A pro-democracy group says 2023 polls were neither free, fair nor constitutional
The Foundation for International Dignity (FIND), a pro-democracy and human rights organization, has highlighted several critical issues that need to be addressed to strengthen the electoral process in Liberia.
At a press conference held on Tuesday, December 19, Aaron Juakollie, the Executive Director of FIND, emphasized the importance of reviewing the legal framework surrounding elections in the country. One major concern raised by FIND was the misuse of government resources during the campaign period, which gave an unfair advantage to candidates affiliated with the ruling party.
There was also a blatant disregard for the code of conduct for government officials, which Juahkollie believes undermines the integrity of the electoral process. Another issue highlighted by FIND was the lack of adherence to constitutional provisions regarding constituency populations.
The organization pointed out that the 1986 Liberian Constitution states that constituencies should have approximately equal populations and the Election Commission should reapportion constituencies accordingly.
“Government resources were used for campaigning on a massive scale, giving candidates of the governing party an unfair advantage,” he said. “There were also acts of blatant disregard for the code of conduct and the Liberian constitution.
It can be recalled that on August 16, 2010, the 52nd Legislature in a Joint Resolution of the Senate and the House of Representatives of the Republic of Liberia on the Setting of an Electoral Threshold for the conduct of the 2011 Presidential and Legislative election in Liberia was published.
This Joint resolution compromised the 1986 Liberia Constitution, thus questioning the legitimacy of the 73 representatives of the 53rd, 54th, and the incoming 55th legislatures of the House of Representatives.
We, therefore, strongly recommend that the NEC and the legislature lay the groundwork for the new demarcation of constituencies by setting new population thresholds for future representation.
While FIND acknowledged the efforts made by the National Election Commission (NEC) despite numerous challenges, they also observed some deficiencies in the training and qualification of NEC volunteers at certain polling stations.
The group noted that there was significant confusion regarding voting procedures, leading to a high number of invalid votes.
“At some polling stations, we observed that some NEC volunteers were simply not qualified or not trained sufficiently to do the job required. Especially the most critical task of counting votes cannot be assigned to volunteers who cannot do simple addition,” Juahkollie said. “We also need to ensure that NEC staff are neutral actors. Unfortunately, this was not always the case, with some exhibiting their affiliation for certain parties or candidates before Election Day.”
These deficiencies, FIND said, compromised the accuracy of the vote-counting process and undermined the neutrality of the NEC staff.
FIND recommended that NEC strengthen its capacity through better training and adequate funding to conduct future elections more effectively. Voter education was also identified as a crucial area for improvement.
“We strongly recommend that all poll workers be screened to fulfill minimum requirements. We need to strengthen NEC’s ability to conduct future elections,” Juahkollie said.
He suggested that voter education be incorporated into the school curriculum to enhance civic competence and ensure a more informed electorate. The role of media was also brought into focus by FIND.
They highlighted instances of falsehood, hate speech, and bias in both traditional and social media, which contributed to the polarization of society. FIND recommended that media outlets provide equal coverage to all candidates and that community radios receive funding to cover the election period. In conclusion, the group urged Liberians to unify after a divisive election campaign and work together to address the challenges facing the country.
FIND also used the occasion to congratulate President-Elect Joseph N. Boakai and commended outgoing President George M. Weah for accepting defeat gracefully, allowing for a peaceful transition of power.
The group called on all stakeholders to consider its concerns and recommendations, emphasizing the need for a level playing field, adherence to the rule of law, and protection of citizens' rights. As a civil society organization, FIND expressed its commitment to holding the incoming government accountable while also offering its support in upholding good governance and the rule of law.