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The 2014 Senatorial elections are back in play with a new date after last Saturday’s decision by the Supreme Court of Liberia to reject a Writ of Prohibition seeking postponement of the elections due to the deadly Ebola virus outbreak.

In a 3-2 opinion marred by dissent from two members of the bench, Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, opined that the court is not a political branch, thus the issue before this court is political making it impossible for the court to hear the petition. “Wherefore and in view of the foregoing, the majority of the honorable Supreme Court bench hereby quashed and denied the writ of the prohibition and the stay order on the pending special senatorial election is hereby lifted.”

Mr. Blamo Nelson, a former Minister of Internal Affairs and former Senator was grateful to present his case in court, even though he and his co-proponents did not get the ruling they sought. “I think we had our day in court and that’s what we came for. So I am not disappointed at all. I think the judicial process has taken its course and that the matter that we brought here has been laid to rest by the high court,” Blamo Nelson, a former Minister of Internal Affairs told journalists in the judicial yard after Saturday’s ruling.

Just 24 hours after the court’s decision, the National Elections declared Saturday, December 20, 2014 as election date, reaching a decision after a meeting held with political parties and candidates at the headquarters of the Commission in Monrovia. Political Campaign will officially end at 6:00 PM on Friday, December 19, 2014, according to NEC.

Critics of the proponents of the election postponement described them as mainly old school thinkers of the progressive era who found a loophole in the election process and decided they would challenge it. The suit, brought on by Nelson, Rev. J. Emmanuel Bowier a former Information minister as far back as two decades ago and Cllr. Laveli Supuwood who also has his face on campaign posters across the country, put the brakes on the electoral process for two weeks, leaving the fate of many candidates across the country in limbo in terms of value campaign time.

The decision to reschedule the election from December 16 to December 20, 2014, according to the NEC release is intended to compensate for time lost as a result of the Stay order imposed on the election and campaign activities by the Supreme Court. The December 20 date set for the conduct of the election is in consonance with Joint Resolution number 002 recently adopted by the Legislature.

Joint Resolution 002 mandates the Commission to conduct the Special Senatorial Election no later than December 20, 2014. At the same time, the National Elections Commission has urged political parties and candidates to assist in informing the electorate about the new date for the election as they proceed with political campaign.

“The Commission, however, advises all political parties and candidates to proceed with their political campaign within the framework of the law and measures agreed to at a recent Inter Party Consultative Committee Meeting held on December 3, 2014.” During the meeting, political parties and candidates agreed that they will conduct their campaign within the following scope: No street Parades; Campaigns will only be conducted in districts/communities; and Gatherings will not exceed 250 persons, etc.

The decision is poised to pose a major blow to independent candidate Robert Sirleaf, who had argued in a separate petition before the high court challenging the Liberian Government for the issuance of Executive Order 65, prohibiting political rallies throughout Monrovia in the wake of the Ebola crisis. Sirleaf says the order announced by his mother, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf recently is “discriminatory, punitive, and wrong.”

The President explained that Executive Order No. 65 on December 3, 2014 is intended to strengthen 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. But Sirleaf insists that the Order seeks to undermine the ongoing democratic process by which the citizens would elect the individuals they believe to be qualified to represent their interests in the government for the next nine years.”

The order came into play in the aftermath of a massive rally by football legend George Weah on the streets of Monrovia. Supporters of Robert Sirleaf say, they did not get a chance to showcase their candidate in the same numbers as Weah. But it is the ruling to suspend the elections that drew attention Saturday. One group of the petitioners told the high court that the Ebola virus was still a serious health problem in the country and that it was not possible to hold an election when the country has not been declared Ebola free by the government and its international partners.

Another group of the petitioners had called on the high court to halt the election because the Legislative branch of government that set up the election date for Tuesday, December 16, 2014 does not have the right to do so when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf during the imposition of the state of emergency in the country in August, 2014 due to an Ebola outbreak suspended the holding of the Senatorial election that was to take place on October 14, 2014.

‘Not Disappointed at all’

While the National Election Commission (NEC) backed by the Justice Ministry, which was slapped with the writ of prohibition told the court that its action to go ahead with the election, was consistent with the law and the decision was reached after consultations with its stakeholders.

But as the petitioners walked out of the Supreme Court Building at the Temple of justice on Saturday after almost four hours listening what critics called their defeat being read before them by the court, the men wore smiles on their faces and their countenance was far from remorseful. “No, I don’t think we are, at least we had our day in court and that’s what we came for,” said a seemingly disappointed Nelson.

“I’m not disappointed at all, I think the judicial process has taken its course and the matter that we brought here has been laid to rest by the high court. I think all of us should be happy that we see our judicial system as a place of refuge when we feel that things are not right; we come and put ourselves at the disposal of the court.”

Nelson’s argument his critics say is weak and the real reason why they took the matter to the high court was to stall the elections that had already been scheduled by the National Elections Commission (NEC) for Tuesday, thereby making way for a quasi arrangement outside the law when the legislature would have been rendered unbalanced by January 16, 2014.

