NEC: Allay, Don't Justify Fears
Published November 17th 2004 in The Analyst

FOLLOWING MORE THAN four months of committee room and plenary debates, passage of controversial legislation; public hullabaloo, threats, and allegations, and executive veto, the Electoral Reform Bill or ERB has finally been passed into law by the Transitional Legislative Assembly (NTLA). The ERB will now serve as the guide for the conduct of the October 2005 elections which are expected to usher in a new breed of post-war Liberian political leaders.

THE NEW ELECTORAL legislation has confirmed the suspension of Article 80 (d) of the Constitution of Liberia (1986) which requires a national census to be conducted prior to the conduct of presidential and parliamentary elections. The passage of the ERB has effectively closed the chapter on the debate between the NTLA on one side, and the NEC and her allies on the other side, on whether the ensuing elections should precede a national census and provide for the election of members of the lower house of parliament at district or constituency level. As it stands, the Liberian bi-cameral legislature will be filled through a system of election requiring a single-none-transferable vote (SNTV). This system requires that lower members of parliament be elected on a single county-level constituency with the three candidates with the highest votes winning the representative seats allotted the county. This will leave a total deficit of 34 or so parliament seats floating about which will be apportioned based on population figures based on the voter registration to be conducted prior to the October elections. This is opposed to the constitutionally approved majoritarian system of elections that gives the people direct representation at district levels on the basis of population density. The idea of the proposed new system is to obtain a 64-seat parliament thereby bringing representation as close as possible to the Constitution of Liberia (1986).

THE CONTENTION OF those who opposed the SNTV system, though we wish not to turn back the clock of bickering, is that the floating seats may end up as give-away for protégés of powerful countries and organizations who do not necessarily have the mandate of the people that they will be representing. In the view of critics of the system, this is proportional representation system (PRS) with a face. And given the experience Liberians have with the PRS, it is only natural and fair that their "representatives" took the stand they took, however much they strayed in their attempts to avoid a return to an electoral system that will put individuals in the house who will only be loyal to individuals and/or institutions other than the constituencies they are supposed to represent. We see the point they were making and we ourselves fear the recurrence of this scenario which made Taylor the dictator, which many have no doubt, he was - being the only truly elected political leader in a government that exercises or tend to exercise constitutional rule with the rest being party protégés. But being the better of two evils, we think the SNTV is worth giving a trial.

THIS IS WHY while we congratulate the NTLA, NEC, the Executive Mansion, and the international community for the understanding, maturity, and spirit of give-and-take that allowed for the passage of the ERB minus the Article 80(d), we want to call attention to what must be done to ensure that the "representatives'" fears are allayed rather than justified or confirmed by what happens up to and following the October 2005 polls. First there is the need to provide clearer picture on how the 34 or so seats will be apportioned to ensure that representation without the mandate of the represented is not repeated at the time when political transformation and good governance are major catchwords in contemporary Liberian politics.

TRUE THE INTERNATIONAL community supports and is ready to fund the SNTV polls; but instead of letting things stand as begrudgingly as they are, the NEC and the civil society organizations of Liberia, the so-called frontline defenders of the nation's human rights agenda, must ensure that the ensuing elections do not produce monsters that they will have to fiercely contend with tomorrow at the expense of peace and tranquility in Liberia. In other words, these groups must ensure that today's expediencies do not turn out to be tomorrow's nightmares as we saw clearly with the 1997 elections.

WHILE THE NATION does not have money to fund the ensuing elections and is therefore compelled by force of circumstance to hearken to the wishes of those who "paid the piper," it will not be out of place to work with the international electoral technical experts in an effort to thrash out any remaining or lingering suspicions and uncertainties before they become full-fledged issues of electoral discontent. It needs no saying that whoever pays the piper and how such a person feels about the tune, it is Liberians that will eventually accept and live by the results of the elections. It is they that will transform the poll results into legitimacies worth protecting under the sovereign laws of Liberia.

WE THEREFORE LOOK forward to more post-ERB passage dialogue that will hammer out all fears before the elections. Silence and letting-the-issues-stand-as-they-are or "letting-the-sleeping-dog-lie" are not and cannot be viable substitutes. The reason is some in the NTLA may be defeated by the irony of the moment, but they may not be out.