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Liberian Supreme Court Puts Hold on Special Senate Election

FILE - Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia.

Liberia’s Supreme Court has put on hold the country’s special senatorial election scheduled to be held December 16.

The Justice in Chambers, Philip Z. Banks, told the National Elections Commission (NEC) to inform all political parties to halt all activities associated with the election.

The action follows a petition by a coalition of former government officials and representatives of some political parties to stay the election on the grounds that holding the poll risks spreading the deadly Ebola virus.

Banks is expected to hold a hearing Tuesday to determine if the case should be heard by the entire court or dismissed.

Alaric Tokpa, national chairman of the National Democratic Coalition and one of the plaintiffs, said the NEC was wrong to announce the holding of the election when the country has not been declared Ebola-free.

“As a matter of fact, the elections commission postponed the election because of the deadly Ebola outbreak. As far as we are concerned, the disease is still in the country and health authorities have not declared the country Ebola-free. We, therefore, think that it is improper under the circumstances for the elections commission to have abruptly announced the holding elections during a very short period of time,” he said.

Tokpa said holding elections under such conditions would make it almost impossible for the poll to be free, fair and credible.

Those who want the special election to take place fear that not having it would create another constitutional crisis, such as allowing lawmakers, whose terms expire, remain in office without a new mandate from the voters.

Tokpa said a crisis was created after the constitutionally-mandated election day of October 14 passed without a ballot.

“The elections were not held on October 14 as determined by the constitution. If the elections were not held, then when their term of office expires, those senators will have to leave the Capitol Building and determination will have to be made as to when election can be held in order to replace them,” Tokpa said.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced new anti-Ebola measures earlier this month to safeguard the public during the special election.

“When we say no hugging, or shaking hands and rubbing shoulders, we mean it and we want people to take this seriously,” she warned. “We want democracy, we want to elect people, but we want to do so keeping all of us healthy. Making sure that we do not return to those difficult days must be our common priority number one.”

Tokpa said it is impossible to have a meaningful election campaign without closed interaction.

“One case of Ebola entered Liberia and broke the country down and exposed the weakness of the health system. Our schools are not opened. I would have thought that the opening of schools would be a better possibility of testing the crowds with Ebola. But, as it were, you can understand that it is impossible to have [an] election campaign that will disallow for intensive contact between people,” Tokpa said.

Tokpa describes as a positive development news that Ebola could be on the decline in Liberia. But, he said Liberians should not take actions that would bring about new outbreak of the virus.

He said he and his co-complainants await the court’s decision on the matter.

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