Milton Teahjay, the former Sinoe County Superintendent is among those disgusted with the attitude of the men who filed the petition and sending the country into a quagmire. He said the longer the court kept the stay order in place the more the complication. “In the first place this petition should not have been filed because all of the agency actors, the executive and the legislative branch of government all acted within the context of their authority,” said Mr. Teahjay.

“In my mind, I think this is an attempt by the petitioners to force an interim government, so that they will have their place around the political table. I think this was an action by a few unsophisticated, egotist who just wanted to pursue an opportunity so that they could bring this government down to be part of an interim government.”

But the lawyers of the petitioners have taken solace in the divided Supreme Court bench that handed down a 3-2 ruling in the matter. The petitioner’s lawyer Cllr. Cyrennius Cephas told journalists at the court after the reading court’s decision that the divided bench showed that their complaint was in good faith and logical.

Petitioners Not Prepared

Said Cephas: “If you listened to the dissenting opinion, all of the issues we raised; the first issue was whether the conditions that necessitated the imposition of the State of Emergency have now been removed and therefore we can now hold elections, the minority opinion said no, those conditions still exist. Ebola still poses a clear and present danger. We made the case.”

The two Judges, with dissenting views on the matter spent two hours apart from the almost three spent by Chief Justice Francis Korkpor in reading the ruling of the court. Onetime Justice Minister, Associate justice Philip A. Z. Banks III and Associate Justice Kabineh J’aneh who also failed to sign the ruling, differed with Chief Justice Korkpor shortly after he ruled into the writ of prohibition filed by the political parties and eminent citizens.

It seems the petitioners were not prepared before rushing to court with their suit as Chief Justice Korkpor said Saturday in his Opinion, the other party under the banner the National Democratic Coalition the high court could not also deal with its brief because its lawyer Cllr. Lovely Supuwood filed and withdrew all of its brief, leaving the high court with nothing to act upon while the Chief Justice ruled to fine Cllr.Supuwood the amount of US$ 300.00 payable within 72 hrs for negligently representing his clients.  
He stated that the high court could not deal with the brief of the Justice Ministry because it filed its return to the brief of other parties late. He said instead of December 2, Justice Ministry filed its brief on December 3, 2014. Chief Justice Korkpor went on to say that the joint resolution by the Executive and Legislative branches of government was constitutional adding that Article 1 of the Constitution that says that power is invested in the people does not mean that the people should control the body-politics of the country.

According to the Chief Justice while it is sudden that the Ebola virus had taken away the lives of thousands of Liberians and foreigners alike, but the decision had come from the resolution reached by the Executive and Legislative to hold the special senatorial election by December 20, 2014. Chief Justice Korkpor continued that the petitioners raised a lot of political issues other than a substantive issue, adding that the Judiciary branch of government does not deal with political matters and that political matter are left with the two other branches of government.

“Wherefore and in view of the foregoing the alternative writ of prohibition cannot lie in this case because the resolution to hold this election is constitutional and that NEC is advised to put in the necessary preventive guidelines in holding the election hereby so ordered,” stated the Chief Justice as he read the opinion. Shortly after his ruling Associate Justice Banks and Ja’neh differed on the opinion with two different other opinions read out by the two Associate Justices who sat close to one another.

‘Don’t Agree with Majority’

“I don’t agree with the majority of this bench because a date should have been set by this court for the election,” said Justice Banks.“NEC needs to put into place a mechanism for aspirants also so that if they breach the rules they can be penalized.”

Associate Justice Kabineh J’aneh also stated the deadly Ebola epidemic virus has hindered the right of the people to freely exercise their franchise. He said the opinion rendered by the court only looked at the political aspect of the issue, but it did not take into account the rights of the people. But Justice J’aneh will abide by the law by exercising his right to vote in the election that has now been rescheduled for December 20, 2014.

“We disagree, but the Supreme Court laws states if you disagree, you should state why you are not signing the opinion in my judgment the opinion was not authentic of rights, I have no reason to doubt the ability of the NEC, I am going to Nimba to cast my vote,” said Associate J’aneh.    

Cllrs. Theophilus Gould, Musa Dean, Ministry of Justice Acting Minister Benedict Sannoh represented the NEC backed by the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General Betty Larmie Blamo while the eminent citizens and political parties to include the National Democratic Coalition and Interest groups were represented by Cllrs. Cyrennius Cephas and Laveli Supuwood.

Legal pundits told FrontPageAfrica before the high court’s decision that the petitioners’ petition was dead on arrival and that elections would go ahead because the petitioners did not have a case but were trying to waste the time of Liberians and the NEC. The question on the minds of many now is whether one week of campaigning is sufficient for those eyeing senatorial seats.

For now, though, the high court decision appears to have avoided the possibility of a possible constitutional crisis, but voter turnout and the developments on the campaign trail in the next seven days could prove to be a pivotal test for Liberia’s burgeoning post-war democracy.

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