Liberia: Massive Voters Trucking Mars Registration Process
.... As angry citizens reportedly damaged a National Transit Authority (NTA) bus bearing plate number B-30510 in the Brewerville community outside Monrovia over 200 persons were reportedly onboard the NTA bus heading to Bomi County to form part of the ongoing registration process.
Nothing was more threatening to the integrity and credibility of the 2020 mid-term senatorial elections than voters trucking, a situation that created the environment for the occurrence of electoral violence across the country, notably in Grand Cape Mount and Bomi Counties.
Despite widespread condemnations and criticisms especially from the Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) — the largest elections observer in the country — neither the National Elections Commission (NEC) nor the government took action against perpetrators.
And as impunity appears to thrive, this repugnant electoral menace, as ECC Executive Director Oscar Bloh described the act of voters trucking, has again reared its ugly head with the commencement of the 2023 Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) exercise. The BVR, within the two days of its commencement, has reportedly been characterized by voters trucking — transporting eligible voters from one place to the other — an act in most cases driven by the financial inducement given to those being trucked.
Communities across Montserrado, Margibi and Grand Cape Mount Counties experienced pockets of violence on Tuesday as residents resisted outsiders being trucked into their communities.
Angry citizens reportedly damaged a National Transit Authority (NTA) bus bearing plate number B-30510 in the Brewerville community outside Monrovia as over 200 persons were reportedly onboard the NTA bus heading to Bomi County to form part of the ongoing registration process.
It is also alleged that the bus was transporting people who were hired by an unnamed legislative aspirant. Aggrieved citizens reportedly organized themselves from Suehn Mecca and moved into another town, Dissikla, to set up a resistance force against trucking into their District.
Former Minister of State and senatorial aspirant in Margibi County, Nathaniel McGill, has been accused of trucking residents of Montserrado County to his county, especially students to have them registered. He reportedly trucked students from the Christ the King Foundation High School in the VOA Community, Montserrado County, to the Boys Town area in Margibi to have them registered.
Students of the Christ the King Foundation High School in queue during school hours on Tuesday in Margibi
McGill could not respond to calls or text messages concerning the accusations against him. Hours after the accusations emerged, the Vice Chair for Operations of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), J. Rudolph Yancy, revealed on his social media page that about 7,000 students under the directive of the US-sanctioned ex-minister will shortly be trucked from Bong County to Margibi to register.
Yancy’s social media comment.
Voter trucking is the organized movement of eligible voters from one place to another by an individual to register and vote at a specific constituency in favor of the individual supporting the trucking exercise for cash payment. The act has been identified as a major election fraud and has persisted in Liberia for an extended period, becoming a major obstruction to the nation’s democratic process, especially during Representative and Senatorial elections.
This phenomenon of both the vote-sellers and buyers has a negative consequence on the quality of political governance in Liberia and, if not curtailed or eliminated, will ultimately lead to worse public policies with a far-reaching calamitous impact on the future of our country.
Liberia's leading election Observation group, ECC, which expressed shock at the pervasiveness of the level of voter trucking during the 2020 senatorial elections, described the act as the sale of democracy in the country. These practices, many stakeholders believe, amount to the commercialization of Liberia’s fragile democracy and undermine the principles of electoral integrity, credibility, and legitimate representation of citizens at the National Legislature.
Voters trucking breaches the New Elections Law of Liberia, contravening Section 10.1a of the law. The law, which prohibits the trucking of voters, constitutes an electoral offense and is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for not more than six (6) months or both.
Section 3.1 of the election law also states: “A person must register to vote at a voter registration center established by the NEC for the place where he or she ordinarily resides and must vote at the polling place established by the NEC for voters registered at that center.”
However, these reports of voters trucking come on the back of a recent warning from the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) to politicians that it would not allow the trucking of voters during the election period. LIS Deputy Commissioner General for Administration, Moses Yebleh, disclosed that stringent measures will be put in place purposely to ensure a high standard of fairness, transparency, and credible process during this year’s elections.
Yebleh spoke at the opening of a round table discussion organized by the LIS in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program and the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights in Monrovia. He made emphasis on both in-country trucking and others who are brought from outside of the borders of Liberia to vote in the elections.
Ten of the dialects spoken in Liberia are also in neighboring countries, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast. This presents a kind of loophole for some West African nationals and Liberian politicians to exploit, abusing the free movement in the region to affect election results.
“The measures are in no way intended to deprive legitimate Liberians the rights to participate in the elections, but it is intended avoid the replica of the violence in Grand Cape Mount County,” Yebleh said, adding that because of the porous nature of the borders with neighboring countries, politicians, who have friends and relatives across these boundaries have succeeded in trucking voters in the past and some are still thinking that they will succeed this time.
NEC Commissioner, Ernestine Morgan-Awar, said voters trucking is one of the indicators that can cause election violence and is a recipe for disaster, noting that the act constitutes a violation of the law and should be discouraged.
Violators of electoral laws, she noted, including candidates who are caught in voters trucking, risk prosecution if any evidence is produced.
“Our law is clear that voter trucking violates the electoral laws in the country,” Morgan-Awar. “NEC cannot stand alone when it comes to combating voter trucking because it cross-cuts with agencies in mitigating this menace in the electoral process. We need to work together in order to put in place the structure that will help curb the voters' trucking in our electoral systems,” Morgan-Awar said.
Meanwhile, this newfound habit of both the vote-sellers and buyers has a negative consequence on the quality of political governance in Liberia, and if not curtailed or eliminated, some political rights activists believe, this will ultimately lead to worse public policies with a far-reaching calamitous impact on the future of Liberia.
It is a well-known fact, according to the activists, that the majority of the lawmakers who are elected through vote buying express no sense of obligation to the people in their constituents and counties simply because they bought their votes, mostly from outside of their constituents and counties.
“Hence, when they become legislators, they pass bad concessions and budgets that are ill-reflective to the nation’s progress. And sadly, voter-trucking leads to poor representation and bad governance with resultant effects on the wellbeing of the citizenry,” the ECC said at a press conference in 2020.
While some attribute the situation to the lack of adequate voter’s sensitization, many are of the view that poverty has a significant impact on the decision of the poor to sell their votes — and that poverty has led to the perception that vote-buying is a legitimate electoral strategy by political parties during elections.
Journalist Julius Jansen, who is also a political commentator, believes voter trucking is eroding very severely the essence of representative democracy.
“Elections in any democratic system, as I understand, are supposed to be an open discourse of persuasion. A process in which candidates compete for popular support by presenting reasoned arguments about why they are most qualified for election to office and not an opportunity for election outcomes or results to reflect the wallets of the most affluent candidates,” Jansen said in a commentary in 2020.
“When candidates present their platforms, the voters then choose a particular candidate whose policy positions most closely resemble their own set of preferences. And very true, when elections become free, fair and transparent, void of vote trucking or vote-buying, it represents a key indicator of democratic progress. But in Liberia, however, elections have been marred by irregularities and outright election fraud, among which is vote trucking or vote-buying.”