Liberia: The Elephant in the Room: Vote-buying
.... Voter inducements, providing rice or tee shirts, are familiar to electoral politics in Liberia. The practice of offering voters money or gifts in exchange for their votes is almost as old as the republic itself. But it is illegal within the electoral framework and, if not checked, will affect the administration and integrity of the election.
As election fever sweeps across Liberia, the proverbial elephant in the room that no one seems to talk about, let alone try to address, is vote-buying. In the last five years, heightened poverty has made the market ripe for wealthy politicians or ruling party operatives to buy votes; poverty affects the likelihood that vote buyers will target poor people.
The National Elections Commission (NEC) must curtail any semblance of vote buying and rigging in the upcoming election. Even if the NEC conducts free and fair elections, those with the deepest pockets will attempt to buy their way to the presidency.
Voter inducements, providing rice or tee shirts, are familiar to electoral politics in Liberia. The practice of offering voters money or gifts in exchange for their votes is almost as old as the republic itself. But it is illegal within the electoral framework and, if not checked, will affect the administration and integrity of the election.
However, with less than ten months to the election, the issue of vote buying has taken a frightening prospect as political parties become more desperate to win at all costs in the face of a dysfunctional NEC and the absence of a credible census and biometric system.
Party bigwigs are said to offer $20 to voters in exchange for their votes. Sometimes it takes the form of food items such as 50- and 100-pound bags of rice or the promise of giving them jobs once elected. Some voters may be willing to accept handouts, but distrust candidates who offer them and frequently will take their money but vote for their opponents.
From my conversations and interviews with many registered voters, vote-buying in this coming election will reach an alarming rate; political parties are becoming brazen.
However, it can be curtailed if the NEC disallows cellular phones in voting booths. Cameras and cell phones must be banned; the NEC should encourage voters to leave their smartphones at home.
These mitigation efforts will go nowhere if a robust enforcement measure with teeth is not added; as long as there is no arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators, vote-buying scams will continue unabated.
The NEC should start a civic education campaign ahead of the October election. It should also recruit agents from the LACC and deploy them at various polling places to watch for vote sellers and buyers.
Vote-buying denies a level playing field for some political parties since only the more prominent, wealthier ones have the resources to incentivize voters financially.
Meantime, the government is reverting to old habits; with limited support even within his party and out of fresh ideas, President George Weah's only option may be intimidation and electoral manipulation to stay in power. But progressive civil society groups and a vigilant press corps can help prevent any shenanigans from the Weah administration and the ruling party.