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Liberian Legislature Under Pressure to Pass Threshold or Redistricting Bill

It appears a blame game is going on in Liberia over who is responsible for the delay in approving a redistricting bill known as the Electoral Threshold Bill which was submitted to parliament by the National Elections Commission of Liberia.

Redistricting is a process of changing political borders, which means changing electoral districts and constituency boundaries. According to Liberia’s constitution, immediately following a census, the national legislature is supposed to decide on the number of representatives from each county.

The delay in passing the Threshold Bill is said to be in the House of Representatives where it is believed any redistricting would likely affect the constituency of the current Speaker.

Grand Kru County Senator Blamo Nelson told VOA that unless the redistricting bill is passed, there is likely to be chaos during the 2011 parliamentary and presidential elections.

“The bill is about the legislature setting the number of citizens that should be entitled to a seat in the House of Representation. That is a requirement of our constitution. Immediately following a census, the legislature is supposed to decide the number of persons that should have a seat. And we just did a census last year. So we are expected to pass a bill that will set a threshold for a seat in the House. The Elections Commission is supposed to use that threshold to be able to apportion and decide on the number of constituencies,” he said.

Nelson was quoted in the local media as saying that he foresees a bloodbath if lawmakers did not pass the redistricting bill. But he told VOA he believes Liberia is on the brink of electoral insecurity, disorder and chaos if the Threshold Bill was not immediately approved.

“Well, possibility of bloodbath is not exactly how I put it. I said that there would be some disharmony and some chaos with respect to the 2011 elections. That does not necessarily mean bloodbath. Certainly the threshold is needed for redistricting the constituencies in Liberia. If that were not done, it would be difficult for the government to organize an election. Now if we did not have an election come 2011, what would happen is that the government would lose its mandate, and I’m afraid we may be moving towards the direction of perhaps forming some kind of a government of national unity or power-sharing government,” Nelson said.

Nelson said no matter how the threshold or redistricting is done, three counties, including that represented by the current Speaker of the House would definitely lose seats.

But Nelson would not confirm or deny speculations that the redistricting or Threshold Bill was being held up in the House of Representatives because of the possibility some members there would lose their seats after the redistricting.

“At this stage for me personally, I am not reading that kind of analysis. What I’m reading is that there are those lawmakers and some people outside of the legislature who are saying at the moment that Liberia does not have the capacity to increase the size of the House of Representatives come 2011. That’s one of the strong arguments that is being made,” he said.

But Nelson said neither parliament nor President Sirleaf can avoid undertaking the constitutionally mandated redistricting.

“Whatever way you do it, you cannot avoid setting a threshold. The President cannot avoid it; the speaker cannot avoid it; none of us can avoid setting a threshold without risking violating the constitution which requires that after a census a threshold must be set,” Nelson said.