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Backlash Over Liberian President’s Executive Order

FILE - President Sirleaf of Liberia.

In Liberia, there is a growing backlash against President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Executive Order 65, which prohibits “all concerted mass movements of people on the streets of Monrovia during the ensuing special elections, including, in particular, rallies, demonstrations and parades.”

The order also prohibits such large gatherings 30 days after the announcement of the election results.

The president said the order is intended to “strengthen the government’s efforts to contain the spread of Ebola, protect the security of the state, maintain law and order, and promote peace and stability in the country.”

Fourteen members of the House of Representatives from Montserrado County have criticized the executive order, saying it brings back memories of military rule.

Robert Sirleaf, the president’s son, who is an independent candidate in the Montserrado County senatorial race, said he will file a lawsuit against the government because the order discriminates against the residents of the capital.

“One of the things we have to point [out] about the order is that really it speaks to the people of Monrovia and that’s why we found it discriminatory against the people Monrovia when it didn’t effectively speak to everybody in the other counties,” he said.

Sirleaf said the order should affect every part of Liberia since Ebola, which it purports to want to prevent from spreading, is happening in nearly all parts of the country.

“Basically, there should be a level playing field. So, we think the timing is off. You have one party that has done it, and everybody deserves the same right. It’s changing the rules of the game in the middle of the game,” Sirleaf said.

He said he is an independent candidate and sees nothing wrong with suing his mother’s government.

“I don’t think it plays into it at all. We’re an independent candidate; we’re an independent movement. This is really on behalf of the people of Monrovia. It’s not about Robert Sirleaf and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. It’s against the order and we feel we need to represent the people of Monrovia,” Sirleaf said.

The Alternative National Congress (ANC) party has also criticized the executive order, saying it violates the constitution.

Wilfred Passawe, chairman of the ANC/USA branch, said Sirleaf has usurped powers that can only be given her by the legislature in an emergency situation.

“I think what the president is asking [is] to immediately ban the mass movement of people gathering. These are very clearly protected within the constitution and so any attempt to deny citizens those rights, the very constitution lays out the manner in which that can be done. It has to be done under emergency powers,” Passawe said.

He said to be able to exercise such emergency powers the president must seek the approval of the national legislature, something Passawe said the legislature has already denied the president.

In a statement, the ANC party called on Sirleaf to withdraw the executive order. If the order is not withdrawn, Passawe said, his party will go to court to force the president to withdraw it.

“We don’t agree with the president’s executive order and we will pursue the legal means to challenge it. Now, some people might argue why go to court? The court might not side with you. Unfortunately, that’s the best way to resolve the matter,” he said.

The executive order also prohibits rallies, demonstrations, and parades during the special senatorial election and 30 days after the announcement of the election results because they “have led to persistent and frequent violations of the Vehicle and Traffic Laws of Liberia," and "the disruption of economic activities.”

But the ANC said “a democracy is at its best and can only survive in the long run when it learns how to strike the right balance between, and accommodate the competing interests of, its citizens.”

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