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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Liberia’s Weah could be in for a impolite awakening on the polls

In a complicated about-face final month, Liberia’s Supreme Courtroom undermined its personal ruling {that a} controversial referendum, scheduled for December 8 alongside the nation-wide legislative elections, is unconstitutional.

As an alternative of explicitly cancelling the referendum, as most Liberian opposition events and civil society actors have urged for weeks, the Supreme Courtroom advisable as an alternative that the eight propositions into account ought to be printed clearly in an Official Gazette and on ballots enabling the voters to vote for or towards every individually and independently.

This has buoyed footballer-turned-president George Oppong Weah, whose administration is utilizing the referendum as a pretext to implement sweeping constitutional adjustments which will open up a small window for him to hunt an illegitimate third time period in workplace.

If Weah proceeds as speculated, he could be taking a web page from the playbook of Alassane Ouattara of Ivory Coast and Alpha Condé of Guinea, whose profitable third-term presidential bids earlier this yr occurred amid an opposition boycott, nation-wide protests and violent clashes with police. Ouattara insisted {that a} constitutional change in 2016 meant his very first time period didn’t rely in direction of a two-term restrict; Condé reasoned {that a} constitutional referendum held just a few months earlier than elections enabled him to hunt a 3rd time period.

Whereas the Ivorian and Guinean presidents could have succeeded of their political coups, Weah could also be in for a impolite awakening. No matter whether or not an precise referendum takes place, Liberia’s polls subsequent week can be a symbolic referendum on the once-popular, now embattled, president.

A doable constitutional disaster

Late final yr, Liberia’s legislature adopted a joint decision for a nationwide referendum proposing seemingly benign amendments to eight articles of the 1986 structure: authorising twin citizenship (article 28); decreasing the tenure of senators from 9 to seven years (article 45); decreasing the tenure of the president pro-tempore of the Senate from six to 5 years (article 47); decreasing the tenure of members of the Home of Representatives from six to 5 years (article 48); decreasing the tenure of speaker, deputy speaker, and different officers of the Home of Representatives from six to 5 years (article 49); decreasing the tenure of president from six to 5 years (article 50); altering the date of common elections from October to November (article 83a); decreasing the timeframe from 30 to fifteen days for the Nationwide Elections Fee to behave on complaints following a common election (article 83c).

Opposite to the legislature’s decision, nonetheless, the manager department of presidency in October 2019 printed an Official Gazette which suspiciously collapsed the eight propositions into three broad poll measures prioritising enacting twin citizenship, revising the tenure of the president, representatives and senators, and altering the date of the final elections. For the previous yr, Weah’s ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) has targeted intently on the simplified propositions in its campaigning, with photos of the president plastered on billboards throughout the capital, Monrovia, and its environs urging the voters to vote “Sure” on all measures.

But, establishments just like the Liberia Nationwide Bar Affiliation have questioned the constitutionality of the manager’s public messaging since proposed amendments ought to by no means be peddled as partisan causes. They’ve justifiably demanded a postponement of the referendum to permit for nation-wide deliberations since most voters stay ill-informed concerning the implications of the eight propositions and why they need to endorse or reject them.

Given Liberia’s sharp socio-economic decline beneath Weah’s watch, the timing of the propositions and emphasis particularly on marginally altering presidential tenures from six to 5 years is regarding. The president could argue sooner or later, as Ouattara did in Ivory Coast, that he’s eligible to run for an extra two phrases although a constitutional provision (article 93) strictly forbids an incumbent’s third-term aspirations. Any makes an attempt by Weah to undermine article 93 would hurl Liberia into political upheaval.

Twin citizenship is equally contentious, as my forthcoming book demonstrates. Throughout a 2015 constitutional overview convention and in Afrobarometer surveys performed in 2012 and 2018, Liberia-based Liberians registered their disdain for non-resident types of citizenship.

The referendum proposition to that finish doesn’t sufficiently handle concerns that twin citizenship would reproduce inequalities, thus doubtlessly infringing upon home residents’ already restricted entry to socio-economic alternatives. Weah’s insistence that twin citizenship would increase investments by Liberians overseas isn’t supported by empirical proof. As an alternative, it reveals his administration’s tone deafness.

Mismanagement and corruption beneath Weah

Grievances towards Weah are particularly ironic now since he got here to energy three years in the past on a populist tidal wave. Instantly after assuming workplace, the president criticised Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s and Africa’s first elected lady head of state, for leaving him with empty coffers.

But, reasonably than tackling the inequalities that bedevilled his predecessor, Weah sunk Liberia into a good deeper gap of financial mismanagement. There may be at the moment a scarcity of native forex, inflation is at an all-time excessive and auditors have died mysteriously amid a tradition of impunity that permits criminality and corruption.

Up to now two years alone, three main anti-government protests have galvanised hundreds of disaffected residents. And whereas different leaders have been scrambling on the top of the coronavirus outbreak to protect residents from socio-economic shocks, Weah as an alternative produced and starred in a public service announcement music video. When healthcare staff went on strike, he vowed to fireside them, claiming they might simply get replaced. By whom, nobody is aware of.

Due to Weah’s political inexperience, it was expected that he would assemble a group of gifted technocrats and progressive policymakers with integrity. As an alternative, his administration is crammed with CDC loyalists who’ve proven solely contempt for Liberia and its individuals. This features a finance minister who usually makes callous public statements, like insisting that Weah was not elected to pay civil servants on time and that the president ought to turn into a benevolent dictator.

To compound these transgressions, Weah’s administration can also be accused of illegitimately ousting a sitting Supreme Courtroom justice and knowingly appointing as chairman of the Nationwide Elections Fee a Nigerian nationwide who allegedly solid his Liberian naturalisation papers. After the senate vetoed the person’s appointment, Weah refused to heed calls to dismiss him from his different job as head of Liberia’s anti-corruption fee, signalling extra of the identical shenanigans to come back if he and CDC stay in energy.

Paying the worth on the polls

Liberia’s forthcoming elections and referendum are as a lot concerning the rule of legislation as they’re about frequent decency, each of which have been in brief provide throughout Weah’s presidency. Mired already by violence, intimidation, allegations of voter registration fraud, voter disenfranchisement and a compromised voter registration roll, these elections could mirror earlier ones through which voters rebuffed 4 referendum propositions in 2011 and expelled all incumbent senators save two in 2014.

I’ve argued beforehand that in excessive stakes polls like those subsequent week, Liberians don’t blindly vote for individuals or events; they vote as an alternative for politicians they presume will ship public items at native, nationwide and sub-national ranges. If previous legislative elections are something to go by, many incumbents from established events are prone to lose to new and/or impartial candidates, which is able to deal a becoming blow to those that have ruled carelessly.

So far as I see it, essentially the most acceptable response on December 8 could be for the voters to reject all candidates from Weah’s CDC and vote a powerful “No” on all eight referendum propositions. It will ship a robust message that Liberians ought to by no means, ever, be taken without any consideration.

The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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