TO : H.E. EXCELLENCY, ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF
PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA
THE PRESIDENT PROTEMPORE AND HONORABLE
MEMBERS, THE HONORABLE LIBERIAN SENATE
THE HONORABLE SPEAKER AND MEMBERS OF THE
HONORABLE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
DISTINGUISHED MEMBERS OF THE INTENRTIONAL
COMMUNITY, ENGAGED IN LIBERIA
: THE RULING AND OPPOSITION POLITICAL PARTIES
: THE NATIONAL ELECTIONS COMMISSION (NEC)
: THE ELECTORATES AND THE PEOPLE OF LIBERIA
RE: PRAISES FOR FROMOYAN, OPPORTUNITY FOR
DIALOGUE, GREATER DEMOCRACY AND PEACE
DATE: NOVEMBER 6, 2011
WHAT’S GOING ON?
1. Praises are reserved for Honorable James Fromoyan for making the “sacrifice” to resign because it is not often that people in position of public trust resign their post, especially when they have tenure. Whatever the reasons for his resignation, is a responsibility he does not share alone because every member of the NEC participated in many, if not all, of the decisions of NEC which now portray the Commission as being partisan in favor of the ruling UP and less independent as an electoral governing body should be.
2. Elections are about peace building in resolving leadership questions that require not just any process where people vote, but a credible, free and fair process in which all are treated alike. When the process is perceived and generally accepted to be free, fair and democratic, it lends legitimacy to the outcome of the elections and the leadership of the victorious party.
3. We have made public our views about the President and any other person whose hands are stained with blood participating in these transitional elections and asserted previously that the 2011 Presidential and General Elections are as crucial to Liberia’s future as was the 1985 elections and having one party in the runoff election on November 8, 2011 will render the outcome as contestable and undemocratic as the 1985 Elections which did not reflect the true intention and verdict of the Liberian people.
4. The opposition, prior to elections, complained about the independence and suitability of the NEC and currently there is at least one law suit pending on the legality and constitution of the NEC, which along with calls for stakeholders dialogue on electoral issues prior to elections have gone unheeded.
5. This places Liberia once more at crossroads and the resignation of Chairman Fromoyan, rather than be viewed as an advantage, should be seen as an opportunity for dialogue on contestable issues and the grievances of the opposition, rather than arrogant grandstanding on entrenched positions.
6. Chairman Fromoyan resigned in the interest of peace. I believe him. He did what many person cannot, will not easily do. President Charles Taylor resigned in the “interest of peace”. History have proved him right that had he not resigned and waive his right to contest a second term, Liberia was headed for a bloody showdown, not that we haven’t seen much of bloodshed already, but any effort to save one life and avoid unnecessary bloodshed is commendable.
7. President Samuel Doe did not resign as did not Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. President Sirleaf is in no better position than Charles Taylor at the time he resigned.
8. She has fought and is clinging onto power against the odds: her own one term declaration; the Recommendations of the TRC which places impunity at the top of our national life; Article52(c.) or the ten year residency clause which saw a referendum that had the NEC somersaulting on previous position (there was no disagreement or dissention on the NEC over this radical reversal in favor of President Sirleaf) and qualifying President Sirleaf to participate in the elections despite the vote of the people in the ill-fated referendum that clearly disqualifies President Sirleaf and others.
9. To legitimize the position of NEC, the Supreme Court disappointed the few who still had hope and belief in the Court when it maintained its consistency in ruling in manner and form that does not temper with the interest of President Sirleaf. The position of NEC was we will qualify President Sirleaf and others in spite of the results of the referendum the NEC and President insisted on holding, again against all odds and claims of its illegality, unconstitutionality and irrelevance. The NEC was unanimously clear: “if anyone is dissatisfied let him go to court”.
