The chairman of Liberia’s National Electoral Commission said there is a compelling need for the country to conduct a comprehensive voter registration before next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
James Fromayan said without such registration, many Liberians who were displaced by the country’s civil war but who have since returned to their original places of residence would be disenfranchised.
His comments come as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the national legislature continue to wrangle over a controversial Threshold Bill that sets the numerical requirements for representation in the House of Representatives.
Fromayan said passage of the threshold bill is critical for voter registration.
“Our constitution stipulates that whenever there is a census conducted and the results are released, the legislature has the responsibility to come up with a threshold, and that threshold is simply the figure that will be used to determine how many representatives will be in the legislature. Right now we have 54 members in the House of Representatives, and the constitution says that they ought not to go above 100,” he said.
Fromayan said passage of the threshold bill is critical because it is a prerequisite for such activities as delineating constituencies and registering voters.
The Liberian Legislature did pass the threshold bill twice, but President Sirleaf vetoed both bills.
Fromayan said the first time President Sirleaf vetoed the bill it was based on political and legal consideration.
“Our understanding is that the first time the legislators passed the bill they had a caveat. They set the threshold at 40,000 (people per constituency) with the condition that no county should have less than two representatives. And I think that was from the onset an illegal act because you can’t set the threshold and make it conditional,” Fromayan said.
He said President Sirleaf’s second veto was probably based on economic consideration.
“The second time they passed it with 40,000 (persons per constituency) but I understand she said that she was proposing 48,000. She said that if they used the 40,000 according to her then it will be like 33 new representatives being added to the 54 that we already have which will give you some 87 representatives in the House. Her argument as I understand it was based on economic reasons, that there will be a lot of economic burden by bringing in new members of the House,” he said.
President Sirleaf reportedly told journalists on Tuesday this week that she and the legislators were negotiating a compromise for passage of the threshold bill.
Fromayan said much of his commission’s work is contingent on the passage of the threshold bill.
“It is encouraging to hear the executive and legislature are close to coming to an understanding with respect to the passage of the threshold bill. But to us it is a question of time because election is time bomb. Election requires massive planning and this unwarranted delay that we continue to experience in the passage of this one threshold bill has the potential of setting the country backward,” Fromayan said.
He called on legislators to work a bit harder to ensure the passage of the threshold bill.
Fromayan said even Liberia’s international partners were becoming frustrated by the delay in the passage of the threshold bill.