The former chairman of Liberia’s defunct Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is calling for the extension of the country’s upcoming October election timetable and the reconstitution of the elections commission.
The National Elections Commission is set Wednesday to release the final tally of the August 23rd constitutional referendum.
Three of the four propositions, including Amendment 1, which seeks to reduce the residency requirement for presidential candidates from 10 to 5 years, may not get the two-thirds majority needed to pass.
Former TRC chairman Jerome Verdier said, whatever the outcome of the referendum, it would reinforce the argument of those who say the referendum was a hasty and premature process.
“Let’s assume…that, for example, the first proposition requiring the reduction of the 10-year residency clause should be rejected, it simply means that the sitting president and several other candidates would be constitutionally barred from taking part in these elections,” he said.
Verdier said if proposition 1 is rejected, it would create what he called a conflict situation since President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf might use all means available to ensure her participation in the October elections.
But, Verdier said using the court process to circumvent the will of the Liberian people would be undemocratic.
“There were a lot of Liberians, including stakeholders in the process, who said this referendum wasn’t necessary. Now, the people of Liberia have spoken. Then, you will submit the opinion of the people of Liberia to a five-man judicial branch, which would be undemocratic, which would be a gross disregard for the opinion of the Liberian people,” Verdier said.
He said if Proposition 1 is defeated and President Sirleaf still chooses to use the court process, it would show that she is using the courts to achieve a political end.
As for the view that there should be a transitional government if Proposition 1 fails, Verdier said, while interim governments have served Liberia during its war years, such an option may not necessarily work this time around.
“Interim governments have proved to be very, very difficult. They were necessary to bridge a warlike situation and usher Liberia into a peaceful transition. What we need to do is an extension of the electoral timetable, a reconstitution of the elections commission and a stakeholders’ conference to address all of these seemingly transitional issues,” Verdier said.
With roughly 42 days left before the scheduled October 11 presidential elections, Verdier said it would be impossible for the current elections commission to hold to that date.
“We have had these experiences before where incumbents tried to temper with elections and, if elections go well, it consolidates peace. If [the] election doesn’t go well, it breaks down society, it brings about violence, and this is what we are trying to avoid in Liberia,” Verdier said.
Verdier said there is a need to reconstitute the International Contact Group on Liberia because, he said, Liberia is steering away from the peace process that ended the country’s long civil war.