Home Politics As October Polls Fast Approach: Candidate Lists Risk Rejection … As Women CSOs Advance Several Plans To NEC

As October Polls Fast Approach: Candidate Lists Risk Rejection … As Women CSOs Advance Several Plans To NEC

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MONROVIA: At least 12 Civil Society Organizations have disclosed that Liberia’s legal framework falls short in promoting and ensuring women’s political participation and representation in national politics.

According to the groups, despite women accounting for nearly half of Liberia’s population, their representation in elected public offices remains alarmingly low.

The groups include Medical Liberia, Progress and Opportunity for Women’s Empowerment and Rights-Liberia (Power-Liberia) Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOL) African Women Leaders Network Liberia Chapter, and Her Voice Liberia.

Others are Sister Aide Liberia, Organization for Women and Children (ORWOCR) Women Solidarity, Paramount Young Women Initiative (PAYOWI) Women in Peace Building Network (WIPNET), J Liberia Feminist Forum, My Voice, My Safety, WASD and GFC.

The women groups spoke through two of their officials including Madam Christiana T. Wayon of Medical Liberia’s Advocacy; and Madam Willet L. Salue, Program Manage, Women NGOs Secretariat of Liberia.

They indicated that existing provisions in the New Elections Law, particularly section 4.5, sub-sections 1(b) and 1(c), lack the necessary specificity and enforceability to advance women’s participation and representation in elected positions. The ambiguous language used in section 4.5 on the nomination of candidates, which merely states the need to “endeavor to ensure,” proves insufficient, the women leaders said.

According to them, in response to this gap, the National Legislature voted in favor of amending section 4.5 of the Elections Law, alongside amendments of other sections in September 2022, and submitted “An Act to Amend Certain Sections of the New Elections Law (1986) as amended in 2014”to the President for his approval.

The CSO groups explained that the amendments on candidate nomination seek to enhance gender representation on the candidate lists of political parties and promote women’s political participation and that the proposed amendments introduce provisions for fines and sanctions on political parties or coalitions that fail to meet the minimum 30% gender representation requirement.

For the upcoming 2023 elections, the women leaders indicated that parties that do not comply with this requirement must submit a new candidate list to the National Elections Commission (NEC) or face a fine of Ten Thousand United States Dollars (US$10,000.00).

“Failure to pay the fine will result in the rejection of the party’s candidate list. Defaulting parties must also submit a plan of action within six months to meet the gender quota for future elections,” said the women leaders.

“In preparation for the 2029 elections, the proposed amendments aim to increase the fine for non-compliance to Fifteen Thousand United States Dollars (US$15,000.00). Failure to pay the fine will lead to the rejection of the party’s candidate list, and a remedial action plan must be submitted within six months after the election,” they contended.

According to the women groups, in subsequent elections, failure to meet the 30% gender representation requirement will result in the summary rejection of a party’s candidate list by the National Elections Commission (NEC). Furthermore, the proposed amendment to section 4.5, sub-section 1(c)(iv), includes a provision for annual budgetary appropriation, particularly in election years, to invest in programs and activities that promote equal gender participation in politics.

However, they explained that President George M. Weah exercised his authority to line-veto certain provisions of the bill, citing existing constitutional provisions, the ECOWAS Protocol A/SP1/12/01 on Democracy and Good Governance, and how the vetoed items could cause concerns and delays in the election process.

“It is important to note that President Weah did not line item veto section 4.5 in his communication, dated March 9, 2023, and addressed to the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Therefore, if the President’s vetoes are accepted by the Legislature, the sections of the bill related to section 4.5, and all sections not vetoed by the President, shall be returned to the President for signature and thereafter become law upon publication into a handbill,” the CSOs further indicated.

The proposed reforms, however, face a challenge presented by Article 2 (1) of the ECOWAS Protocol on Good Governance, which restricts substantial modifications to electoral laws within the last six (6) months before elections unless agreed upon by a majority of political actors.

