Liberia: “When Truth and Falsehood Come to Light, the Truth Shall Always Prevail”

NEC chair Davidetta Browne Lansanah. 

Liberia: “When Truth and Falsehood Come to Light, the Truth Shall Always Prevail”

James M. Fromayan is a former chairman of the  National Election Commission. 

It is often said that “when peaceful change becomes impossible, violent change becomes inevitable. To prevent a repeat of this scenario in Liberia, the Center for Development and Election Management (CEDEM) has continued to call on the National Elections Commission (NEC) to manage the electoral process with credibility and transparency in accordance with international best practices in order to earn the respect of the Liberian people and those of the International community. 

Notwithstanding CEDEM’s numerous calls, the NEC under the leadership of Davidetta Browne- Lansanah has adamantly continued to administer the electoral process of Liberia in a manner devoid of credibility and transparency. Hence, it is clear that Liberia is firmly on the road to chaos as was the case in 1985 when the Emmett Harmon-led Elections Commission laid the foundation for the fratricidal civil conflict that engulfed Liberia on 24 December 1989. 

The recently concluded Lofa County by-election of 28 June 2022 has once more demonstrated Liberia’s Electoral Management Body’s incapacity and lack of integrity to ensure a safe electoral landing for Liberia comes 2023. The disgraceful conduct of the National Elections Commission in Lofa County is a clear reminder of the NEC’s actions that relegated it to the level of a party to the conflict when the Musa Bility’s faction of the Liberty Party and the Alternative National Congress (NEC) filed a legal action at the NEC against the withdrawal of the UP and the ALP from the then Collaborating Political Parties (CPP).

It is important to emphasize that the NEC, both at the levels of its Hearing officer and the Board of Commissioners, firmly ruled at the time, that UP and ALP did not have the right to disassociate from the defunct CPP even though Article 17 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia do guarantee said right. As was widely expected by the majority of Liberians, those rulings by the National Elections Commission were dismissed by a unanimous decision of the Honorable Supreme Court of Liberia.

 However, it is glaring that the NEC did not learn lessons from the repudiation of its actions by the Full Bench of the Supreme Court evidenced by the unprecedented procedure violations that characterized the announcement of the results of the Lofa County By-Election. This is troubling, alarming, and disturbing in view of the fact that this is an electoral body that Liberians and the International Community expect to lead and managed a very crucial electoral process in 2023. It cannot be over-emphasized that the elections of 2023 constitute a major test for the consolidation of Liberia’s democratic experiment and the survival of the Country’s prevailing fragile peace.

 By its actions in Lofa County, the current composition of the NEC has again demonstrated its lack of integrity, fortitude, competence, and capability to conduct peaceful and credible Presidential and Legislative elections in 2023. Indeed, there is no more doubt that the NEC is an extension of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change.

As such, maintaining the Commission in its current form until the 2023 Electoral process without the involvement of a counter-part Commission comprising representatives from ECOWAS, the AU, the UN, and the EU would result in chaos in 2023.

The following are cases that deserve emphasis: At the Forbayman Public School in Foya, according to the NEC website, Candidate Jallah at polling places 1 and 2 received a total vote of 275. However, it is amazing to note that the NEC announced a total of 550 votes for Candidate Jallah instead of 275 and a total vote of 84 for UP’s Candidate Kortimai instead of 42.  Additionally, at the Porluma Town Hall, there were five polling Centers or places.

Candidate Jallah received a total vote of 872 at these five polling places, and candidate Kortimai received a total vote of 142. Notwithstanding, the NEC announced a total vote of 1,744 for candidate Jallah and 284 for Candidate Kortimai. More alarming and shocking is the fact that a total of 1,112 valid and invalid votes were cast at the Porluma Town Hall Precinct but NEC announced a total vote for Candidate Jallah that far exceeded the entire votes cast at the Porluma Town Hall Precinct. 

 There are numerous of these incidents that occurred across Lofa County. Also disturbing is the inconsistency of the NEC in relation to its declaration that those in possession of voter cards but whose names are not on the Final Registration Roll (FRR) would not be permitted to vote. According to very reliable sources, there were widespread instances across Lofa County where these individuals were permitted to vote. This is shameful and reminiscent of the 1920s when Liberia acquired a Guinness Book of Record Recognition for having conducted the World’s most rigged election.

That election, contested mainly by then-President Charles D. B. King, and the opposition Candidate T.J.R. Faulkner had a total voter register of 15,000. Of this number, the Election Commission at the time announced that the opposition Candidate received a total vote of more than 8,000 but disgracefully announced that then-President King had received a total vote of more than 200,000. In this twenty-first century, while sisterly Countries are striving to record progress, we cannot afford to continuously retrogress as a Nation to the admiration of our foes.

Another negative occurrence that marked the conduct of the Lofa County By-Election is the massive vote-buying by the CDC leadership led by Montserrado County Representative Thomas Fallah which undermined the credibility of the election. Many credible reports that emanated from Lofa County during the course of the Election quoted Representative Fallah as pledging to pay USD one million to any Electoral District that cast the most votes for the CDC-supported candidate.

