the age of twenty-five years….”
The same provision further states on what we are facing today that, “the Senators shall serve for six years and shall be elected quadrennially, and those elected in a.d. 1905 shall retain their seats for six years from the time of their election, and all who are otherwise elected shall serve for six years.”
As the nation prepares for this exercise tomorrow there is much concern about making this process violent-free. Besides, there are others who hold the view or suspicion that the process may not be free, fair and transparent. For this, one party official threatened violence if his candidate does not win. Besides, there have been reports of some individuals tearing down the campaign posters of others, while others reported of attack on their campaign materials likewise.
Yes, as it is common sense, the issue of election is a contest in which people seek to emerge victorious and as such, there might be tensions surrounding the process. Interestingly, this is the first time in the history of this country with such number of counties, political parties and independent candidates in such a race.
Noticeably, over the past years, the democratic process had not been on a smooth sail. William R. Tolbert succeeded President William V. S. Tubman after the President’s death in 1971. After Tolbert completed the term of Tubman, he was elected in 1975 and inaugurated in January 1976. Unfortunately, Tolbert did not end as a result of the Coup. Samuel Doe who led the coup and was later elected in 1985 did not also end his six-term because of the civil war led by former President Charles Taylor and his defunct National Patriotic Front of Liberia in 1989.
Similarly, the six-year term of former President Taylor was disrupted as a result of another insurrection by several armed Liberian groups, including Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) headed by Sekou Damate and Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) headed by Thomas Yaya Nimely , who later became Foreign Minister during the transitional government that succeeded the Taylor’s regime.
Fortunately, for the past few years, there is reason to rejoice as the democratic process has been on course, with two successful elections, giving President Sirleaf two terms. Expectedly, Liberians are to go to the polls in 2017 to elect a new President, as this President cannot seek reelection in keeping with provisions in Article 50 of the Liberian Constitution, which states”…No person shall serve as President for more than two terms.”
Tomorrow’s election is part of the continuation of the democratic process. The Constitution mandates that those senators who have served for nine years should vacate and create rooms to be filled. Unlike the clause of seeking re-election by the President, such does not exist in case of the senators, as the incumbents can seek re-elections as many times as they wish.
But what is important now is for all Liberians who are supporters of various candidates to make sure that the process is a success. By supporting any particular candidate should in no way create any spirit of enmity. One thing that matters is that all of these voters are Liberians and all of these candidates are Liberians. Therefore, all must work to ensure a peaceful election. Many times it is said that “Liberia is a small country,” meaning that we are all connected or related either by affinity or consanguinity. As such, we should jealously guide this hard earned peace and avoid anything that would pollute the air of peace and tranquility the country presently enjoy.
I am particularly unhappy about what is obtaining between persons said to be supporters of candidate George Weah and candidate Robert Sirelaf during this process. What is more disgusting is that people who are seen as friends, are engaged in all kinds of allegations and derogatory statements, that have the proclivity to instill fear in the peace, or even cause people to stay away tomorrow. No matter where we find ourselves, there is a tomorrow that all of us would meet to interact. This is why it is imperative that we behave properly with civility.
Equally, let me detest some of the campaign slogans by moving supporters of both Mr. Weah and Mr. Sirleaf. These slogans are uncalled for and against any civilized norms. Let all of us know that we are one people with one destiny. This special election should not put a wedge between the things that have been keeping us together, like the unlike poles of magnets.
As for the NEC, this is a great opportunity to conduct such a process. Therefore, it should remain focused and ensure that everything is done in keeping with its statutory mandate for a success and credible process. This is also an opportunity for the NEC to prove its cynics and skeptics wrong about its commitment to conducting a free, fair and transparent process.
All in all, I say to all Liberians, whether supporters or candidates, let us work to be a part of the history- making process by holding this election in a peaceful and non-violent manner. Let us also abide by the rules and procedures laid down by NEC to avoid any disturbance at polling centers, as we cast our votes tomorrow.
Again, I stand to be corrected as to whether or not this is the first time in the history of this country’s more than 160 years of existence that such an exercise is taking place. But one thing I know; this is the first time in more than 50 years for such elections.
THE BALL IS IN OUR COURT AS LIBERIANS. To cite another maxim, the “life or survival of the bird” is now in our hands. That is, the way and manner in which we play it would determine whether or not we have made history or cause opprobrium to fall on us. I Rest My Case.