By TQ HARRIS, JR.
With less than five weeks before the holding of Presidential and Legislative Elections the false calm has given way to crippling fear. Liberians are living with deep uncertainties as to their safety and security, and no one seems to have answers. Many have begun appealing to friends and relatives abroad for financial assistance to leave the country before Election Day. Others are stocking up food and water fearing the worst. Are the fears warranted? Yes. From all indications Liberia is heading for a crisis.
The massive international peace and reconstruction efforts launched by the international community eight years ago under the leadership of Africa’s first female president at the cost of several Billion dollars has fallen short of expectation. However there is still time to put a halt on the ensuing violence, but this will require leadership, strong arm twisting, and serious flexing of muscles. After all, this is Africa -- an extremely rough terrain.
Having spoke consistently in the past five and a half years of a peaceful Liberia, but failing to ensure Liberians reconcile their differences following one of Africa’s most brutal wars; President Sirleaf to the astonishment of many announced recently that thousands of Nigerians troops are headed for Liberia to prevent possible post-elections violence. Interestingly, this is happening at the same time when the United Nations is drawing down its troops having been in the country since 2003. It is clear we yet again have missed the mark.
Notwithstanding, it is difficult to oppose the President’s decision to increase the number of troops on the ground when it is evident tension is rising. But many are asking, what will happen a month, two months or even six months following the elections, or when the troops are gone? Is bringing in additional troops the answer to national healing? Isn’t this an escalation of violence?
Any efforts intended to prevent violence during and, or after the elections must first seek to address political and constitutional issues that are contributing to the increase in tension. And the process must be legal, credible and transparent. The decision by the National Elections Commission to disregard both the Constitution and results of the recent Referendum has raised further concerns as to the legitimacy of the impending elections and its final outcome.
Article 52(c ) of the Liberian Constitution in context and intent forbids a person from seeking the office of President and Vice President who has not resided in the country for ten years leading up to the time of his or her election. It must be noted this particular Article was added to the Constitution a hundred and thirty-nine years following ratification of the original Constitution. It was done under the leadership of the military ruler whose intent, as framed by the civilians that drafted the 1986 Constitution, was purposely designed to exclude Liberians living abroad from competing against him in an election. There is no further interpretation or explanation for the residency clause in the current Constitution.
Though Article 52(c) in and of itself may be unjust, irrelevant and unnecessary, however, it is enshrined in the current Constitution; hence the law must be upheld if results of the impending election are to be legitimate. Any attempt to circumvent the Constitution on account of expediency may result in disaster.
There are, however, alternatives which must be considered before the ballots are cast in order to avert the impending crisis; these are as follows:
1. The National Elections Commission must uphold the law and disqualify all presidential and vice presidential candidates that do not meet the 10-year residency requirement and proceed with the conduct of legislative elections in accordance with Article 83(b) – Absolute majority.
2. Convene immediately a national conference where stakeholders shall discuss residency of presidential and vice presidential candidates and election of legislative candidates to be followed by a vote to determine the way forward as it relates to these issues.
3. Convene immediately a national conference where stakeholders shall discuss formation of an interim government which shall be tasked with resolving issues pertaining to residency of presidential and vice presidential candidates [Article 52(c)] and Election of legislative candidates [Article 83(b)], and the TRC recommendations, as well as other critical issues that are impacting the upcoming elections.
To avoid a national crisis there must be dialogue, negotiation, compromise and upholding the rule of law. It is high time Liberians address the hard issues and effect lasting solution to lingering problems. Greed on the part of a few has led to polarization of the populace which benefits no one. This election offers an opportunity to start anew and place the country on an irreversible path to real prosperity. Let us, therefore, not again engage in acts of lawlessness which has led to the fall of this nation.
The best victory this election could produce is one where everyone wins! When the people win, there will be no need to import Nigerian troops, or for UN peacekeepers to remain in the country, or for anyone to fear the TRC recommendations.
If postponing the impending elections and setting up an interim government is the best way to achieve lasting peace and stability, let us do it. We must get it right this time! To this end, political leaders must demonstrate leadership by instilling confidence in their followers and lower the temperature.