The most controversial and divisive national issue in Liberia now is the mid-term senatorial elections. “Should they be held now or postponed until Liberia reaches the zero Ebola infection point?” This is the question that divides households, communities, institutions, political parties, and the religious community across the country. My personal and candid opinion is that the mid-term senatorial elections should not be held now under the prevailing Ebola crisis that is affecting every aspect of our national life and survival. I state clearly below why I take this position.
We observed the good news that the rate of infection is declining in many parts of the country with some notable exceptions. That phase two is a great opportunity and is at the same time a big risk. This is a great opportunity if we accelerate our gains and kick this deadly virus out of the country and the region, and a grave risk if we become complacent.
I added my voice to many calling for an acceleration of our combined efforts (the government, health workers, media, internal partners, inter-religious community, teachers, civil society organizations, traditional leaders, security forces, and communities) to fight and defeat Ebola out of Liberia and the region. Let there be a district to district, community to community and house to house campaign emphasizing the risks as well as the opportunities in phase two of the war against Ebola.
How then do elections fit in with the need to heighten our combined efforts to eradicate Ebola? The question of the mid-term elections in Liberia now has two sides and serious implications. Those who want elections now generally use two main arguments. That if we do not have the elections we run the risk of a constitutional crisis. The argument goes that come January 6, 2014, the full bench of the House of Senate will be incomplete and the organic law of the land (the constitution) would have been violated. On account of this some people are even entertaining the idea of an interim government.
The other argument is that though Ebola is here and is killing a lot of people yet most offices are still operating, markets continue to function, religious Services take place regularly, entertainment places are open, and people generally move about freely throughout the length and breadth of the country. All of the above activities involve the movement and gathering of people. And these two are some of the key means of spreading Ebola. If they can continue with some controls and success therefore elections can be held with similar controls put in place.
Those of us who oppose to elections now do so for the following reasons. Our constitution allows that when there is a state of emergency wherein “there is a threat or outbreak of war or where there is civil unrest affecting the existence, security or well-being of the Republic amounting to a clear and present danger” certain exercises and functions of state and its people such as their rights, freedoms and guarantees may be curtailed or suspended (article 86 of the Liberian 1986 constitution). Most Liberians and international partners agree that Ebola is a form of war that poses a clear and present danger. Can one have elections in time of a civil war raging on? And if we cannot will we be violating a constitutional provision? The answer is no. Necessity dictates that one cannot have elections in time of war.
Another reason is that an election of the mid-term kind requires campaigning that in turn involves mass movement of people, gathering in numbers and lots of sweating in some instances. Elections in Liberia and their associated activities more than those of running offices, market, religious and entertainment places, increase the risk of Ebola inflection spread. There is a real danger, which we pray against, that the elections might roll back a little some of the gains we have made in the fight against Ebola!
The mid-term elections might send the wrong signal that the Ebola Virus Disease is no longer the threat to national life and existence it was a month or so ago. They might detract from the intensification of the war against Ebola. We are at a critical point in the fight against Ebola when we should be concentrating all our energies on bringing the rate of infection to zero. We should not permit anything to distract us even just a little. Furthermore elections may sound incentive to those who (and their families) are still battling with the onslaughts of Ebola.
In my view, if we can accelerate and focus our fight at the community level, employing all of the partners (local and international) and resources available to us, and bring down the spread of the disease to zero then all the other good things shall follow: elections, opening of our learning institutions, and the much needed infrastructural, agricultural and other economy activities. Mid-term elections might just distract and harm the cause of fighting Ebola.