However, the CSOs maintain that an exception may be made, considering the same article – Article 2 (3) – of this Protocol that requires Member States to adopt appropriate measures: “to ensure that women have equal rights with men to vote and be voted for elections, to participate in the formulation of government policies and implementation thereof and hold public offices and to perform public functions at all levels of governance.”

They pointed out that “Encouragingly, on May 11, 2023, twenty-two out of twenty-five registered political parties, alliances, and coalitions, along with the National Elections Commission, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the implementation of a minimum 30% gender quota for candidate listing in the 2023 elections.”

“While the MoU represents significant progress and demonstrates a commendable level of commitment from political parties and the National Elections Commission to ensure gender parity in the upcoming elections, it is important to note that the MoU is not binding and does not grant the NEC the authority to hold parties accountable for non-compliance. Evidently, in the previous election in 2017, only one out of twenty-four parties or coalitions met the 30% threshold,” the CSOs recalled.

CSOs: “However, the crucial question that remains is whether the amendments would meet the consent of a majority of the political actors in our jurisdiction. The signing of the MoU presents a valuable opportunity to demonstrate compliance with Article 2 of the ECOWAS Protocol on Good Governance. The majority of political parties, alliances, and coalitions and the National Elections Commission, have shown their agreement by signing the MoU. Additionally, the legislature’s passage of the bill inclusive of section 4.5 and the president’s approval suggest the interest of major political actors to amend section 4.5 of the New Elections Law.”

They further asserted that the signing of the MOU by majority of political parties, alliances and coalition, along with the commitment of the National Elections Commission, showcase a commendable level of dedication to gender equity measures.

However, the groups added that the MOU’s non-binding nature and the potential legal challenges based on Article 2 of the ECOWAS Protocol on Good Governance underscore the importance of taking additional steps to address the issue.
To address these challenges, women rights actors and other Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) recommend the following actions: Members of the House of Representatives should prioritize the approval of the portions of the bill related to section 4.5 of the National Elections Law that were approved by the President and finalize the legislative process; The president should publicly declare his approval of the portions of the bill related to section 4.5 of the National Elections Law and ensure that it is printed into hand bill in a timely fashion.

The also recommended that “All political institutions that are party to the aforementioned MoU should take the lead in disseminating the content of the MOU to their constituents and publicize their support for the amendment of section 4.5 of the National Elections Law” and that “the National Legislature should notify ECOWAS of the intent to pass the amended version of the Elections Law.”

CSOs: “We firmly believe that implementing these recommendations will contribute to a more inclusive and representative political landscape in Liberia, empowering women and promoting democratic values. Passing gender quotas is a necessary step to address the historical underrepresentation of women in politics and promote equal participation.”

According to the women advocacy groups, “Since 2010, every attempt at legislating gender equity measures has failed apart from the 2014 amendment which produced a weak legal provision, representative of a political compromise which paid lip service to gender equality and had no effect on the number of women on candidate listings. The representation of women in the legislature has witnessed a decline over the years, with a decrease from 16% in 2006 to less than 13% in 2012 and further down to 11% in 2014.

“In 2018, the percentage of women remained stagnant at 11% and dropped below 10% in 2021. However, following a by-election in November 2021, there was a slight increase to just under 11%. Currently, the percentage stands at 10. 7% and we want to see an increase in the upcoming election in October 2023,” they disclosed.

“Gender equality and inclusive political participation are indeed crucial issues on which women will vote. By establishing a minimum threshold or percentage of women candidates, gender quotas guarantee that women have a fair opportunity to compete for political positions.
This empowers women to bring their unique perspectives, experiences, and policy priorities to the table, enriching the political discourse and promoting more inclusive governance,” they emphasized.

They further asserted that the bill, drafted by the National Elections Commission (NEC), has been formulated through an extensive process of nationwide consultations and by incorporating valuable inputs from Liberian civil society. “This comprehensive approach ensures that the bill truly reflects the interests and aspirations of the Liberian citizens. Therefore, it is imperative that the legislative process pertaining to section 4.5 of the bill is finalized promptly, as it would serve as a crucial step towards fulfilling the government’s commitment to delivering tangible benefits to the people of Liberia.”

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