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Citizens Group Sues to Nullify Liberian Candidates Certification

Lawyer Sayma Syrenius Cephus says the Elections Commission violated the constitution when it certified 16 presidential candidates

The Liberian Supreme Court is expected to hear a lawsuit challenging the decision of the National Elections Commission to certify 16 presidential candidates, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, for next month’s election.

Article 52 (c) of the Liberian Constitution states that “no person shall be eligible to hold the office of president or vice president unless that person is resident in the Republic ten years prior to his election.” Last month’s referendum to change the requirement to five years failed.

Sayma Syrenius Cephus, lawyer for the Concerned Citizens of Liberia, said the election commission violated the constitution when it certified the 16 candidates.

“The first thing we decided to do is to challenge the candidacy of Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Counselor Winston Tubman [of the Congress for Democratic Change party], Prince Y. Johnson [of the National Union for Democratic Progress party], and Counselor Charles Brumskine [of the Liberty Party] on purely constitutional [grounds]. The focus of [the] petition has to do with Article 52 (c) of the 1986 Constitution,” he said.

Cephus said his group believes all 16 candidates do not meet the 10-year residency requirement as stipulated in the constitution. His group has asked the Supreme Court to interpret Article 52 (c).

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

“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.

Article 30 (b) states that any citizen wanting to be a member of the national legislature must be “domiciled in the country, or constituency to be represented, not less than one year prior to the time of the election and be a taxpayer.”

However, Article 52 (c) states that “no person shall be eligible to hold the office of president or vice president unless that person is resident in the Republic ten years prior to his election.”

Cephus said the constitution is clear when it uses “domiciled” and “resident.”

“When you talk about ‘domicile,’ you’re talking about a fixed permanent area. The distinction between ‘domicile’ and ‘residence’ is that residence is transitory, it’s transient, and it’s temporary. You can have as many residences all around. But, the distinction in Article 52 (c) is that it talks about a republic. The Republic of Liberia is static, stationary, unchanging. It represents the domicile. So, if they say resident in the republic, the republic there is replacing the word domicile,” Cephus said.

He said the Concerned Citizens of Liberia is also suing the Elections Commission because it failed to follow its own guidelines and regulations when it certified the candidates.

“The Elections Commission ought to have known, they knew or had reason to know, that these people [the candidates] are not qualified and they proceeded to qualify them. So, by that act, they have sanctioned the behavior of the unqualified candidates. And so, it’s a treasonable offense,” Cephus said.