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August 16, 2011

Liberian Lawmaker to Vote 'No' in Constitutional Referendum

by James Butty

Jewel Howard Taylor, wife of former president Charles Taylor, says the clause on residency requirement for presidential candidates is discriminatory

With less than a week to go before Tuesday’s constitutional referendum in Liberia, a well-known member of the legislature says she plans to vote “No” on all four amendments.

Liberians will decide whether to amend Article 52 (c) reducing the residency requirement for presidential candidates from 10 to 5 years, Article 72 (b), which seeks to increase the retirement age of judges from 70 to 75 years and Article 83 (a), which seeks to change the election date from October to November.

Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, wife of former President Charles Taylor, who is also chair of the Senate Electoral Committee, calls the referendum ballot confusing.

“If you look at the ballot for Proposition 1, that talks about the five-year clause, it says five years 'Yes,' and where the 'No' box is, it says 10 years. I thought it should have read five years 'Yes' or 'No' because the issue is not on the law, the issue is on changes that we need to make,” she said.

Officials at the National Elections Commission have said the ballot is not confusing. According to local media reports, the commission posted sample ballot papers in public places around the country to educate voters.

Taylor says, when she first saw the sample ballot, she felt it was intended to benefit proponents of the referendum.  But, she says the commission has provided additional explanation.

“When I saw it, that’s how I felt.  However, over the last few days, they [the elections commission] have said that if you vote 'No' and if you check the 'No' box it would mean 'No' to the propositions.  So, I guess they must ignore the fact that on top of the boxes on all of the four propositions you actually have the law. So, if someone were to say 'No' to the one year clause which is on top of the 'No' box, you would saying 'No,'” Taylor said.

She says she plans to vote “No” on all four amendments.

“The first one is the proposition that says we should change the law from 10 years to a five-year period.  I think that law is discriminatory because it eliminates Liberians who might have come home in the last couple of years to get involved in the process,” Taylor said.

Taylor says she also plans to vote “No” on Article 72 (b), which seeks to increase the retirement age of judges from 70 to 75 years, because she says Liberia needs new blood in its judicial system.