1984 Elections Law: A Vice of History

By Samuel Williams, Jr.

The Perspective

February 26, 2002

I'm no legal scholar but Cllr. Mohamedu Jones'argument on the 1984 Liberia Election Laws (The Perspective: February 20, 2002) is absolutely correct. I recalled being in a small, private group discussion with the late Ambasssdor and Interim National Assembly (INA) member, Robert Francis Okai, Jr. in mid 1984. These identical issues were discussed. He was also a member of the committee that drafted the present constitution.

Hon. Okai stated emphatically in that meeting that the 1984 Election Laws were enacted specifically for the pending 1985 elections that would return the country to civilian rule. He said the People's Redemption Council (PRC) had agreed to a recommendation that the drafting and enactment (into law) of new (and permanent) election laws be left to the in-coming National Legislature.

There were many political factors involved - with serious and far-reaching implications. One of the implications (I prefer the word "consequences") and this was mentioned by Cllr Jones, was the non-provision of penalties for violation of the election laws. Those of us who were in Liberia at the time and old enough to follow the process, were witnesses to the many objections, road blocks, etc. used by Mr. Doe's Party (through the Monthly and Probate Court of Montserrado County)to prevent and/or delay the registration of other political parties. Her rulings in favor of opposition parties to register and contest the 1985 Elections brought Probate Court Judge Luvenia Ash-Thompson into the national and international spotlight.

One of the political factors that came into play, according to Hon. Okai, was that the PRC Government did not know the number of Liberians residing outside the country, particularly in the U.S. Mr. Doe knew their numbers to be substantial. After all, he had visited the U.S. two years earlier (1982). That bloc of votes, if cast against him (in absentia), could tilt the elections in favor of the opposition. This situation had to be controlled. The 1985 Election Laws did just that.

One does not have to be a rocket scientist to read and understand that the 1984 Election Laws, as written, were intended solely for the 1985 Elections. What is there to speculate about? Those with opposing views should contact surviving members of the defunct INA for their views and input. Sadly, Hon. Okai died in September 1984.

Instead of arguing and trying to show each other "who know book," we should begin discussing how these laws can be changed/updated as may be applicable to meet today's and tomorrow's challenges - especially with the up-coming 2003 elections. We may disagree, agree, insult each other, but the bottom line is: Eighteen years have passed and nothing has changed, including us (Liberians). As Cllr. Jones said, no Liberian residing out of Liberia will be able to register to vote and vote in absentia in the 2003 elections.

If nothing is done, then it may as well be true that Liberia has the vice of history. Like generations before us, the world will see us as being strangely intent on prolonging our past into our future.

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