ELECTION FEAR GRIPS LEGISLATORS
NEC Chairman summoned over constituency delineation
Julius Kanubah, FPA Legislative Affairs Correspondent, email@example.com (+2316586240)
Re-election and political fear has gripped some members of the National Legislature ahead of Liberia’s crucial general and presidential elections expected either in October or November of this year (2011).
The fright relates to the ongoing provincial constituency delineation of all electoral districts in the Country by the National Elections Commission (NEC).
NEC is carrying out the electoral district delineation as part of what the Commission regards as the implementation of a Legislative Joint Resolution on the Electoral Threshold Act.
The Electoral Threshold Act which sparked over two years of intense political and legislative bickering before being Legislated, signed and printed into handbill on 22nd July 2010 sets the basis for political representation in the House of Representatives.
The Legislature had passed the Threshold Act throwing aside the results of the 2008 National Housing and Population Census which under Article 80 (d) of the Constitution of Liberia should have been used to set the threshold for each electoral district.
Article 80 (d) reads: “Each constituency shall have an approximately equal population of 20, 000, or such number of citizens as the Legislature shall prescribe in keeping with population growth and movements as revealed by a national census; provided that the total number of electoral constituencies in the Republic shall not exceed one hundred”.
In the controversial joint resolution, the Legislature failed to prescribe a numerical threshold as mandated by Article 80 (d) of the Constitution but chose to maintain the current sixty-four (64) electoral districts with the prescription of nine (9) additional electoral districts thus increasing the existing Legislative seats from 64 to 73.
The Legislature also resolved as part of the joint resolution to allot the nine seats to five Counties that include Montserrado (3- seats), Nimba and Bong (2-seats each), Grand Bassa and Lofa (one seat apiece).
Under the Threshold Act, it was stated that “the National Elections Commission shall reapportion the districts accordingly”.
It is against this backdrop NEC on Friday (April 29, 2011) announced that “the Commission is pleased to inform you [public] that, in-house technical activities for the delineation of electoral district boundaries is ongoing. As we speak, our technical team has completed the provincial electoral district boundaries for 13 counties while delineation for Montserrado and Margibi is ongoing”.
NEC Chairman James Fromayan explained that “By May 10, 2011 in keeping with the key electoral dates, public consultation to review the provincial electoral district boundaries will be held across the Country. Based on the feedback from the public consultations, the Final electoral boundary districts shall be determined and finally published on June 25, 2011”.
The pronouncement by NEC is in line with Article 80 (e) of the Liberia Constitution which provides that “Immediately following a national census and before the next elections, the Elections Commission shall reapportion the constituencies in accordance with the new population figures so that every constituency shall have as close to the same population as possible, provided however, that a constituency must be solely within a county”.
This announcement by Chairman Fromayan has apparently caused stir among some members of the Legislature with the House of Representatives now summoning the NEC boss and the Board of Commissions to appear before it this Thursday (May 5, 2011).
The citation according to House spokesman Isaac Redd “is intended for Chairman James Fromayan and the Board of Commissioners of NEC to explain how the Commission is carrying out its district reformatting ahead of the 2011 elections.
Mr. Redd told this paper that “the invitation to Chairman Fromayan and the other NEC officials was based on a communication to the plenary of the House by Grand Gedeh Representative Rufus Gbieor”.
Representative Gbieor, according to the House spokesman, “wrote the House because of confliction information on the delineation exercise by the National Elections Commission”.
Redd explained that “the letter by Representative Gbieor was supported by most of his colleagues because there are concerns that NEC may demarcate the sixty-four (64) seats the Legislature retained apart from the nine (9) additional seats that are to be apportioned among the five Counties”.
The concern by Representative Gbioer comes days after his senior Senator Isaac Nyenabo called on the National Elections Commission to halt the ongoing delineation exercise in all counties not given additional seats.
“It is illegal for the National Elections Commission to be carrying-out delineation of electoral districts outside the Threshold Act passed by the National Legislature, said Nyenabo.
Nyenabo feared that unless the process is halted “it could lead to sectional-conflict as tribes in various counties could be split and placed in different districts/regions during the redistricting by the National Elections Commission”.
Given the debate and fear by some members of the Legislature, it is becoming clear that the delineation exercise by the National Elections Commission is now running into trouble. The debate is being necessitated as some Legislators are worried over re-election and that changing or repositioning their strongholds in their current areas of representation to another area could be too volatile and costly on their re-election bid.
Chairman Fromayan and the NEC Board of Commissioners are now due to provide clarifications that will either increase the fear of the lawmakers or ease it for now.