Liberia: Justice Minister, Legal Luminaries Weigh in on CPP Complaint against UP and ALP

MONROVIA – A complaint filed by the Alternative National Congress and the Liberty Party in the name of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) has put the All Liberian Party, and especially, the Unity Party on the edge as the outcome could bar them from fielding candidate in the pending senatorial by-election in Lofa and the 2023 general and presidential elections.

The Unity Party (UP), All Liberian Party (ALP), the Liberty Party, and the Alternative National Congress (ANC) formed the CPP with the intent of forming a formidable single force that would outs the Weah-led government in 2023.

However, the UP and the ALP have both withdrawn from the CPP on allegations that the CPP Framework Document was tampered with by the political leader of the ANC, Mr. Alexander Cummings.

Mr. Cummings has repeatedly refuted the allegation and is presently on trial for alleged forgery and criminal conspiracy. He argued that the allegation against him is sponsored by the Weah administration which, he believes, would benefit from the splitting up of the CPP.

In their complaint to NEC, the two political parties contend that they have not received any official communication from the two parties indicating their exit from the CPP.

They also called the NEC’s attention to Section 8.5 (2) of the CPP Framework Document which prescribes the process by which a constituent party may withdraw its membership from the CPP.

Section 8.5 (2) of the CPP Framework Document states that: Constituent Party desiring to withdraw from the CPP shall first exhaust the dispute resolution mechanism stipulated in the framework document. If the Constituent Party which has satisfied the dispute resolution mechanism is not satisfied with the outcome, it shall file a resolution to withdraw from the CPP signed and duly executed by two-thirds (2/3) of the membership of the National Executive Committee, it is being understood, however, that a party withdrawing from the alliance prior to the next presidential, legislative and local elections shall not field candidates in its name”.

The Justice Minister’s Argument

Despite these contentions raised by the two parties, the Minister of Justice has declared that agreements that take away the constitutional rights of citizens are not enforceable.

“While the Republic is under an obligation to guarantee the inviolability of contracts, agreements that seek to contract away constitutional rights are unconstitutional and violative of public policy, hence unenforceable,” he stated.

The Justice Minister further opined that Article 1 of the Constitution guarantees the people the right to freely elect leaders of their choice through free, fair, and democratic elections. In the process, political parties are guaranteed the right to field candidates; while individuals may register as independent candidates.

He also noted that the right to freely associate with or refuse to associate with political parties, trade unions, and other organizations is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 17 of the Constitution.

Differing with the Minister

Some political observers disagree, suggesting that the Minister of Justice is wrong on many counts. First, he is wrong to inject public comments that are prejudicial and unsolicited into the ongoing litigation at the National Elections Commission. This is reckless and undermines the Ministry’s ability to represent the NEC should it be required at the Supreme Court on this matter.

Then it is a gross misinterpretation of the Liberian Constitution to imply that Article 17 contradicts Article 25 of the Liberian Constitution when no article of that organic body of laws contradicts another. This is the effect of the Minister of Justice’s strange suggestion that obligations of contracts can be excused by a party’s right to associate or refuse to associate under Article 17 when Article 25 says “Obligation of the contract shall be guaranteed by the Republic and no laws shall be passed which may impair this right.”

Suffice to say, Article 17 grants a right that cannot be exercised simultaneously. The exercise of one, therefore, waives the exercise of the other. It simply means when a person or a party, of their own free will, chooses to exercise their right under Article 17 “to associate fully with others in political parties, trade unions, and other organizations, they are within their rights to do so and will be held by the agreeable rules and obligations of their association.

However, where they choose to refuse to associate, they cannot be held by the rules of or obligated to the association with which they are not a member. The alternative right “ or to refuse to associate” cannot be exercised after membership and entering upon obligations for the association. Put another way, when one chooses to associate, they effectively waive their alternative right not to associate, at the same time.

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