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Liberia Supreme Court Decision Could Delay Election

Uncertainty now surrounds Liberia's upcoming election after the country's Supreme Court upheld the appeals of several presidential and legislative candidates who had earlier been excluded from taking part. Some United Nations and election officials now fear the country's first polls after more than a decade of civil war could be delayed.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the candidates in a decision announced late Tuesday.

The petitioners, who include at least two independent presidential hopefuls, were disqualified from running by Liberia's National Elections Commission, or NEC. An official from the NEC told VOA the candidates' applications were received late.

The Supreme Court ruling could force the elections commission to add the excluded candidates to ballots.

Officials from the NEC and the United Nations, which is helping organize the elections currently scheduled for October 11, now say that date may need to be pushed back.

Ballots listing 22 presidential candidates have already been printed. Some have already been pre-positioned at some of the more remote of the more than 1,000 expected polling stations.

A spokesman for the NEC, Bobby Livingstone, says if the Supreme Court decision means the ballots must be reprinted, then elections on the 11 would be out of the question.

"It took us between 18 and 20 days to get the work completed," he said. "That is a lot of time. And we have 13 days to elections. If it is upheld, definitely the timetable cannot be kept. That is an established fact."

A spokesman for the United Nations mission in Liberia, Paul Risley, says the U.N. was waiting for the court to release its written decision but had been meeting with election officials.

"The United Nations mission is working closely with the National Elections Commission to see if it would be logistically possible to include the names on the ballot at this late a stage and still make the 11th of October elections," said Mr. Risley.

Mr. Risley said the International Contact Group on Liberia, which includes the diplomatic community in Monrovia as well as representatives from the regional bloc ECOWAS, along with transitional government official would decide how to proceed.

"It is very important under the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which was signed in Accra in August, 2003, that the election be held in October," he added.

The October polls, which will serve as the first round of a presidential vote and elect a new parliament, had been meant to replace an interim government. Nearly a decade and a half of on and off fighting ended in 2003 with the departure of now exiled former President Charles Taylor.