Liberia: Will October 10 Election be Rigged?

Former Vice President Joseph Boakai, left, and President George Weah


…. Boakai expresses concern of such possibility as Pres. Weah downplays rigging claims

Joseph Boakai, the Presidential candidate of the opposition Unity Party, has voiced concerns over the possibility of vote rigging by the ruling party of President George Manneh Weah. 

Addressing a crowd of supporters in vote-rich Grand Bassa county, Boakai called on Liberians to seriously protect their vote and resist any electoral fraud.

“...That’s why you have to protect it. If they think they will steal this election, you will not allow it,”  Boakai told a cheering crowd.  “Because if you do it that’s the end of this country. We are not going to allow that.”

While the former Vice President did not provide any evidence of any steps that would lead to vote rigging, the remarks are just one of the many he and officials of the Unity Party Alliance have made —  voicing concerns over the possibility of vote rigging.

The latest, however, added a layer of tension to an already heated political climate as the election is just 15 days away — October 10. 

Boakai and his alliance members and supporters have claimed that their concern is not a threat to the country’s peace as the ruling Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC) and its supporters want the Liberian people to believe.

They argued that their position is “conditional” and if the elections are not rigged, there would not be trouble but, if not, such rigging would be resisted.  Just last week, controversial Nimba County Senator, Prince Y. Johnson, claimed that if the Weah administration rigs the October 10 polls, it would lead to an uprising.

Senator Johnson, who is a strategic ally of the former Vice President, believes that the Unity Party Alliance campaign launch on September 17, which drew in thousands of supporters, was a clear manifestation of the Liberian people’s resolve to remove Weah.

“Before the October elections, Liberians are coming out under the banner ‘Don’t Try It’ – any attempt, the people’s power would be exercised like the Arab Spring. You’ll shoot your gun; you’ll kill us or you’ll die,” Johnson, who is the political godfather of Boakai's running mate, Senator Jeremiah Koung, said.   “No more fear; Liberians don’t have fear anymore.”

The Arab Spring was a series of anti-government protests, uprisings, and armed rebellions that spread across much of the Arab world in the early 2010s. It began in Tunisia in response to corruption and economic stagnation.

Johnson, a former notorious warlord who has been sanctioned by the U.S. for his alleged involvement in corruption, is of strong belief that Boakai, whom he supports, will win the Presidency.

However, the Weah administration has vehemently denied the fear of potential vote rigging — describing them as baseless and politically motivated. 

Weah, upon his return from the UN General Assembly on Saturday, noted that Liberia will no longer return to having “rebel checkpoints” — as he committed his administration to democratic principles.

“Do not be swayed by reckless rhetoric. On October 10, you will wake up, go to the polls, and cast your votes for your chosen candidates,” Weah said. “We have faith in democratic processes, and we are dedicated to upholding them. The will of the people is our ultimate goal.”

He then reminded the Unity Party of the 2005 and 2011 elections, implying that their concerns about electoral integrity stem from past grievances related to the handling of election results by the electoral body.

“I have participated in elections, and even those who are now raising alarms of war were my opponents. Today, they claim that our elections commissioners cheated. But let us remember, in 2005 and 2011, they also alleged electoral misconduct,” the President noted.

The Unity Party Alliance's concern about potential election rigging, which has been loud in recent weeks, comes as it called out the National Election Commission for not releasing the final voter roll for the highly contested October 10 polls.

The final voter roll, which cannot be altered “30 days prior to the elections, except by a Supreme Court order,” plays a pivotal role in ensuring the fairness of elections. It provides the public, candidates, and election monitors an opportunity to review and verify the accuracy of the voter list, thereby reducing the potential for irregularities or fraudulent practices. 

However, the electoral body has yet to release the vital document as elections are just 16 days away from today’s date of Sept 25.

The postwar National Election Commission has for the last two years’ elections — 2017 and 2011 faced a confidence crisis.

In 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that while evidence of fraud in the October election was insufficient for a re-run, the Court however ordered the electoral body to clean up the final voter roll, which Cllr. Charles Brumskine, who placed third, among other claims has initially been inflated — leading to a “fraudulent electoral process.”

In an address to the Supreme Court, Brumskine cited “gross irregularities” in the first round of voting as he accused the electoral body officials of fraud. The National Election Commission, under Cllr. Jerome Korkoya at the time, denied wrongdoing and said the election was largely fair.

Boakai, as head of the ruling Unity Party, announced its backing for Brumskine’s legal challenge. The party accused Sirleaf of interfering in the October vote by holding private meetings with election magistrates. 

Sirleaf denied the meetings were inappropriate and observers from the European Union and the Carter Center say they saw no major problems with the first round vote.

In 2011, the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), led by Winston Tubman as its presidential candidate with Weah as his vice-running mate, accused the electoral body — then under the leadership of James Fromayan — of vote-tampering during the Unity Party administration of President Sirleaf, with whom Boakai served as Vice President.

The claim came in the wake of an official letter from the electoral body informing Tubman and the party that they had placed first in the first round of the presidential election with 43.9% of the vote against UP's 32.7%.  

The Commission, which acknowledged the letter as authentic, claimed that it made a typographical error of placing Tubman first instead of second. 

The alleged mistake, which led to Fromayan’s resignation did not stop the electoral body from pursuing the conduct of the runoff elections, which Tubman and his party boycotted on grounds that their allegation of vote-tampering was not investigated. 

The Commission, however, defended the conduct of the first round election in 2011 and said that it was conducted under the terms of the country's constitution and elections law and that the second round would proceed as scheduled, regardless of the boycott.

Turnout on the day of the run-off was low, with some polling stations closing early. International observers from ECOWAS and the Carter Center noted then that the run-off election was conducted in general accordance with the country's legal framework and international obligations, which provide for genuine democratic elections.