Liberia: Boakai Questions NEC’s Neutrality Ahead of 2023 Elections

 Joseph Boakai: "To be very frank with you, I have no confidence in the NEC as it is now. I can’t shy away from that."

... There’s a lot of political leaning in there, lot of incompetence, and people that are unpatriotic, and we don’t believe they belong and cannot lead us to 2023.

The political leader of the opposition Unity Party, Joseph Boakai, has warned that the National Elections Commission (NEC) has lost his confidence to manage the upcoming 2023 presidential and legislative elections. 

Boakai, a former Vice President of Liberia who is poised to make his second run for the presidency after an unsuccessful attempt in 2017, is eyeing a rematch against incumbent President George Manneh Weah in 2023. 

The NEC Board of Commissioners had earlier granted the wish of the complainants to invoke Section 8.5 (2) of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) framework document as a means of rejecting and denying “any application from the Unity Party (UP) and the All Liberian Party (ALP) to field candidates in their names in any election until the expiry of the 2023 elections, including up to six (6) months thereafter, same being the agreed contractual life of the CPP.” 

That ruling by the NEC on June 3, was overturned by the Supreme Court, prompting Boakai to determine that the NEC Board of Commissioners are incompetent, unpatriotic, and politically compromised.  For Boakai, despite the Supreme Court reversing the NEC’s ruling, the situation does not change the fact that ​​he has lost confidence in the NEC. 

“To be very frank with you, I have no confidence in the NEC as it is now. I can’t shy away from that. There’s a lot of political leaning in there, lot of incompetence, and people that are unpatriotic, and we don’t believe they belong and cannot lead us to 2023," Boakai said. "The 2023 General and Presidential Elections must be conducted through a transparent process because the Unity Party and its affiliate political parties and the people of Liberia will accept Nothing less."

“It is incumbent upon the Commissioners to do the right thing because the UP will be prepared to challenge any wrong decision made against ‘the opposition and, by extension, [against] the interests of the voters," he said.

Boakai’s remarks were in reaction to the ruling of the Supreme Court, which, he noted, was the right decision as it allowed his political party (UP) the right to field a candidate in the Lofa County special senatorial by-election. According to him, the Supreme Court upheld the constitution and rule of law when it decided to overturn the aforementioned NEC ruling.

“We, therefore, commend the Chief Justice and Justices of the Supreme Court for a decision that upholds the Rule of Law. At this point, the Unity Party can only expect that the NEC will act swiftly in full compliance with the highest court’s opinion, and now complete and formalize the UP’s candidate’s registration to participate in the Senatorial By-Election in Lofa,” he noted.

Lofa County has for a year and a half been without one of its two senators after its Senator-elect, former Defense Minister Brownie J. Samukai, won the 2020 Senatorial election for that county but, because of a prior legal disability, was barred from taking his seat. 

Samukai’s difficulty came about when the same Supreme Court halted his certification and revoked the suspension of the two-year jail sentence, handed against him and his two deputies. The three men had collectively failed to comply with the high court’s mandate and judgment to pay 50% of the judgment sum, equal to US$573,828.15, within six months of last year. 

Samukai and his two co-defendants were convicted for theft of property, criminal conspiracy, misuse of public money, and money laundering of over US$1 million and sentenced to two years in prison.  The Court’s decision forced the Liberian Senate to write the NEC to declare a vacancy, prompting the electoral body to issue a notice of by-election for the seat. Samukai has since been issued a reprieve by President George Weah.

Boakai added that for NEC to continue to enjoy respect, it must be by the decisions it makes and the actions it takes, which should be fair and unbiased, and free of favoritism.

He cautioned NEC to be mindful as the country journeys to the 2023 general and presidential elections, and should take note of the Supreme Court’s 2017 decisions concerning electoral discrepancies, especially the need to clean up the voter’s roll.

“[I am] reminding NEC about updating the voter’s roll and the urgent need to use the biometric voting system in the 2023 elections, which were recommended by International Election Observers in 2007, including ECOWAS.”

Boakai added that the maintenance of Liberia’s cherished and hard-won peace depends on the unencumbered practice of legitimate politics, which includes free, fair, transparent, credible, and inclusive elections.