Liberians reject Weah plan for shorter terms, dual citizenship

liberians reject weah plan for shorter terms dual citizenship

(FILES) This file photo taken on September 26, 2018 shows George Manneh Weah, President of Liberia, addressing the General Debate of the 73rd session of the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York. – Liberian President George Weah, who overcame childhood poverty to become one of the world’s top footballers, has abolished tuition fees for undergraduate students in the poor West African country’s state universities on October 23. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)

Liberians have rejected plans to shorten presidential terms and to allow dual citizenship, the country’s electoral commission said Thursday, announcing referendum results delayed for months over allegations of fraud.

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The West African nation went to the polls in mid-December for a constitutional referendum proposed by President George Weah, 54, who had argued against politicians staying in office for too long.

But his proposal for presidents and lower house lawmakers to serve five years instead of six, and for senators to serve seven years instead of nine, sparked suspicion in Liberia.

Rumours surfaced that Weah could use the changes to bid for a third term, despite a two-term limit for presidents.

The concerns arose against a backdrop of democratic backsliding in the region, with ageing presidents changing constitutions in order to get around term limits.

For example, Guinea’s 82-year-old President Alpha Conde won a controversial third term last year after pushing through a new constitution that allowed him to bypass a two-term limit.

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Weah, a former international footballer, assumed office in 2018 and is still serving his first term.

Last year, his office denied he would bid for a third term in the future, however.

At a press conference in the capital Monrovia on Thursday, the head of Liberia’s National Elections Commission, Davidetta Browne Lansanah, announced that none of the propositions had passed.

While all had received over 50 percent of the votes, a two-thirds majority was required for them to pass.

About 54 percent of voters were in favour of reducing the presidential terms, against about 46 percent who opposed the move.

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The December referendum also asked voters whether to lift a controversial ban on dual nationality — a move some hoped could propel investments in the poor nation of 4.8 million people.

Hundreds of thousands of Liberians are thought to reside overseas, having fled war and poverty.

But if they acquire another nationality they are barred from owning property at home, among other restrictions.

Liberia’s electoral commission said that this proposition also failed, with only 51.5 percent of voters in favour of lifting the ban, and 48.5 opposed.

The final referendum results were not published for months because votes in some areas of the country were delayed because of reported violence and allegations of fraud.

The country is still recovering after back-to-back civil wars from 1989 to 2003 and West Africa’s 2014-16 Ebola crisis. It also suffers from high inflation and regular cash shortages.

Liberia was founded in the 19th century with US support as a home for freed American slaves. Its constitution is modelled on that of the US.

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