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Liberia’s President Seeks New Powers to Fight Ebola

  • James Butty

FILE - Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

FILE - Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has asked the national legislature to give her more emergency powers in yet another effort to prevent the further spread of the Ebola virus. Liberia is already under a state of emergency and curfew. In a letter to the Plenary of the House of Representatives and the Senate, Sirleaf asked for powers to amend seven different articles under the constitution, including freedom of movement, speech, religion, confiscation of private property, and elections.

Acarous Gray, a member of the House of Representatives from the opposition Congress for Democratic Change, said he intends to vote “no” to the president’s request because he doesn’t want to return Liberia to the days of military dictatorship.

“In my view, this is dangerous, and it reminds us of the days when the dictators govern Liberia. While it is true that we have a state of emergency, the Liberian Constitution under Article 87 is very clear that during the state of emergency no provision of the constitution can be suspended. So, we cannot provide an absolute authority of such to the President that will be draconian. I will publicly advocate against it, and I will vote against it,” Gray said.

Gray said President Sirleaf has yet to make a dent in reducing the impact of Ebola, even as the country has been under a state of emergency and curfew.

“Authority under the state of emergency has been given to the President as [far] back as August 7 of this year. But what has the president done with that authority?” Gray asked.

Gray said he supports the efforts to contain the Ebola virus but is against giving absolute power to the president.

“While we support the fight against [Ebola], we cannot thwart the constitution of the Republic of Liberia and provide absolute authority to one head of state. We cannot do that today; we must not do that tomorrow,” Gray said.

A special senatorial election is scheduled to be held this year on the second Tuesday in October as mandated by the constitution. But all indications are those elections will be rescheduled.

Gray said any decision on the elections should come through a consultative process involving all stakeholders, including all political parties and the three branches of government.

“The National Elections Commission has written to both houses of the legislative branch of government to find a way out. But to provide the single authority to the president to make the decision on when to have elections is tantamount to chaos. Do we want chaos in Liberia? The manner in which the president is proceeding is dangerous. And I want to be very clear that we will not allow a military junta to govern our country under a constitutional arrangement,” Gray said.

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