While this information may appear amazing considering the very difficult economic situation prevailing across Liberia, it is significant to emphasize that there has been no contrary statement by either Representative Fallah or the CDC as a Party. Since silence means consent, the conclusion is that the ruling party, apparently not confident about its political future come 2023, has embarked upon an agenda aimed at looting the National coffer in order to buy votes to remain in power. This agenda of the CDC constitutes a potential threat to the peace of Liberia.

As such, it must be rejected by Liberians and the International Community. Most alarming is the acquiescence of the NEC to the implementation of this dangerous and unpatriotic agenda of the CDC by its failure to condemn and discourage the VOTE BUYING ACTIVITIES of the ruling Party, activities that were adequately pronounced in Lofa County. It is troubling that the NEC which has the authority to protect the collective interest as per the electoral process would encourage the violation of the Election Laws in order to protect the narrow partisan interest of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change.

Chapter 10, section 10.4 of the 1986 Election Laws states that bribery as an election offense is where any of the following acts is committed:

  1. Offering or cause to be offered money or anything of value or benefit or promise to give anything of value with intent to induce or influence the vote of a person, the activities of an election officer, a poll worker in connection with an election which in so doing will tend to affect the true results of an election;
  2. Receiving  money or any valuable consideration; promise for the purpose of influencing any vote canceling or destroying any ballot paper; ballot box; election writs, a signed register with the intent to defeat the election;
  3. After the close of campaign, and on the day of an election, anyone who offers money or receives money or valuable consideration for the purpose of influencing the voter to vote or not to vote for a particular candidate. Any election officer, political party, or the agent of any candidate or any person who does any of these acts is guilty of an election offense and is punishable by a fine of not less than 5000.00 Dollars or imprisonment for not more than five years.

Indeed, section 10.4 (a)(b) of the 1986 Election Laws was blatantly violated by Representative Thomas Fallah and the CDC in Lofa County as indicated above. To quote President George Weah, Liberia is a country of Laws and no one is above the law”.  As such, President Weah and his political party must be protectors of the law and not violators of the law as was the case in Lofa County.

In 2004, as part of the preparation for the conduct of the first post-conflict election of October 2005, the Electoral Assistance Division of the United Nations (UNDEA) working along with the National Elections Commission laid down or promulgated several procedures governing the conduct of credible elections in accordance with international best practice. Among these is the requirement to announce the result of National Elections clearly indicating the Political Sub-division (County), the Constituency or Electoral District, the precinct (structure or locality consisting of several polling centers or places), and of course, the polling center (demarcated or secured locality where votes are cast) from which votes are derived to determine the winner and loser of an election.

  This has been the practice and procedure by which every election result has been announced since 2005 with the exception of the 28 June 2022 By-Election conducted in Lofa County. 

The National Elections Commission owed an explanation to the Liberian people and members of the International community relating to the reason(s) for the sudden and blatant departure by the NEC from the implementation of the required procedures governing the announcement of election results.

The result of an election becomes questionable, non-credible, and falls short of the requirement of International best practice if the Electoral Commission failed to take into consideration the requirement governing the announcement of election results as indicated above. In this regard, the result of the Lofa County by-election is bogus and lacks credibility.

The NEC through its Chairperson failed Liberia and by extension laid a firm foundation for conflict come 2023  by announcing a bulk or non-dis-aggregated election result that failed to clearly indicate the electoral districts, the Precincts, and polling centers on a case-by-case or preliminary basis as is customary with the conduct of past elections. In accordance with international best practice, bulk election results are the product of rigged elections.

As such it is important that the Liberian people and the international community request answers from the NEC in relation to the activities that characterized the conduct of the Lofa County By-Election. Left unchecked, the actions of the NEC in Lofa County would constitute a rehearsal for the conduct of the Presidential and Legislative Election in 2023.

The credibility of an election depends on the manner in which the Electoral Management Body (EMB) manages the election. As such, Liberians and the International Community must emphasize the need for the current composition of the National Elections Commission to be reviewed by the addition of an international Counter-part commission that would validate every action of the NEC in relation to planning and operation during the conduct of 2023 Presidential and Legislative Election to ensure the protection of the collective interest.

Moreover, International IT experts must supervise the operation of the NEC Data Center during the 2023 Elections. In addition to these, a biometric enrollment system must be used for the registration and conduct of the 2023 Elections. Finally, a special election tribunal must be established to handle cases of election contests to prevent the current composition of the NEC that has glaringly demonstrated its partisan allegiance from playing the role of Judge and Jury during the 2023 Elections. If these safety gears are not put in place prior to the conduct of the 2023 Election, CEDEM can conclude without reservation that Liberia is once more firmly on the road to chaos.

About the author: James M. Fromayan, is a former chairman of the  National Elections Commission. and former executive director of Liberia Democracy Resource Center, former project manager, Seeds, and Tools Project, Catholic Relief Services. He has also served as assistant minister for administration, Ministry of Education, and minister of education. He also taught at the University of Liberia and served as Vice-Principal of the Voinjama Multilateral High School.