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Liberia Braces for Possible Legal Challenges to Referendum Results

  • James Butty

Liberians are bracing for a possible legal challenge to the results of last month’s constitutional referendum. Voters rejected a proposal to change the residency requirement for presidential candidates from 10 to five years.

This could mean many of the announced candidates in next month’s presidential election, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, may not be qualified to run.

Chief Cyril Allen, chairman emeritus of former President Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Party, lost his case before the Supreme Court on the grounds that he was not domiciled in a district in Margibi County and, therefore, could not represent that district.

Allen said his case could serve as a precedent for rejecting presidential candidates who may not meet the 10-year residency requirement.

“My case is a precedent. I think this is one of the cases in Liberian history that the Supreme Court has ruled on the domicile clause. And, anyone taking up the case now with the 10-year resident clause will have grounds based on previous rulings. Yes, it is, in fact, very relevant as it relates to the 10-year residency clause. You have to reside in the country 10 years prior to your election. It must be interpreted by the Supreme Court as that,” he said.

Allen describes the ruling against him as a conspiracy engineered by those he said did not want an official from former President Charles Taylor’s government to run for office.

“There was a by-election in Margibi District, a district in which I reside and have a business and have been operating from for several years. And, there was a case filed with the Elections Commission that I was not [a] resident…and the Supreme Court ruled that I was not resident,” Allen said.

On the other hand, in 2006, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Representative Evans Koah that he could run for the House of Representatives in Nimba County’s District #6.

Koah said the court ruled that he was domiciled in District #6.

“It was a long ruling but, basically, the court did say that I was indeed domiciled in the district since, in fact, the evidence introduced in court clearly substantiated the fact that I had a residence in the district, the district was where I had been residing and spending all of my time outside of Monrovia, and I was born there and I grew up there,” Koah said.

He said he does not think his case can be a precedent for anyone who might want to challenge the 10-year residency requirement for presidential candidates.

“No, I don’t think the two are the same because that particular proposition [in the just concluded referendum], I think it’s a constitutional requirement to run for the presidency, that one has to live in the country for 10 years, whether consecutively or intermittently. That part…the legal analysts are still debating it. That has no connection with being domiciled in a particular district in order to be eligible to run as representative in that district,” Koah said.

It is not clear when and where the first complaint challenging the qualification of any candidate based on the recent referendum results would be filed.

There are suggestions that the Supreme Court may not have “original jurisdiction” and that anyone wishing to challenge any candidate’s qualification may first have to do so with the National Elections Commission.

Some legal analysts argue that the Supreme Court should consider the residency issue as a urgent constitutional matter and immediately address it, especially in light of the referendum results.