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Liberian Candidate Qualifications Could be Challenged

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James Butty

An official of Liberia’s National Elections Commission (NEC) said October’s presidential elections will go ahead as scheduled following the results of the constitutional referendum.

The commission announced Wednesday that voters rejected all four propositions, including the controversial one to reduce the number of consecutive years a presidential candidate must have resided in Liberia from 10 to five.

As a result, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and a number of other presidential candidates may be disqualified to stand in the October election.

Bobby Livingston, director of public information outreach for the National Elections Commission, said anyone dissatisfied with the qualifications of the candidates should challenge them in court.

“Anyone who feels that there is a probable cause to challenge any of the candidates that have been preliminarily qualified by the NEC, the onus will be on the person to go to the court and, as you know, in our jurisdiction the court that deals with matters of the constitution is the Supreme Court. [The court] will determine whether we should be stopped in terms of qualifying a candidate or whether we should be allowed as we have acted within the confines of the law,” he said.

Kwame Clement, a former Liberian journalist and now a lawyer in the United States, said any Liberian can file a lawsuit before the Supreme Court to challenge the eligibility of any one of the candidates who has been certified by the NEC.

“There is a doctrine in the law called 'standing,' that is whether you have the right to bring such a case before the court? And, to have standing, you must suffer injury, which means a legal harm. And arguably a Liberian can say, ‘I will suffer a legal harm if this person is allowed to contest the election because if that person wins, I will be ruled by a person who doesn’t satisfy the constitutional prerequisites for being president,’ i.e., satisfying the 10-year residency requirement,” he said.

Clement said legal arguments are there to be made for anyone wanting to challenge the qualification of the candidates, especially based on Article 52c of the 1986 constitution.

“The opening paragraph says, ‘No person shall be eligible to hold the office of the president or vice president unless that person is resident in the Republic 10 years prior to his election,’” Clement said.

He said there is also a counter argument to be made against Article 52c that the constitution doesn’t say 10 years immediately prior to the election.

“Somebody can put forward the argument that if you were resident in the country for any 10-year period and then left, you satisfy that 10-year requirement because the constitution does not say immediately prior to the election,” he said.

But, Clement said another counter argument can be made that the constitution is speaking of the present and the past.

“It [Article 52c] says no person shall be eligible to hold the office of president or vice president unless that person is a resident. So, it’s talking in the present and not the past.  It has to be 10 years of uninterrupted residence,” Clement said.

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