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Liberia: Supreme Court Suspends Election Campaigns

(Sept. 21, 2011) On September 20, 2011, the Liberian Supreme Court temporarily suspended the election campaigning underway for the upcoming presidential elections while it examines the eligibility of some of the candidates to stand for election. (Liberia Suspends Election Campaign on Eligibility Row, REUTERS (Sept. 20, 2011).) The Court issued a stay order in response to a legal challenge disputing the eligibility of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia's incumbent President) and five other candidates to stand for election. Opponents contend that these candidates, including President Sirleaf who lived abroad before her 2005 election to office, do not meet the minimum residency requirement to stand for election (id.).

One of the eligibility requirements for individuals who wish to run for President is that the person must reside in Liberia for at least ten years immediately preceding the election. (The 1986 Constitution of Liberia, art. 52(c), LIBERIANLAW.COM (last visited Sept. 21, 2011).) 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).)

The suspension of the campaigns complicates the timeline for the presidential elections scheduled for October 11, 2011, leaving the Court very little time to resolve the eligibility dispute. An official in the Liberian Election Commission noted, “[w]e hope to hear from the Supreme Court on Friday or so — this stay order will affect the timelines we are working on if it continues for a longer time.” (Reuters, supra.) Postponement of the election does not appear to be an option. This is because election schedules in Liberia are constitutionally mandated, and a proposal to extend the election schedule through a constitutional amendment also failed to garner the necessary support in the August 23 referendum. (Goitom, supra.)