Leema mentioned that the president has the legitimate authority to announce date(s) for parliamentary and local council elections, but the National Electoral Commission, NEC, is the legally empowered institution to announce a date for presidential election.
He went on to say that the president was inaugurated on the 23rd of November 2012 and that his term of office will expire on the 23rd of November 2017. He argued that the constitution made provision for elections to be conducted within three months after the expiration of the president’s term.
According to him, if three months is added to November 23, election should be conducted on the 23rd of February, and not March 7th as announced by NEC. He furthered that they are demanding an explanation as to why the additional two weeks on the stipulated date for the presidential election.
Speaking on the date for the national referendum, Lahai submitted that the government has wasted much time on having the referendum which happens to be an important aspect in the country’s democratization process. He referred to the referendum holdback as strategies to achieve “more time” goal.
He said that no sensitization has been done to the public on the basis on which the referendum would be conducted and that citizens of this nation do not have any idea on what a referendum is, not to talk of how it could be done.
He further explained that the referendum also involved huge financing and that SLPP got intelligence that the All People’s Congress Party, APC, were delaying the referendum process to later inform the nation that they did not have money to finance the process; a situation that will lead to the postponement of the general elections.
Leema concluded by saying that the SLPP is prepared to reject any attempt by the APC government to tamper with the nation’s constitution.
Responding on behalf of the government, the Deputy Minister of Information and Communication, Cornelius Deveaux stated that the president has the legitimate and constitutional rights to announce date(s) for parliamentary and local council elections and that the date announced by NEC did not violate any constitutional provision.
He went on to say that if anyone felt that NEC was wrong to announce March 7th as the date for the presidential election, let that individual go to the Supreme Court which is the only body that have the right to interpret the constitution of this land. “Section 124 of our constitution gives the right to the supreme court of our country to interpret constitutional matters, so if anyone feels aggrieved, let him or her go to court,” he stressed. Deveaux confirmed that his government is currently doing all in its powers to ensure that we have a free, fair and credible election come March 7 2018, as that, according to him, happens to be the reason why systems are being put in place to have a biometric civil registration process, in order to prevent the reoccurrence of the “Kailahun Court Barry” scenario 2012.
He furthered that strong systems are in place to prevent any form of hacking into the system by any group or groups of individuals, be it local or international while adding that they would not disclose the location of the server that would be hosting the entire exercise.
The Deputy Minister said government has received the report from the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) and they are presently working on it, so that it could become a white paper. He added that they are very much disappointed in the people that represented their different constituents in the Constitutional Review Committee as they got no time to go back to their different institutions that they represented to tell them exactly what is entailed in the report they presented to government but rather waiting on government to do everything.
Getting the views of the audience, a senior lawyer and human rights activist, Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai said that the president was wrong to have talked about the date for presidential election which does not fall under his mandate.
“Mentioning the date before NEC announced it meant he had already announced the date which was unconstitutional. Someone must have advised him on that,” Emmanuel added. He went on to say that it was not only the responsibility of the supreme court to interpret the constitution of the land as claimed by the Deputy Minister of Information but rather every citizen of the land had the rights to read and understand the constitution of the land for clear interpretation adding that, that was even the reason why constitutions these days were written in clear and simple languages.
Ajibu Tejan Jallon from the office of the president while countering the view that the president had not got the right to get additional time to his tenure of office, reminded all that the constitution gave the president the right to stay in office after the end of his tenure on either of the two conditions; thus, if there was a state of emergency or there was a pending general election (s). He however did not tell us whether we were in any of those two conditions at the moment.
Honorable Robbin Fallay of APC also said that there was nothing wrong with the date for our presidential election and that people should be mindful of the fact that the Ebola put to halt major government activities for more than eleven months so they should be grateful to government for even announcing a date as earlier as March 7th for our presidential election.
On the other hand, Leader and Chairman of the People’s Movement for Democratic Change, Lawyer Charles Francis Margai denounced the National Electoral Commission for announcing a date for presidential election that was unconstitutional.