Liberia: LPP Opposes NEC’s Decision on Biometric Election

The Liberian People’s Party (LPP) has sharply criticized the decision of the National Elections Commission to use a biometric system for next year's general elections, saying the move is untimely. 

In a letter to the NEC, on September 22, the LPP, which is contesting the 2023 election with Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe as its candidate, claimed that the electoral body needs to reverse its decision on the use of the biometric system due to lack of time and limited public information about the technology. 

The LPP — as one of the country’s oldest surviving mainstream political parties — claims that the use of a biometric voting system is a risky gamble that Liberian cannot afford to take in 2023, regardless of its benefits in ensuring transparency in elections.

“The LPP is of the view that in order to introduce a biometric system in our electoral process, adequate preparations have to be made, which entail the training of the NEC technicians and a massive awareness campaign among the citizenry about this new technology,” said LPP’s Vice Chairperson for administration, George B. Caine, to the NEC.

“With the above done, the NEC would then try the new system as a pilot in a by-election to build confidence in the system. Liberians cannot afford to take a gamble with the 2023 elections because the stakes could never be higher,” Caine added.  "Against that backdrop, the LPP stands opposed to the use of a biometric system for the 2023 presidential and legislative elections due to the lack of adequate preparation on the part of the NEC.”

The 2023 presidential and legislative elections cannot and should not be a pilot project. We also know that elections are held only in a day’s time.”

The party letter comes as the electoral body announced early this month the use of a biometric voting system to prevent electoral fraud and chaos, which has marred previous elections. The NEC has for years been under pressure to dash its optical manual registration (OMR) system. The OMR system, for many, does not improve the accountability and transparency of electoral processes and is usually tainted by controversy and mistrust. 

The  biometric system however is designed to meet complex electoral challenges — arrest multiple registrations by a single voter and multiple voting, while supporting other mechanisms to avoid voter fraud and manipulation. 

The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) has also warned that the NEC’s decision to prevent electoral fraud is not a silver bullet, taking into consideration unexpected hitches the system can encounter at any point in time. The ECC, which is Liberia’s largest domestic election observation network, on Sept. 6, informed the public that the electoral body’s transition to a biometric system is not without risks to the country’s electoral system.

However, the ECC added that the technology, if it is set up properly and in a timely manner, can add value to the quality of the electoral process, thereby minimizing double registration, automatic de-duplication fraud, and manipulation of the voter roll.

Meanwhile, the LPP has reminded the NEC that the House of Representatives Committee on Elections and Inauguration also remains unconvinced that Liberia is ready for the use of biometric voting technology.

The LPP also reminded the NEC to use the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo Information Services (LISGIS) upcoming Census result to delegate electoral constituencies, so that the 2023 Elections may be conducted on the basis of constituency, not electoral districts. 

“This will be adhering to the Constitution of Liberia. The LPP is also aware of the concerns expressed by the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) which invariably casts some doubt on NEC's preferred company, EKEMP. The LPP is cognizant of the fact that the OMR system of voter registration is obsolete, and the need to introduce the Biometric as an alternative cannot be over emphasized.

Founded in 1983, the LPP was an electoral wing of the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA), a leftist pan-African group founded by some of the historic figures that launched the campaign for multiparty democracy in Liberia; amongst them, Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh and the late Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer.

Sawyer served as President of the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) from 1990–94 and Gongloe, at the time, served as his protégé and special assistant. Dr. Tipoteh ran on the ticket of the LPP in the elections held on 19 July 1997, accumulating just 1.61% of the vote.

Since the 1997 election, the LPP has been on the periphery of the Liberian political landscape, joining ranks with the United People’s Party (UPP) in the 2005 general elections and participating as part of the Alliance for Peace and Democracy (APD), supporting Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh for president.

It resurfaced in 2011, this time as part of the National Democratic Coalition, NDC) backing Dew Mayson for president. In the same elections, its former presidential candidate and political leader, Tipoteh, left and ran on the ticket of the Freedom Alliance Party of Liberia (FAPL).

And now, the party has offered Gongloe, who is not a traditional politician but more of a human rights activist — championing respect for the rule of law, while selling his narrative as a comforting national healer, capable of restoring a government that respects people’s rights and the rule of law. 

Before taking the helm as the standard bearer of the LPP, Gongloe had focused his 2023 presidential campaign as an apostle of personal decency and as a transitional figure who would take on some of Liberia’s worst crises — not just the issues of poverty, but corruption, which he has long argued is the root cause for the country’s failure and its people’s poor state.