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Liberia's Candidates to be Made Public for October Election

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James Butty

The National Elections Commission of Liberia (NEC) is expected to announce Friday the names of legislative and presidential candidates considered qualified to stand in the October general election.

The announcement follows the results of last month’s controversial constitutional referendum in which Liberian voters rejected a proposal to change the residency requirement for presidential candidates from 10 to 5 years.

The failure could have meant that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and a number of other presidential candidates might not have been qualified to run.

NEC Chairman James Fromayan said the 10-year residency requirement is ambiguous and his commission did not want to disqualify any candidate based on what he called a vague constitutional provision.

Fromayan said a total of 16 presidential candidates will be announced as qualified to stand in the October 11 election.

“The result does not have any direct bearing on the qualification of candidates from the standpoint of the National Election Commission. Against that background, we have our own guidelines and requirements that candidates are supposed to meet before they are qualified by the NEC to contest election and, as far as we are concerned, those who are qualified to contest have met all the qualifications laid down by the elections commission and are consistent with the laws of Liberia,” he said.

Fromayan said his commission is not trying to disregard the mandate of the Liberian electorate who voted August 23 in a referendum and rejected a proposal to change the residency requirement.

“What was being proposed for amendment was much clearer than the 10 years that is very, very ambiguous and lacked clarity as to what the law is talking about. So, we don’t want to penalize anybody on the grounds of a particular constitutional clause that lacks clarity,” Fromayan said.

He said the decision to put the 10-year residency requirement to a vote was that of the Liberian legislature, not the election commission.

“We did not bring any provision up for referendum.  Let’s get that very clear.  Those provisions came from the national legislature.  It did not [come] from us.  As far as we are concerned, the issue of residency clause has never been an issue to us,” Fromayan said.

A spokesman for the elections commission told VOA a week ago that anyone who was not satisfied with the qualifications of a candidate should challenge that in court.

Fromayan appears to be backing away from that claim.

“We’re not really laying that position.  We qualified the number of candidates we have talked about and, as far as we are concerned, we are moving on.  If anybody feels that we have done wrong, they know where to go.  They know precisely what to do, but don’t feel guilty of any wrongdoing, and I think we will forge ahead focusing on the conduct of the election which is October 11.  Those who want to pursue a court action, it’s up to them.  We’re not telling them what to do,” he said.

There are suggestions that the Supreme Court may not have “original jurisdiction” and that anyone wishing to challenge any candidate’s qualification may first have to do so with the National Elections Commission.

The issue of who has “original jurisdiction” to hear any complaint about the qualification of any presidential candidate is being debated by legal experts.

Fromayan said complaints about election matters should first go to the elections commission.

“In some instances, individuals go straight to the Supreme Court without recourse to the elections commission, but electoral complaints for the record ought to begin with the National Elections Commission,” Fromayan said.

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