The Supreme Court of Liberia on Wednesday, November 18, in a unanimous opinion, granted the Petition for a Writ of Prohibition against the holding of the Referendum filed by the CPP. It could be recalled that consistent with Article 91 of the Constitution, the Legislature adopted a Joint Resolution, proposing a Constitutional Referendum to amend eight (8) Articles of the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia.
However, and contrary to the Resolution adopted by the Legislature, the Executive branch of the Government collapsed the eight proposed amendments into three (3) Ballot measures on which the electorate will be required to vote “Yes” or “No” in an official Gazette published on October 8, 2019 in Volume XIX, No. 52.
The CPP in its Petition to the Supreme Court, argued that the Official Gazette as published by the Government is not consistent with the clear mandate of Article 92 of the Constitution which, in relevant part, states in unequivocal terms “….If more than one proposed amendment is to be voted upon in a referendum, they shall be submitted in such manner that the people may vote for or against them separately.” CPP also argued that collapsing the proposed amendments into 3 ballot measures has far reaching implications for the fairness, integrity, and transparency of the Referendum, and hence the constitutional democracy that the process seeks to enhance. If for instance, a voter votes “YES” to ballot Measure Number 3, his “YES” vote automatically translates into an approval of all the proposed amendments that have been collapsed under ballot Measure Number 3. If on the other hand, he votes NO, it automatically translates into a rejection of all the proposed amendments that have been collapsed under ballot Measure Number 3. Given the lack of adequate public education and awareness on the proposals, CPP lawyers argued such a choice is not only unconstitutional, but is tantamount to a deliberate attempt to entrapping the voter to a pre-determined outcome.
The Supreme Court in a unanimous Opinion rendered on Wednesday, November 18, 2020 in a CPP Secretariat release, agreed with the CPP and held that the act of the Executive Branch of the Government of Liberia in deviating from the clear language of the Resolution of the Legislature by combining and condensing the eight propositions into three categories quite contrary to the provision of Article 92 of the Constitution which specifically mandates that each of the eight prepositions be stated separately on the ballots to afford voters the opportunity to exercise their right of choice, the Government proceeded by the wrong rules.
The Supreme Court went further to state that “to the mind of this Court, this is a violation of the letters and intent of the Constitution and the citizens’ rights of choice. The court agrees with the petitioners that should the 1st Respondent (National Elections Commission) be permitted to print the ballot papers based upon the published Official Gazette, then and in that case, that will constitute proceeding by the wrong rule. It being the finding of this Court that the Official Gazette is inconsistent with the dictate of the constitution, prohibition will lie to prevent the 1st Respondent form relying thereupon in the execution of its functions. The Constitution provides that ballots for a referendum shall present the proposed amendments to the people in such a manner so as to avail them of the opportunity to vote for or against them separately
With this Ruling, the Referendum, cannot take place until a new Gazette consistent with the Resolution of the Legislature is published, logos identified for the 8 proposed amendments, and public education and awareness conducted on the proposed amendments.