The Supreme Court of Liberia would on Tuesday, exactly two weeks before the election, take a decision on whether President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and some five other leading candidates are qualified to take part in the October 11 election.
The Movement for Progressive Change political party launched the legal challenge to the candidates’ eligibility after the referendum failed.
The main issue before the Court is a constitutional that requires that all presidential candidates be residents of Liberia for 10 years prior to the poll — a requirement that if enforced would eliminate many of Liberia’s leading politicians.
It may prove reasonably easy for the court to find a loophole, given the loose wording of the residency clause — but it will come at political cost. The clause states the candidates are ineligible unless they have been “resident in the Republic 10 years prior to his election, provided that the president and the vice-president shall not come from the same county”.
It looks tricky because, a decision to bar the six candidates could delay the elections for months and raise the risk of street unrest. Waiving it also could undermine the legitimacy of the next president.
President Johnson-Sirleaf became Africa’s first elected female head of state in 2005 — when the country waived the residency requirements for the U.N.-sponsored elections to allow more candidates to run in the wake of the war.
She, like many of her contemporaries, had left the country for years during the fighting, returning only in 2003 after it stopped. President Johnson-Sirleaf has enjoyed broad international support for her efforts at rebuilding Liberia since, and she is considered a favorite in the polls which would pit her against rivals Winston Tubman and former rebel leader Prince Johnson.
What has made some people angry with President Johnson-Sirleaf, is the fact that she has gone back on a 2005 campaign promise not to run for a second mandate. She put the issue to a vote in an August referendum, seeking to shrink the residency requirement to five years from 10 and also to delay the October poll until November, after the rainy season. These proposals were turned down.
Some analysts have however said, the electorate are not likely to mind hugely about the legal and technical issues should a waiver were granted. But the whole controversy could be used as a political tool by opposition parties after the election to undermine the legitimacy of the newly elected president.
Source: African Elections Project (Accra)