"...Liberians, both at home and abroad have a Constitutional Right to assemble, make speeches and discuss issues. This is guaranteed by freedom of speech and assembly... To wrongly assume that Liberians in Liberia have those Constitutional Rights but Liberians outside Liberia do not, would imply that the Constitution is only applicable within the borders of Liberia and by equal argument the NEC would not have the power to control nor legislate what a Liberian does after he/she is outside the border...."
The National Elections Commission (NEC) has been taken to task by Cllr. Mohamedu Jones in his article: “No Web Sites, Emails or Cell Phone Calls for Liberian Politicians?” This article by Cllr. Jones addressed Part IV: Chapter VI: Miscellaneous Provisions applicable to both Political Parties and Independent Candidates – Section 20: Campaign Activities. (…No activity of political parties and independent candidates shall extend beyond the boundaries of the country.)
Cllr. Jones goes on to give vivid examples of routine activities which he believes will be construed as a violation of that portion of the Elections Guidelines. I beg to differ.
From a legal perspective, any interpretation of the Election Guidelines, no matter how cleverly crafted by the NEC, which violates basic Constitutional Rights, makes that interpretation clearly challengeable in court. This I believe is common knowledge to the Commissioners on the NEC which, I might add, is headed by a legally versed Counselor-at-Law.
Liberians, both at home and abroad have a Constitutional Right to assemble, make speeches and discuss issues. This is guaranteed by freedom of speech and assembly. Liberians are certainly free to engage in fund-raising activities and any Liberian is certainly free to engage other Liberians at town hall meetings here in the United States or in other countries where Liberians reside. To wrongly assume that Liberians in Liberia have those Constitutional Rights but Liberians outside Liberia do not, would imply that the Constitution is only applicable within the borders of Liberia and by equal argument the NEC would not have the power to control nor legislate what a Liberian does after he/she is outside the border. It is the responsibility of potential candidates to ensure that their out-of-Liberia gathering is not an attempt at active campaigning which violates the Elections Guidelines. This will be the same parameter by which activities in Liberia will be measured.
Note also that Chairman Morris, in her October 12, 2004 reply to ULAA’s President, Arthur Watson, on the topic of Liberians in the United States voting, could have clearly informed the ULAA’s President that this would not be possible because this would be a political activity outside the country. Instead the NEC Chair alluded to constraints to undertake the exercise.
I am not inclined to believe, as Cllr. Jones supposes, that the Commission intends to cite a candidate for violation of the Elections Guidelines because that candidate sends an email to a member of his/her campaign team or has decided to get a website or uses his/her cell phone to discuss campaign issues. Here, I hope, Cllr. Jones has overstretched the interpretation of the law.
It is my conviction that the Elections Commission is concerned about political candidates who might attempt to circumvent the law by having political campaigning rallies outside the borders of Liberia, and begin canvassing for votes or begin sale and distribution of campaign souvenirs outside of the official campaign period as stipulated by the Elections Law. To attempt to control such is within the purview of the Commission and acceptable under the law. One may certainly argue against that portion of the law which controls how early a candidate wishes to start running his/her campaign but that is certainly another issue and something that might likely be addressed in better times.
It is my belief that the esteem Counselor has taken that portion of the Elections Guidelines a yard for what should be a step. But perhaps the issues, appropriately raised, justify clarification by the NEC – something which could have been sorted out if the Guidelines had been made available for debate and discussions before submission to the NTLA. But that is now water under the bridge.
It is my honest hope that those who are considering contesting positions in government do not give up their Constitutional Rights to speak about current ills of the government and on issues of national concern for fear of reprisals for violating elections law. I am sure the Commission recognizes the balancing act it has to perform between protection of Constitutional Rights of Liberians and enforcement of Elections Guidelines. I believe that the NEC will be guided by the spirit and intent of the Law.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Siakon Nagbe is a Liberian, Computer Programmer with Intellicon. He lives and works in Newport News, Virginia, U.S.A.