Opposition leader’s comments mark a surprising alliance with the ruling Unity Party and for obvious reasons. Political observers have in recent weeks questioned the motives behind the opposition to the referendum when many of those on the ballot, especially for the presidency would not qualify if the ten-year clause holds.
The leader of the opposition Liberty Party, Charles Brumskine says he supports the reduction in the number of years required in the “Residence Clause” of Article 52 (c) of the Constitution. But in a broadcast radio and television address relayed across Liberia Wednesday, Brumskine questioned why the residency requirement should only be reduced to five years, and not eight years or one year?
Brumskine’s comments days after the beginning of campaigning for issues on the referendum ballot. On August 17, 2010, a Joint Resolution 001 was adopted by the National Legislature comprising both the Senate and House of Representatives of the 52nd Legislature proposing a Constitutional Referendum to amend four provisions in the 1986 Liberian Constitution. The proposed amendment includes articles 52(c),72(b) and 83(a) and(b). The last time in living memory that Liberia held a referendum was to adopt the 1985 revised constitution during the Samuel Doe administration.
As a result of the resolution, the National Elections Commission (NEC), in keeping with Article 91 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, which among other things, states that “the Elections Commission shall conduct a referendum to amend certain provisions of the said 1986 Constitution for as specified by law”, is gearing up for the voting moment set to pave the way for elections later this year. The date for the National Referendum is August 23, 2011 and Only Liberians with valid 2011 Voters' registration cards will be eligible to vote in the forthcoming National Referendum.
Siding with ruling party
Brumskine’s comments marks a surprising alliance with the ruling Unity Party and for obvious reasons. Political observers have in recent weeks questioned the motives behind the opposition to the referendum when many of those on the ballot, especially for the presidency would not qualify if the ten-year clause holds.
But Brumskine explained that while some contend that the proposed reduction of the residency requirement to five years was passed by the Legislature primarily to ensure that President Sirleaf qualifies under that provision of the Constitution, enabling her to contest the 2011 election, Liberty Party supports a change. Said the Liberty Party leader: “Of course, Liberty Party could selfishly contend that the duration of the residency requirement should be longer than five years, ensuring that its Standard Bearer would qualify and the President would not. But whatever the arguments, pro and con, a reasonable argument cannot be made that individuals seeking the high offices of the land should not be required to have resided in the Republic for a definite period, immediately prior to the elections.”
The referendum in August will mark the first time that the Liberians would be asked to amend the Constitution, since the referendum that brought it into existence.
In expressing support for the referendum, Brumskine outlined several reasons for his party’s decision. Brumskine asserted that his party supports moving the time of the elections from October to November, but would have opted for a later month to allow more campaign time during the dry season. The opposition leader also said his party supports a change to the simple majority voting system for Legislative races, but the justification cannot be because requiring legislators to be elected by absolute majority vote would always necessitate run-offs, and therefore be too costly.
Said Brumskine: “The cost of conducting elections today, like most public expenditures, could be better managed. The simple majority system of election for legislators should encourage cooperation and consolidation among smaller parties and independents, to ensure that the larger political parties do not continue to win most legislative elections.”
Backing Age Limit Rise for High Court
Regarding the age-limit of the Chief Justice and the Associate Justice, Brumskine said his party supports increase in the retirement age for justices of the Supreme Court, but would have delayed that issue for a more comprehensive round of constitutional amendments. However, the opposition leader stated that Liberty Party would name this amendment the Gladys Johnson Amendment. “The illustrious jurist retired from the Supreme Court about a month ago because she had attained the age of seventy. Justice Johnson could have served the judiciary for at least another five years,” Brumskine said.
The Liberty Party boss said it is important that all of the issues on the referendum ballot be approved, some more quickly than others. “While a Liberty Party Government would have placed more issues on the ballot for the consideration of the Liberian voters, we cannot afford to have the constitutional amendment process aborted. We too have our disagreements with some of the referendum propositions and the timing of the process, but we have concluded that there is nothing so fatal that would cause us to forego this first in a life time opportunity to decide whether or not we agree or disagree with certain provisions of the Constitution.”
