Liberia: Following the Passage of the New Elections Law in September 2022, Liberia’s President George M. Weah has vetoed several portions of the recently passed act to amend certain sections of the new elections law of (1986) as amended through 2014.
The President through a communication addressed to Speaker Bhofal Chambers on Tuesday, 14 March during the 17th Day Sitting of the 6th Session of the 54th Legislature of the Honorable House of Representatives stated several reasons for his veto to some portions of the amendment to the new elections law.
The elections law was passed on September 24, 2022 by the Legislature entitled: An act to amend certain sections of the new elections law (1986) as amended through 2014.
The President’s veto is in line with article 35(1) charter V of the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia. This article grants the President the right to line veto any instrument passed by the Legislature. The President’s veto can be over turned by the Legislature by two third majority in accordance with the Liberian Constitution.
The sections vetoed by the President including sections 2.1, 2.2, 2.10, 2.11, 2.12, 2.19, 2.24, 5.12 and the requirements that a political party’s list of candidates to the National Elections Commission (NEC) shall include no less than 30% from each gender.
The President said while he supports the 30% gender representation section and others, there are sections/items in the bill that are already addressed by existing constitutional provisions; existing statute; or that are better addressed through the existing, independent recruitment process of the NEC.
President Weah furthered notes that the Republic of Liberia is about seven months away from the 2023 General Elections and therefore certain changes in the Elections Law at a time so closed to the ECOWAS Protocol A/SP1/12/01 on Democracy and Good Governance six (6) months restriction would tend to send mix signals to the electorates and present the potential to cause delays in elections processes.
Section 2.1 which talks about the office of the National Elections Commission has been item-vetoed in its entirety. The President therefore believes that the existing law already provides for checks and balances regarding the scrutiny of persons to serve as commissioners of the NEC.
Section 2.2(3) which borders on appointment and tenure has been item-vetoed in its entirety. Objection: Section 2.2(3) would require a commissioner to be retired at age 70, even if his or her seven-year tenure has not expired. The Presidency notes however that the period within which a commissioner would become statutorily ineligible to serve as a commissioner of the NEC is already addressed in Amendment 2.2(1), which limits a commissioner’s tenure to a maximum of two terms. The Presidency therefore believes that the two-term limit within amendment 2.2(1) addresses the period within which a commissioner would be ineligible to serve as a commissioner of the NEC.
Section 2.10(c) has been item-vetoed in its entirety. Objections: The Presidency believes that the existing section 2.10 of the Elections Law already provides for proper administrative functions and supervision within the NEC and that the Republic of Liberia is about seven months away from the 2023 General Elections, and such administrative changes should be considered in a non-election year.
Section 2.11: The words “or the Board of Commissioners” in the last sentence of section 2.11 have been item-vetoed. Objection: The Presidency believes that the remaining language in Section 2.11 captures when and how the Vice Chairperson may act.
Section 2.12 which talks about legal staff has been item-vetoed in its entirety. Objection: This section would mandate the NEC to appoint a Legal Counsel and Research Officer from a shortlist of candidates submitted to it by the Liberian National Bar Association. The Presidency believes that the existing Section 2.12 of the Elections Law, which provides that the NEC shall appoint Legal Counsels and Research Officers through an open and transparent selection process is broad in that it allows all qualified lawyers to apply directly to the NEC without having to pass through an intermediary. The current process also maintains the independence of the NEC in its recruitment process.
Section 2.19(1) which talks about Executive Director has been item-vetoed in its entirety. Objection: This section would mandate the NEC to select an Executive Director from the list of candidates submitted to it by the Civil Service Agency. The Presidency believes that the existing section 2.19 of the Elections Law, which provides that the Board of Commissioners shall appoint the Executive Director through an open and transparent process is broad in that it allows all qualified persons to apply directly to the NEC.
Section 2.24(1) which talks about Magistrates of Elections is hereby vetoed. Objection: The Presidency believes that the remaining language in Section 2.24(1) adequately captures the roles of the Magistrates of Elections and how they would be obligated to follow instructions issued to them by the Commission.
Section 5.12(3)(a) which talks about hearing and determination of complaints has been item-vetoed in its entirety. The words “on an appeal from the Board of Hearing Officers” have been item- vetoed.
The amendment states that the deadline for a political party or candidate to file complaint should be November 2, 2023. The President said Article 83(c) of the 1986 Constitution gives the NEC thirty days to investigate and issue final ruling. “Assuming the NEC uses the entire thirty 30 days, December 2, 2023, will be the deadline for the NEC to render final ruling. The dissatisfied party would then have seven days to perfect its appeal to the Supreme Court which has seven days to render its decision. Hence, election cases should be disposed of before the second working Monday in January 2024 which is the date the 55th Legislature shall first assemble.
The Presidency is willing to work with this Honorable Legislature on ways to enhance the NEC capacity to speedily dispose of election cases.
According the Chief Executive, apart from the specific portions/sections that he has item-vetoed herein, he hereby approve the other portions/sections in the bill.
Following the reading of the above vetoed sections from the President, the Plenary through a motion made by Maryland County District#1 Representative, P. Mike Jury sent the instrument to the Committees on Judiciary, Elections and Good Governance to report before the closure of the Legislature for its first quarter break this March.