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Liberia: Supreme Court Dismisses Challenge to President Sirleaf’s Eligibility to Seek Re-Election

(Oct. 6, 2011) With only a few days left before the constitutionally mandated general elections scheduled for October 11, 2011, the Liberian Supreme Court, on October 5, 2011, dismissed a petition challenging the eligibility of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia's incumbent President) and five other candidates to stand for election. (Alphonso Toweh & Richard Valdmanis, Liberia Court Drops Challenge to Sirleaf Candidacy, REUTERS (Oct. 5, 2011).) The petition was based on a constitutional provision mandating that a person wishing to run for president must reside in Liberia for at least ten years immediately preceding the election. (Approved Revised Draft Constitution of the Republic of Liberia, 1986, art. 52(c), LIBERIANLAW.COM (last visited Sept. 21, 2011).)

The petitioners contended that the six candidates, including President Sirleaf (who lived abroad before her 2005 election to office), did not meet the minimum residency requirement to stand for election. (Hanibal Goitom, Liberia: Supreme Court Suspends Election Campaigns, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Sept. 21, 2011).)

The Court, in dismissing the petition, held: “[i]t is our opinion that the framers of the 1986 constitution could neither have contemplated nor intended that Liberians faced with the state civil crisis be resident because at some point in the future they may want to run for the office of president.” (Toweh & Valdmanis, supra.)

The petition was filed soon after an attempt to reduce the residency requirement failed. On August 23, 2011, Liberia held a popular referendum, which, among other measures, included a proposal to reduce this requirement by half. However, the measure failed to garner the support of two-thirds of the referendum's registered voters, the minimum support needed to amend a constitutional provision. (Hanibal Goitom, Referendum in Liberia, IN CUSTODIA LEGIS (Sept. 6, 2011).) Soon after, The Movement for Progressive Change (MPC), a political party, launched the legal challenge, asking that President Sirleaf and other candidates be disqualified. (Alphonso W. Nyenuh, Reasons Why the MPC Petition to the Supreme Court Must Be Denied, THE PERSPECTIVE (Sept. 28, 2011).)

President Sirleaf and others who were forced to flee Liberia during the civil war were able to take part in the 2005 elections as the result of the temporary suspension of article 52(c) of the Constitution in 2004. (The Electoral Reform Law, § 2, International Foundation for Electoral Systems website (last visited Oct. 5, 2011).)