10. President Sirleaf finds herself in the position of President Charles Taylor at the time he resigned and if she conducts the polls on November 8, amidst the protest and boycott threats of the opposition, she will find herself in the position of President Doe and Liberia risk repeating the lessons of history we as a people fail to learn. This, rather than uniting the people of Liberia, will be sowing seeds of discord and further polarization; rather than deepening the roots of our democracy, will be reinforcing and thereby entrenching the “cult of the imperial presidency” that ignores and under grades the power of the people embedded in the throes of democracy ; and rather than consolidating peace gains, will be risking the peace and tattering on the threshold of prolonged conflicts, popular discontent and delaying our much vaunted return to constitutional democracy.
11. We dare not forget that Presidents Doe, Taylor and Sirleaf are three most important (excluding Presidents Tubman and Tolbert) key players in our modern history and quest for democratic governance. They have a lot in common and because of the mistakes they made individually and collectively at one point in time and at different times, Liberia finds itself where it is today:
AT ONE POINT IN TIME: Both Doe, Taylor and Sirleaf worked in the same government. Doe was President, Taylor was head of an important government agency and Sirleaf was a member of Doe’s goodwill delegation to the United States and the World to portray the positive image of the coup makers few months after the bloody military take over. They were all party and participants to a bloodbath. More than that, President Sirleaf became President of Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) when the Finance Minister Position went to a young and fresh Perry Zulu, which Doe will not compromise.
WHAT DO THE THREE (3) HAVE IN COMMON:
a) They are/were all first timers in Liberian history: Doe, first indigenous President with no affinity whatsoever with the Diaspora or alien blood; Taylor the first rebel leader ever to rise from the bush to state power; Ellen, the first ever female president;
b) Their rise to power stems from a background of bloodshed, violence and mass deaths;
c) All three of them are credited with either instigating, leading or patronizing the bloodshed and stand rightly accused of injustice, human rights violations and rising to power on the crushing dry bones and blood of their victims;
d) They made promises to the people of Liberia as the basis for garnering popular support and betrayed those promises: Doe promised to return to the barracks and civilian rule but he never did; Taylor promised not to be president but to turn the government over once Doe was out of power-he never did; Ellen promised one term presidency which she has since reneged on.
e) All three of them after their initial rule were confronted with transitions they never should have opted to participate in-they did anyway. Doe after the military period; Taylor after the end of the war; Ellen at the end of her initial first term.
f) They were all confronted with the proposition “to be or not to be”. They had choices, but they chose to be: Doe could have return to the barracks and don’t participate, as was Taylor after the war and now Ellen after her first term amidst soaring unpopularity and international acclaim.
g) They all were saddled with corruption and accountability issues and stand accused of not addressing the pressing issues of the day that matter, but busy themselves catering to special interest, nepotism and elitist agenda;
h) They all presided over bloody student crackdowns including invasion of student campuses without investigation, with impunity. Ellen did an investigation as a distinction and is more sophisticated in her operations and courts a great relationship with the international community. Doe squandered massive international support early on as did Taylor and lost the courtship. Bottom line, perpetrators of rights violations against students under their rule went unpunished.
i) Improper accounting for national resources is common to the three and the pillage of natural resources under the plantation economy conundrum that kept the mass of the people poor and disempowered.
12. It is not that our leaders are inherently wicked or corrupt to the core, but it is the choices they make, the advisors they listen to, the decisions they make and the special interests they preserve and the extent that they make GOD the center of their leadership that makes all the difference. A western media outlet once suggested that Ellen is perhaps the best president Liberia ever had. No! Excluding the pioneering fathers of the nation, President Tolbert was. One choice, one bad decision can make all the difference between good and evil, success and failure, service and disservice.
13. The resignation of Chairman Fromoyan created the golden opportunity to reconstitute the NEC and create a bipartisan commission with the involvement of the International community to instill confidence and protect the integrity of the process and its eventual outcome. If the President is resisting this, than am afraid ulterior motives can be imputed into this resistance because reconstitution will address the concerns and fears of the opposition CDC and dismantle the infrastructure and architecture of fraud allegedly instituted under Fromoyan which does not exempt any of the other six Commissioners.
