Liberia: Catholic Bishops Conference Calls for Peaceful Elections

The Catholic Bishops Conference of Liberia (CABICOL) has called on political parties and candidates to maintain peaceful elections in the run-off to the October 10, 2023, presidential and representative elections. 

The group, which is the highest decision-making body within the Catholic Church of Liberia, noted that peace can be tested during the electoral period, which is why they are appealing to political parties and candidates to ensure that their supporters peacefully conduct themselves. 

“Peace is one of the components we need in this country,” said Rev. Fr. Dennis Nimene, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops Conference. Recalling, he said “Some of us are old enough to have seen what we went through in the past. Election time our peace is tested.”

With a few weeks to polling day, October 10, 2023, scores of Liberians will vote for their new leaders or approve President George Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) second-term bid, making the fourth democratic election since the end of the civil war in 2003 and signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement. 

“There will always be winners or losers in an election, but we should all remember that we are one Liberia. We need all  “hands on deck to be actors of peace,” said Fr. Nimene.

The Accra Peace Agreement was signed during negotiations with warring factions in 2003 to end the civil war in Liberia.

“It is not by accident that we are having elections exactly twenty years after the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement in Ghana,” said Leymah Gbowee, one of those who initiated the peace accord. “20 years ago, around this time, we were all wondering and biting our nails, wondering what the future of Liberia would be after elections,” she said. 

She called on Liberians to reflect on the past and strategize pathways to ensuring peaceful elections in 2023.

Gbowee further urged political parties and candidates to engage constructively in activities that would promote peace, and denounced acts of violence.

Elections play a pivotal role in shifting democracy and providing citizens access to choose their leaders, but it must be done peacefully.

When violence erupts during elections it instills fear in citizens and discourages them from participating in the process.  

Against this backdrop, experts have called on political parties to send out peace messages that promote democracy. 

“It is important that the government ensures that these elections are free, fair, and peaceful. It must hold accountable those that would attempt to disrupt it,” said Catherine Rodriguez, Charge ‘D’ Affairs of the U.S. Embassy near Monrovia.

Catherine Rodriguez, the Charge d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy.  

A few months ago, Liberian political parties signed the Farmington River Declaration, committing themselves to promote peaceful elections. The Declaration ensures a nonviolent electoral process, with political actors being cognizant of the need to maintain a peaceful environment before, during, and after the 2023 presidential and general elections. 

“We are hoping that political parties will abide by the Farmington River Declaration to promote peace throughout the elections,” said Oscar Bloh, chairman of the Election Coordinating Committee.

The signing of the Agreement is the second since the end of the war. The first was signed during the tenure of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Violence, a Warning

Just the day when the National Elections Commission announced the opening of official campaign activities, supporters of President George Weah were seen carrying caskets with pictures of former vice president Joseph Boakai. Another incident occurred in Montserrado County electoral district 9 on Thursday, August 10, where supporters of CDC and UP clashed, leaving scores of people injured and raising concerns about the fate of the Farmington Peace Accord, which frowns on  electoral violence.

“We condemn the toting of caskets by supporters of the CDC, and we call on the Liberian National Police to conduct an investigation and hold the perpetrators to account,” the ECC Chairman said.

Bloh warned against the culture of impunity, adding that it has a huge impact on violence. “We are disappointed that the police have not come up with anything yet because one action breeds another; so if people act violently and they are not held to account it leads to more violence and the political parties are under obligation under the Farmington Declaration that they signed up to.”

“We do not know as yet whether or not the police have conducted the investigation or whether they have arrested anyone involved because if these things do take place, then we reinforce the culture of impunity and that is why the police need to be responsive on electoral violence,” Bloh added. 

LNP Warns Political Parties and Supporters 

Meanwhile, the Liberia National Police (LNP) has warned that it would arrest, investigate, and forward to court anyone who instigates chaos or attempts to undermine the peace and stability of the electoral process.

According to a statement issued by the LNP at the start of the campaign period, political parties and supporters are urged to submit their campaign schedules to the Joint Security, which will ensure effective security presence for the smooth and peaceful conduct of their campaign rallies.

“The Joint Security notes the commitment made by heads of political parties to uphold the Farmington Declaration, which calls for respect for the rule of law and peaceful elections”, the Statement noted.