Brumskine further noted that it is agreed in most segments of our population that the Constitution is in need of serious repair. “The document clearly shows that its philosophical underpinnings bear little resemblance to the dreams and aspirations of the Liberian people. Quite a number of the provisions of the Constitution are designed to bolster an imperial presidency and diminish democratic opposition.
The opposition leader cited the Supreme Court of Liberia construed Article 54 (d) of the Constitution, as giving the President the authority to appoint City Mayors for the first time in the history of our country. Instead of proposing an amendment to the Constitution, ensuring that Liberians can once again elect their City Mayors, the Legislators, in their collective wisdom, have not seen, as important and urgent, the need to affirm the original intent of the Constitution, by including a proposition that would allow the election of City Mayors.
Six, Nine Years too long for Reps, Senators
The Liberty Party boss also said although the people, at least in theory, have the right to elect their chiefs—paramount, clan, and town—Article 56 (b) provides that the President can remove from office those elected by the people for “proved misconduct.” That undemocratic provision will remain untouched.
Regarding the terms of the President and Members of the House of Representatives, Brumskine said six years for each office are too long, while those of Senators, nine years, are unreasonably long. Thus he said, in the interest of good governance those provisions also should have been considered for amendment. But it would have taken too much courage on the part of our current office holders to shorten their own tenure in office.
Brumskine said Article 34 (d) (ii) provides that even after the national budget has been enacted into law—passed by the legislators and approved by the president—vendors and other creditors or claimants of the government, may not be paid, except upon warrant, which is subsequent approval, by the President. Given the political culture of Liberia, the Liberty Party boss said, this provision has made it difficult for Liberian business persons who are not members of the ruling party to do business with their government.
Based on these and other inherent flaws, Brumskine said his party’s preference would have been for a major review and revision of the Liberian Constitution. Nevertheless, he said, even incremental changes, which correct some of the shortcomings of our constitutional scheme, are welcomed by Liberty Party.
Brumskine said the Legislature has forced voters’ hands on the issues. “We must consider seriously our duties as citizens and seize this opportunity to begin fixing our constitutional order, as we strive to create the space for the growth of democracy in Liberia. This referendum is a key test of how we want our democracy to work and Liberty Party urges all citizens to participate and vote YES on all of the propositions.”
Brumskine said the time is ripe that the debate on these important national issues is joined, so that citizens may be fully informed before going to the polls. Thus far, he said, the government’s constitutional mandate to educate the population on the propositions of the referendum has been wanting. Notwithstanding, we must not miss this opportunity!
Brumskine, Liberty Party Alone on Referendum
The Liberty Party boss described the first series of ballot measures as important because they test the framework of our democracy and should help put us on a sustained course of constitutional reconstruction.
While Brumskine supports the referendum, other politicians have a different view. In fact, Liberty Party was not a signatory to a recent opposition party stance against the referendum. Dew Mayson, the political leader of the New Deal Movement told reporters recently that the referendum does not only go against the letter and spirit of the Liberian constitution but is tailored to qualify the incumbent President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to run for a second term and assist her party in winning seats in the national legislature. The New Deal Movement party boss who is poised to being the political leader of the proposed National Democratic Coalition (NDC), brands the pending national referendum as immoral and unconstitutional.
A resolution signed by parties opposing the incumbent said: “In the supreme interest of strengthening our democracy against the unveiled attempts by the President and her party to sabotage this democracy and possibly plunge our country into another round of chaos, we the leaders of the opposition political parties do hereby pledge to work together to ensure the defeat of these referendum when it is presented to the electorates in august.
The political parties currently negotiating the effort include the National Patriotic Party(NPP), the National Democratic Party of Liberia(NDPL), the Liberia People’s Party(LPP), the Congress for Democratic Change(CDC), the United People’s Party(UPP),the Movement for Progressive Change(MPP), Liberia Equal Rights Party(LERP) among others.
By David B. Kolleh / Email: