Margibi: Confusion and Concern Over Lack of Understanding the Referendum

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Leaders of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), including the Young Man Christian Association (YMCA) Margibi chapter, the United Students Organization (USO), and the Association of Community Chairmen (ACC) say that the voters in Margibi that they represent are unhappy with the lack of awareness campaign ahead of the Special Senatorial Elections (SSE), Representative by-election and the referendum scheduled to be conducted by the National Elections Commission (NEC) on December 8.

Aside from voting for their candidates in the Legislative, voters will also have to answer to three constitutional amendment propositions on reducing the term in office for elected officials, legalizing dual citizenship, and moving the presidential elections from the month of October, when it rains, to the month of November, in the dry season.

Proposition 2 asks voters to check “Yes” or “No” to the reduction in tenure of elected government officials, including senators, representatives, and the president of the country. Source: NEC.

All constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority approval of all total valid votes cast in order to be validated. In other words, 2 out of every 3 voters must vote yes on an amendment in order to be approved.

But civil society organizations, such as Partnership for sustainable Development (PaSD), and locals in the Margibi raised concerns about the lack of proper awareness and education on the referendum and called on the NEC to postpone it. Edward Travis, head of PaSD, explained that the three propositions need to be well explained to the ordinary voters, and especially to residents living in rural Margibi who also have a right to be educated and have full knowledge of the referendum propositions before they cast a ballot.

The educational process is necessary especially since many in Liberia, and in the remote areas, are not literate, and the referendum is a complicated process that only takes place once every many years.

Women United for Peace and Development (WUPD), a local non-governmental organization whose overall goal is the promotion of peace among women and their husbands has also joined the call for the postponement of the national referendum. WUPD Executive Director, Musu Paye, said there are many doubts from her organization members on the issue of dual citizenship in the country.

The head of ACC Margibi, Victor Johnson, said that on November 16, about 150 community chairpersons expressed dissatisfaction over NEC’s alleged poor performance, and believed that the referendum needed to be canceled, based on their discussions with members of each of their communities.

According to Mr. Johnson, before his general meeting with chairpersons of various communities in Margibi, he had earlier instructed each chairperson to have a general and consultative meeting with community members, and the result showed that community dwellers are yet to understand the three propositions especially dual citizenship.

“This meeting was basically to understand this referendum issue. After their meeting, we, as chairmen, had a very big general meeting and agreed to call on the Government of Liberia to postpone the national referendum so that our people can better understand what they will be voting for,” Chairman Johnson explained.

The Margibi community chairperson added that the time is too short and NEC cannot carry on any tangible awareness.

Proposition 2 asks voters to check “Yes” or “No” to the reduction in tenure of elected government officials, including senators, representatives, and the president of the country. Source: NEC.

The Kakata city hall recently hosted a gathering of voters who expressed similar concerns. Among them, women and firs time voters appealed to the NEC for more time and better explanation on what the three propositions mean, and how do people go about voting for them.

While they disagree on holding the national referendum on December 8, there seems to be agreement that Liberian who have dual citizenship should be allowed to run for elected office.

The Liberian Women Can Lead (JWCL), a movement of Liberian women politicians and organizers, as well as advocates who are leading the postponement of the referendum to next year in March, are also concerned about the status of Liberians in the Diaspora who are making significant contributions to the growth and development of the county.

“Denying Diaspora Liberians the opportunity to occupy key positions in the country would keep it underdeveloped on grounds that it could hold back investment plans,” the Chief Campaigner of the LWCL, Julia Duncan Cassell expressed.

The founder and executive director of United Student Organization (USO), Peter D. Kerkula, representing the Margibi youth, said that young voters may likely understand proposition two and three, but said the first proposition is a huge debate in the county.

“The young people of Margibi county do not really understand what we mean by natural born Liberian, we need proper explanation from NEC before participating but again we are looking at the timeframe” Kerkula added.

Proposition 3 asks voters to check “yes” or “No” on the change of the election date from October to November, in the dry season. Source: NEC.

The suggested amendment to Article 28 of the Constitution reads, “A natural-born citizen of Liberia may hold the citizenship of another country but shall not qualify for elected positions and the following appointed positions: Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia; Cabinet Ministers, Deputy Ministers; all heads of Autonomous Commissions, Agencies and Non-Academic and Research Scientific Institutions and Ambassadors.”

This means that any person whose one, or both parents has or had Liberian citizenship at the time of that person’s birth, shall be a natural born citizen of Liberia; a natural born citizen’s right to citizenship of Liberia is inherent and inalienable; and no law shall be enacted or regulation promulgated which alienates or deprives a natural born citizen of Liberia their citizenship right. The proposed amendment allows for a natural born citizen of Liberia to hold the citizenship of another country, but they are not qualified to hold these official offices.

In response to the concern of citizens and civil society organizations in the county, the NEC has clarified that there are several awareness campaigns that remain to be conducted in Margibi and other parts of the County.

The magistrate at the NEC Margibi, Fomba A. M. Swaray, said that the leadership in Monrovia is doing all they can to conduct awareness in the 15 counties to ensure that citizens in the county gets the necessary information on the referendum.

Also speaking on the issue, Congress for Democratic Change (CDC)’s senatorial candidate, Ivar K. Jones said it is the sole responsibility of the NEC to ensure that citizens in the five electoral districts of  Margibi get all the necessary information concerning the national referendum.

However, Independent candidates from Margibi running for a seat in the Legislative on December 8, Rev. Alexander B. Collins, and Princess Macaulay support the national referendum but are calling on NEC to act fast and educate the voters on the elections.

“As an independent and the only female candidate in Margibi, I support the referendum because it helps put elected officials’ feet on fire based on their tenure” Madam Macaulay stated, talking about Proposition 1 that limits the term in office for elected officials.

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