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Ebola Crisis Prompts Suspension of Special Elections in Liberia

  • James Butty

FILE - Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

FILE - Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has suspended next week’s special senatorial elections.

A government statement posted on the foreign ministry’s website said the president’s action is in line with powers given her by both the constitution and the declaration of the Ebola state of emergency.

In August this year, National Elections Commission chair Jerome Korkoya wrote both houses of the national legislature recommending an adjustment be made in the October 14 date because the commission could not hold a free, fair, and credible election due to the ongoing deadly Ebola crisis.

But Tokpa Mulbah, a member of the House of Representatives from the People Unification Party, said the president does not have the constitutional mandate to announce the postponement of elections.

He said the House has drafted a resolution for a vote in both Houses authorizing the Elections Commission to begin making preparations to hold the special elections between now and December 30 this year.

“The Chief Executive, Madam Sirleaf, does not have that constitutional authority to make such a pronouncement. So based on that, we will be drafting a resolution Thursday to be sent to the Liberian Senate for a vote and placed in front Madam Sirleaf to sign so that the Elections Commission can go ahead to conduct elections from now till December 30 so that come second Tuesday in January the new 15 senators will be able to take their seats,” he said.

In his August 12 communication to the National Legislature, Elections Commission chair Korkoya said to have the special election as scheduled on August 14 under the current Ebola climate would be more expensive, especially with most of the electoral materials yet to be flown into the country.

Korkoya also told VOA in early September that the emotional confusion associated with Ebola could hurt voter turnout, thereby further undermining the credibility of the poll.

Representative Mulbah said the special elections must be held before the end of 2014 because to postpone them indefinitely could create a constitutional crisis.

“The election should be held before the end of the year because you cannot postpone it indefinitely, which means the government will be acting illegally, and nobody has the authority to do that. So we could be in a constitutional crisis, and we don’t want that,” he said.

About 15 Senate seats are to be filled during the special elections this year.

Mulbah dismissed the government’s claim that President Sirleaf’s postponement of the elections is in line with powers given her by both the constitution and the Ebola state of emergency.

“No, she doesn’t have that power. Articles 80b and 87a are clear. She doesn’t have that power. She cannot suspend certain provisions within the constitution that have an effect on the holding of elections. So for this reason... in my argument today I said she was ill-advised by her aides,” Mulbah said.

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