UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
LIBERIA: Postponing poll not our decision to make, says elections body
MONROVIA, 30 Sep 2005 (IRIN) - The first elections since Liberia's civil war will have to be delayed if a court ruling is implemented, but only the signatories of a 2003 peace deal can set a new date for the poll, the country's electoral chief said on Friday.
Some 1.35 million Liberian voters are due to head to the polls in just over a week, but the 11 October election date has suddenly been thrown into doubt after the Supreme Court upheld the appeals of two candidates barred from running for president.
"If this ruling is upheld and the candidates insist, the elections will have to go beyond 11 October," Frances Johnson-Morris, the head of the National Elections Commission, told reporters.
"However... we do not have the authority to shift the election date," she added. "The signatories to the comprehensive peace agreement decided the date and they have the authority to change it."
The peace deal was signed by Liberia's three warring factions, 18 political parties and several civil society groups on 18 August 2003 under the auspices of the 15-nation regional bloc, ECOWAS. It brought the curtain down on 14 years of civil war.
Electoral officials said on Friday that the two previously-barred independent presidential candidates -- Marcus Jones and Cornelius Hunter -- along with one independent candidate bidding for a seat in the lower house, had until 4 October to resubmit their registration paperwork.
If they were then accepted as candidates, ballot papers would have to be re-printed to include their names, and these would then have to be re-distributed across the heavily-forested country, huge swathes of which are remote and difficult to reach particularly in the current rainy season.
An African diplomat in Monrovia told IRIN on Friday that the International Contact Group on Liberia, which includes the country's regional and international partners, was still holding talks with the three candidates.
"This is a Supreme Court decision and no one can overrule it, that is the law. But since we have been engaged in the peace process, we thought it wise to discuss things with the three individuals to see how best they can settle their affairs so that the elections can go on," the diplomat said.
Asked how likely it was that the signatories to the 2003 peace deal could be gathered together quickly to decide on a new election date, he replied: "Discussions are still ongoing but I do not think we will reach that point."
But on Friday, at least one of the barred candidates was still vowing to stand in the election.
"The Supreme Court, the final arbiter of justice, has spoken and I am satisfied with the ruling," said Jones, a lawyer by profession. "I am still in the race for the presidency."
There are already 22 approved candidates bidding to be crowned president in next month's polls, including former footballing legend-turned-politician George Weah and former World Bank economist Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Some observers are worried about the knock-on effects of any delay to the poll.
"The court rulings constitute a major headache for all concerned," said Chris Melville, an analyst at research group Global Insight in a briefing note published on Thursday. "Whilst a delay will not have catastrophic consequences for the poll, it would introduce an element of uncertainty, which could spread to other areas of the process."
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