Liberia: NEC Chair Dodges Question of Liberty Party’s Leadership

Chairperson of the National Elections Commission Davidetta Browne Lansanah.

Several listeners and followers of the Super Morning Show (SMS) were astonished and taken aback yesterday when the Chairperson of the National Elections Commission, Davidetta Brown Lansanah, declined to answer any questions posed to her concerning whom the electoral body recognizes as the chairperson and political leader of the opposition Liberty Party (LP).

Lansanah, when asked for the NEC position regarding the Liberty Party, which is still factionalized between Musa Hassan Bility and Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, she said she found no pleasure in answering the question.

“I will not answer that question,” she told her host. 

LP has been embroiled in bitter internal conflict for many months over who has the power in the party.  Bility, the embattled chairman, suspended Senator Lawrence, the party’s political leader. At one point, Bility even expelled the senator from the political party on grounds that the Senator and her followers, including Senator Darius Dillon, have reneged on paying their dues to the party.

Following BIlity’s action, Lawrence and her faction of the party returned the favor, declaring Bility expelled from the party, which led to the party having two opposing factions. Lawrence’s faction accused Bility of tampering with the constitution of the party by accruing onto himself, as chairman of the party, more executive powers compared to the political leader.

A number of callers on the radio show expressed disappointment in Lansanah for not responding to the question pertaining to the leadership of the Liberty Party. One of the callers who expressed his frustration on the show was Daniel Sando, a staffer in his office of Lawrence. Sando is also the spokesperson of Lawrence’s faction of LP.

“Well, listening to the chairperson of the National Elections Commission this morning, I think Liberians have reasons to be very worried. They need to be worried because the stability of our democracy is being threatened. I didn’t imagine that the National Elections Commission will have a boss who will go in the studio and not be ably prepared and equipped to address issues of national concern,” Sando said.

He said the NEC Chair’s decision not to respond to the question about the Liberty Party’s leadership, which is pivotal, was frustrating.

“For the Commission to not say anything in public on the constitution of the Liberty Party it is working with and the chairman recognized by it, in effect, I see it that the Commission is doing business with Musa Bility, which has caused serious problems and impediment to the progress of our party. I think she is playing a double standard game which is not good for our democracy,” he concluded.

Prescilla Abram Cooper, an aspirant for the Representative post in Montserrado District #5, and a staunch partisan of the Liberty Party in the camp of Lawrence commented on the show, saying: “She will not answer those questions because she’s not a sincere person but, in the soonest time possible, she will be made to answer those questions and act accordingly.”

On the proposed Biometric Voter Registration process, the NEC chairperson also declined to make comments on the Commission’s decision that led to the selection of EKEMP, a Chinese and Liberian joint venture to supply both equipment and service for the registration of voters.

She chose not to mention EKEMP, even when asked whether or not her office was aware that the company had already posted on its website the NEC logo under its partners and customers category, but later removed NEC after the reports by the Daily Observer and Front-page Africa.

US Embassy watching the upcoming Liberian Elections

The NEC chair, said it is the right of anyone to be concerned, but NEC is a Liberian agency of government and operates under Liberian laws, rather than foreign laws; and that the Commission works through mandates from government, mainly the Legislature.

“Everyone, not only the US Embassy, has the right to hold us accountable. For them, we get support from donors. NEC is an integrity institution and we run credible elections in Liberia. We live not just to the mandate but to ensure transparency in our various processes,” Lansanah said.

The point was raised by the presenter following reports that former Liberian officials sanctioned by the U.S. Government are making moves to contest the pending Legislative elections in October of 2023. She said it is the right of the US Ambassador, Michael McCarthy to think the way he thinks and speak as he wishes to, but NEC will ensure the right things are done in accordance with the New Elections Law of Liberia.

She reported that NEC at first submitted a budget of US$91 million, which was decreased by the Legislature to US$80 million, then US$70 million, and, finally, to US$61 million, which she said is the actual amount the Commission looks forward to working with.

The NEC boss said that about US$1.5 million of the US$61 million was used to conduct the 2022 Special Senatorial By-Election in Lofa, as a result of Brownie Samukai, former Defense Minister, not being allowed to be seated as Senator after the December 8, 2020 polls, due to a court ruling.  

The 2022 by-election was won by Cllr. Joseph K. Jallah, an independent candidate who later joined the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) less than twenty four hours following his victory.

Lansanah said the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning has already deposited US $10 million into the NEC account for the conduct of the voter registration. She expressed hope that the remaining US$10 million will be made available to complete the full amount of US$20 million earmarked for all of the processes and procurements for the biometric voter registration.