AU, ECOWAS Observers Hail Liberia’s Gains at Polls

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ECOWAS and AU delegation members at the high table including (3rd from left to right) former Ghanaian President John Mahama, AU Chief Observer Erastus Mwencha, UNMIL SRSG Farid Zarif and UN Africa Rep. Ibn Chambas

But Mahama notes some stakeholders  not satisfied with NEC explanation regarding printing of extra 30 percent ballot papers…

Following Tuesday’s polls, the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) election observers’ missions have applauded Liberians across the country for allowing the holding of peaceful elections.

Delivering their joint preliminary statement on the just ended elections the heads of AU  and the ECOWAS elections observer missions said Liberia is taking ownership of its affairs without much international influence.

Addressing journalists and other partners, the head of the ECOWAS observer mission team, former President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama, said the AUEO is pleased that all Liberian stakeholders in the elections have worked hard to thus far maintain a calm and peaceful environment.

“The AUEO commends the clear guidelines on dispute resolution, including the timelines established under the legal framework. In these elections, NEC and the Supreme Court received a number of disputes but were expeditiously adjudicated,” Mahama noted.

He said the campaign period in Liberia was characterized by excitement and enthusiasm reflected in public rallies, media advertisements, door-to-door campaigns, and road shows by supporters of political parties. “The peaceful campaign atmosphere is largely attributed to the general willingness of the Liberian people to have a peaceful electoral process, as demonstrated in the commitment made by political parties through the signing of the Farmington Declaration in June 2017,” he said.

The Mission notes, however, that some stakeholders were not satisfied with the explanation given by the NEC regarding the printing of extra 30 percent ballot papers, which is more than the internationally recognized practice that range from 5 to 10 percent reserve qualities.

Mr. Mahama observed, however, that despite the general peaceful pre-election environment, it was marked by a few isolated incidents of violence between the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and Liberty Party (LP) on 20 September in Sanniquellie (Nimba County), and between supporters of CDC and UP on September 21 in Monrovia (Montserrado County).

About legal structures, Mahama said the AU respects every country’s constitutional structures and supports the free and independent operations of those structures. “The AUOE notes that the legal framework is generally in line with international and regional norms and standards for the conduct of democratic elections as its protect fundamental freedoms of associations, assembly, and political participation,” he said, adding that the AU Mission noted concerns about the interpretations of the Code of Conduct Act (COC) by the Supreme Court in relation to its applicability to presidential appointees participating in the 2017 elections as candidates.

“The Mission further notes that the legal framework makes no provision for public funding of political parties which may have limited some parties’ ability to fully participate in elections on a level playing field.

The AUEOM notes that the law provides for political parties to endeavor to field at least 30 percent of their candidates from each gender. The Mission notes that because this is mandatory, a number of political parties did not comply with the legal requirement of gender representation in the candidates list submitted for nomination,” the AU Mission head said, noting further that as a result of only 15.9 percent women candidates contested for the seats in the House of Representatives in the current elections.

Electoral Administration and Preparation

Mahama said the “Mission noted that despite funding and logistics challenges, the NEC was quite prepared for the conduct of all public elections and referenda, including boundary delimitation, voter registration, civic and voter education, and resolve electoral disputes.”

“The Mission further notes that NEC has enjoyed the confidence of most of the stakeholders as such contribute to enhancing credibility of the electoral process,” he said, noting further that some of the commendable actions of NEC that enhanced trust in the electoral process were through its regular updates and interactions with stakeholders, particularly with political parties.

He said his Mission observed that Liberia enjoys a vibrant and diverse media which allows for expression of varied opinions, with approximately sixty active newspapers, over a hundred radio stations and one state-owned television station.

“The law guarantees media freedom and access to information as fundamental rights. Further, the African CHARTER ON Human and People’s Rights, the AU Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance, as well as the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance recognize the centrality of the media in democratic processes. Let the media continue to be a responsible body so as to allay fears and misconceptions in the public,” he admonished.

Election’s  Challenges

Ghana’s immediate former President said Tuesday’s elections had challenges such as the overstay of voters in queues, slow works are done by polling staff and in some cases their inability to easily identify voters’ details. “The AUOEM observed in some counties that polling officials were not aware of the exact number of registered voters in the place they were assigned. We also observed poor crowd control and chaotic queues in a few cases, but this did not affect the atmosphere in and around polling places which were generally peaceful in 83 percent of places visited during the opening of the polls,” he said.

He noted that 97 percent of the places visited opened on time except for a few which opened approximately an hour late due to the late arrival of polling officials, party agents, and polling materials.

He thanked the Liberia people for their peaceful and mature coexistence in these crucial political days and called on them to maintain the peace.

The head of the AU observers group, Erastus Mwencha, said Liberia is proving to the world that she is properly nurturing her emerging democracy. “Politically we see that there is calm and the nation is at peace with itself,” Mwencha said.

“The AU having witnessed the elections of 2005, 2011 is now  seeing an emerging democracy entrenched into the areas of governance and many other facets of the country’s existence. Liberia has taken these elections as their own other than the recent elections when there was a huge international support,” he said.

Mwencha said a total of 15 AU observers covered 11 out of the 15 political subdivisions in their observation mission, citing the team’s inability to reach the remaining four counties due to the poor road network.“The AU is not working in isolation because there are sister organizations such as the ECOWAS and other regional groupings that are closely collaborating with us in ensuring that we all make our continent a great and prosperous one,” he said.

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