14. They would have done the President and the country well to equally tender their resignations in solidarity and unity with their Chairman, giving the President and the Legislature (Senate) and the CDC a free hand to reconstitute the NEC or put in place a bi-partisan body just for the conduct of the runoff and the government so elected can constitute a permanent NEC.
15. We have on hand a constitutional/political crisis which should spare no effort in ensuring its peaceful resolution founded in dialogue pursuant to a political resolution. The only other option is the legal option which is no longer viable as no one who is a major stakeholder has any inkling of confidence in the Supreme Court to dispose of contentious matters independently, judiciously and legally where the interest of President Sirleaf is concerned.
16. A political resolution entails that the senate which has oversight of presidential appointments must engage both parties, along with the international community, halt any kangaroo November 8 runoff and advert further deterioration of an already worsening situation.
17. The role of the Honorable Senate is defined by the fact that the Honorable Chairman of the NEC has resigned and three things must happened: 1) there must be appointed a new chairman 2) appointment of a new member of the Commission or 3) drop another member and maintain the constitutional 5 member commission and commission a new chairman from their ranks or drop two and name a new chairman. In any case the process of nomination and confirmation will eventually ensure a reconstituted NEC.
18. The Acting Chairman named by the President says she has the power to act and some lawyers have opined that she doesn’t need be confirmed by the Senate. What purpose does this awful posturing serve but to protect vested interest and obviously avoid public scrutiny.
19. The Acting Chair is wrong. She is acting in place of the Chairman and in her own words “in the absence” of the Chairman she has authority to act. This is true but not correct. Because the reality is that the Chairman is not absent, he has resigned and is gone for good. He is not coming back and his resignation has created a vacancy which can only be filled by a new nomination confirmed by the Senate. There is no dress-by-dress- in matters of statutory authority. The Chairman of the commission is an Executive Chairman appointed by the chief Executive in that capacity and confirmed by the Senate in that capacity. Hence, the acting Chairman is so designated to hold on until the vacancy is filled and under current arrangement, cannot perform the office and duties of Chairman of the NEC because she has not been granted that authority by statute.
20. We are not in a state of emergency and nothing justifies our failure to respect the law and follow sound doctrines. We violate the law and constitution all so frequently that we think it is normal to keep doing it. We are ignoring the law and anxious to proceed hastily because the President believes it works to her advantage to cling unto power by default.
21. Even if you believe what am saying is rubbish (like the rubbish I wrote on the Referendum, February 2011) you have a six (6) man Commission claiming to be acting legitimate when the Constitution provides for five(5) and they had previously operated as seven(7). Simple reasoning portends that the number should be odd so that in the event of split decisions there can be a tie breaker. So the new member who was not part of the original plan has to be appointed and confirmed -and at this juncture where there are only two parties going to the runoff- with the participation and input of the opposition CDC. Or better still, reduce the number of Commissioners to five, have the ruling party(the President) and the opposition nominate two members each and a fifth independently minded person named as Chairman and all confirmed by the Honorable Senate.
22. The Liberian saying “hurry, hurry burst trousers” is very relevant here. We should be anxious not to do the wrong things but to do the right things. The Liberian people have waited six years to express their choice for leaders which has come down to two parties, two candidates. They will accept nothing less than a true democracy and not Zimbabwe style elections in which the ruling president goes to the polls alone and claim the elections are democratic simply because the name of the withdrawing or boycotting opposition was placed on the ballot designed by the President of her stooges. It was wrong and condemned in Zimbabwe and it cannot be right in Liberia.
