Random House Webster's College dictionary defines Referendum as “the principle or practice of referring measures proposed or passed by a legislative body to the vote of the electorate for approval or rejection”. Referendum is also defined as the process that voters can vote “Yes” or “No” to a proposal to change some parts of the Constitution.
In the current Liberian case, Joint Resolution 001/2010 was adopted by the National Legislature on August 17, 2010 by the Senate and House of Representatives of the 52nd Legislature proposing a Constitutional Referendum to amend four provisions in the 1986 Liberian Constitution.
The said Joint Resolution by the Senate and House of Representatives of the 52nd Legislature, proposed an amendment to articles 52(c),72(b) and 83(a) and(b) of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.
The National Elections Commission (NEC) will conduct the impending referendum in keeping with Article 91 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, which among other things, states that “the Elections Commission shall conduct a referendum to amend certain provisions of the said 1986 Constitution for as specified by law”. The date for the National Referendum is August 23, 2011 and Only Liberians with valid 2011 Voters' registration cards will be eligible to vote in the forthcoming National Referendum.
Campaign for the forthcoming Referendum will start May 1st and end at mid-night on August 21, 2011 in line with the Key electoral dates published by the Commission. Campaigning for the referendum will commence on May 1, 2011 and ends at midnight August 21, 2011.
Already, civil society organizations, political parties and other groups interested in campaigning for or against any of the ballot questions as stated supra have registered with the NEC in keeping with the key electoral dates.
Voting for the August 23, 2011 National Referendum will take place at the centers where voters registered during the recent Voters' Registration exercise held across the country. Voting on the Referendum will start at 8 a.m. in the morning and close at 6 p.m. in the evening. Each of the issues to be tested in the referendum will be put in color and symbol for the voters to understand.
The National Referendum will involve four basic propositions: Proposition 1, Article 52(c) seeks approval so that the residency requirement for Presidency is reduced from ten (ten) years to five (5) years prior to the ensuing elections. When it is passed on, it will read: “Resident in the Republic five consecutive years immediately prior to the election in which he/she seeks to contest provided that both the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates on any ticket shall not come from the same county.”
Proposition 2, Article 72(b) of the resolution will be tested to be amended to read “ …the Chief Justice, Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and Justices of the subordinate courts can serve for life, except that they shall be retired at age seventy-five.” It further provides that that a justice or judge who has attained the age of 75 “may continue in office for as may be necessary to enable him/her render judgment or perform any other judicial duty in regard to proceedings by him or her before he/she attained that age.”
Proposition 3 focuses on Article 83(a). When it is amended, it will read: “Voting for the President, Vice President, members of the Senate and members of the House of Representatives shall be conducted throughout the Republic on the second Tuesday in November of each election year.”
Elections of City Mayors and their respective councils, as well as for chiefs, “shall be conducted three years following each General and Presidential election.”
Proposition 4 calls for the amendment of Article 83(b). Under this new Article 83(b), “All elections of public officers shall be determined by an absolute majority of the votes cast. If no candidate obtains an absolute majority in the ballot, a second ballot shall be conducted on the second Tuesday following. The two candidates who receive the greatest number of votes on the first ballot shall be designated to participate in the run-of-election.”
In summary, Article 83(b) reads: “Except for President and Vice President, all elections of public officers shall be determined by a simple majority of the valid votes cast in any election. Election of President and Vice President shall be by absolute majority of the valid votes cast.
If no Presidential ticket obtains an absolute majority in the first ballot, a second ballot shall be conducted on the second Tuesday following expiry of the time provided in Article(c). The two presidential tickets that received the greatest number of valid votes on the first ballot shall be designated to participate in the run-off election and the ticket with a majority of the valid vote cast shall be declared winner.”
Basically, the upcoming referendum is a big elections project that will come few months before the 2011 Presidential and Legislative elections and the NEC, the substantive electoral management of the Republic of Liberia, will have to conduct these two elections back to back.