23. Elections by fiat will deprive President Sirleaf of the legitimacy she needs to successfully govern in her second term bid and reverse the gains made towards deepening a culture of democracy and fairness in Liberia. After a miserable referendum bid, the President cannot afford to lead the country down the slippery slope of incessant conflicts. What has happened to her suppose “peace building and peace maker” posture that earned her a spot next to Leamah Gbowie. What happened to the culture of dialogue, political maturity and reconciliation? In its recommendation, the TRC had identified the lack of national mechanisms for handling national disputes outside the traditional civil court process as being a major source for the escalation of conflicts and recommended the establishment of one. That is yet to happen but we have a golden opportunity in the resignation of Chairman Fromoyan (he must be commended for this) to salvage the crisis on hand.
24. This is a crisis that must be avoided at all cost through dialogue and a negotiated political settlement. What we have is a lame duck government and presidency which legal tenure expired end of October and the remaining two months of the year- November and December- are transitional period to form a new government that will take over in January 2012. If the November 8 lapses without an agreement on how to democratically proceed and the runoff becomes a fiasco, the legitimacy of the government beyond October will be contested and the dreaded scenario of an interim leadership will be our only option.
25. This is why we need a negotiated political settlement that will address all concerns of the CDC and fraud claims including a new date of the runoff once a reconstituted NEC is put in place. There are only two parties involved and should be easy to do, considering that all other parties have lined up between or of the two. If we manage this well we will be ushering a new political order in which we have two national political parties and perhaps a third designated by legislation to define our multiparty credential in terms of three political parties joggling for political power. That’s why I believe vetoing the funding bill for political party was a disingenuous miscalculation wanting in vision and national perspectives.
26. Towards a negotiated settlement are suggests the following:
1. That the presidential runoff schedule for November 8, 2011 be called off until there is clarity and resolution of the claims warranting the withdrawal of the CDC from the process;
2. That a reconstituted/by-partisan electoral body be instituted with confirmation by the Honorable Senate to ensure qualified and well suited Liberians are appointed to the position for the purposes of the constitutional legislative oversight to maintain checks and balance in government;
3. That to enhance transparency, fairness and integrity of the polls, the following mechanisms be put in place before the runoff polls:
1. There should be proper accounting for all ballots printed, how distributed per polling precincts and under whose watch, lock and keys are the excess ballots maintained; this may sound elementary or perfunctory but in the face of total breakdown of trust, every minute detail in the accounting process is important;
2. There must be on the spot verification and accounting for excess ballots allotted to each voting precinct based upon predetermined formula known to all parties in advance of the polls;
3. There should be party representation at all polling stations and where the opposition CDC needs facilitating to be represented at all polling stations, the Government, NEC or Liberia’s electoral partners should assists in facilitating this representation. This is important considering the unlimited access to public resources that the President and the UP has as an unfair advantage and disproportionately so, over the opposition. The NEC has not publish party finances as yet in violation of its rules and laws and it will serve the wider interest of transparency and fairness if such publication can be made before the runoff;
4. That the ballots be counted at each polling station or precinct, the ballot boxes sealed and returned to NEC HQ with copies of the tallied results signed by the officials at the polling station. Ballot boxes should remain sealed, and except for settlement of disputes and verification, there should be no counting of ballots at the HQ of NEC;
5. Tally results should be published at each polling station prior to transmission to the HQ of NEC. So much so that the summation of all published tallies can constitute the results of the elections, save disputes and challenges;
6. There should be predetermined procedure for the announcement and declaration of results and the total number of votes cast must be announced, published before the announcement or publication of results;
7. Ballot accounting should include the number of ballots printed, the amount giving out to polling stations, ballots printed in excess of registered voters and the person and security measure to protect the ballots everywhere;
27. All parties must stipulate to accept the results so declared by the NEC and if possible define the rational basis for any objection to the results of the elections before polling takes place.
“There are still times I feel unhappy and I must smile, and there are times I want to cry and I must laugh…people rarely see the real [me]”. Marvin Gaye, April 3, 1940-April 1, 1984.
Jerome J. Verdier, Sr
CHAIRMAN, TRC OF LIBERIA (ERSTEHILE)
November 6, 2011