ECC Reintroduces Electoral Reform Debate

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Stakeholders at the ECC's National Conference in Monrovia on March 27, 2019.

-Wants Legislature address discrepancies in elections laws

The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) has begun to take early steps to ensure that there is a critical examination of the electoral process to mitigate future problems.

During the 2017 presidential and representative elections, according to the ECC, there were reports of fraud and other forms of discrepancies that nearly plunged the entire process into confusion, thus bringing the country a standstill. The issue, ECC believes, remains fresh on the minds of many of the stakeholders.

It is in this vein that the ECC held a one day stakeholders dialogue on Wednesday, March 27, 2019, to stimulate conversations around this “very sensitive issue.”

The ECC is a non-partisan network of civil society organizations that monitors, documents, and reports on election issues to promote transparency and accountability in Liberia and strengthen the democratic process.

At Wednesday’s national conference held under the theme, “Strengthening Liberia’s Democracy through Electoral Reforms,” the ECC brought together major stakeholders, primarily from the Legislature, the National Elections Commission (NEC), UN, ECOWAS, and CSOs representatives to discuss about instituting the necessary changes in the electoral process to reflect the will of the people.

While electoral reforms are legal, political, and technical, the body that has the constitutional mandate to effect changes to the laws is the Legislature and, according to ECC chairman Attorney Oscar Bloh, this directive has to be demonstrated by political will.

Bloh added, “the ECC is of the conviction that this Legislature, with support from the Speaker and the House’s Committee on elections, will take the recommendations that will emerge from this forum for consideration in amendments to the legal framework guiding the conduct of elections.”

Mr. Bloh said the ECC is committed to the process, “because we believe that responsive and harmonized laws can contribute immensely to improved elections and consolidate peace and democracy.”

He clarified that the role of the ECC in electoral reform process is not to lead, but to stimulate broad-based public discourse that would generate information from ordinary Liberians, who are the primary stakeholders in the conduct of elections.

The 2017 elections might have come and gone, but it laid bare the flaws and or fragility of the country’s electoral system, which without efforts to alleviate in the future, have the propensity for conflicts, many at ECC forum on elections reform said.

They are of the view that the outcomes of the 2017 elections nearly plunged the country into chaos as a legal challenge from the opposition Liberty party, that called for the nullification of the entire results, nearly provoked a constitutional crisis.

It was against this background that local and international elections observer bodies, including the ECOWAS, AU, and EU recommended a thorough electoral reform exercise—a process that the ECC is practically leading now.

There are so many factors that are precipitating electoral reforms some of which were evident in the recent elections. Some of these include, contested results as with the case of the Liberty Party vs. NEC; inconsistency and the lack of harmonization within the laws; Electoral petitions—2017 experience with the high number of complaints and the registration of candidates, a glaring instance being the issues with the code of national conduct and Sando Johnson and Gayah Karmo vs UP and Representative Edwin Snowe.

According to the stakeholders, some electoral reforms will require short term changes to existing laws, while others will need to take place over the medium and long term period.

They stressed that though elections do not guarantee democracy, they are a fundamental requirement to give legitimacy to any democratic government. And while it is true that elections are grounded in laws, they are equally about perceptions. And these perceptions, especially the negative ones, Mr. Bloh said are what the ECC and its partners are endeavoring to get rid of, “all in an effort of making the process more transparent and accurate, at least to a larger extent.”

“That is why it is important at all times that electoral processes are perceived by voters to be impartial, inclusive, transparent, and marked by integrity,” Mr. Bloh noted.

He added that the reform process should not be left to elites alone to decide; it should mainstream the voices of ordinary voters, “because at the end of the day, elections are about the people.”

Mr. Bloh said that the ECC conducted Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) with men, women and youth groups in six of the 15 counties, and consultations were also held with legal practitioners, political parties, media, and civil society organizations.

The outcomes of these interactions, he said, have been used to develop four policy papers that will set the basic for the working sessions of at the conference.

The policy papers are focused on four categories of electoral reform that would advance the country’s democratic development and they are:

  • Legal: Amendments and changes to the Constitution, New Elections Law and Regulations.
  • Operations of political parties: The formulation of a Political Party act.
  • Election Administration: Changes to the structure, policies and practices of the EMB
  • Civic Engagement and Participation: Broadening the space of increased citizens’ involvement and women’s representation in the electoral process.

Former Liberty Party standard bearer Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine recently questioned the independence of NEC, while calling on the CDC-led government to allow reforms in the country’s electoral laws before the 2023 presidential and legislative elections.

He maintained that until these reforms are done, there is no guarantee that future elections will ever be free, fair, credible and transparent as required.

“We must understand that unless there is a comprehensive electoral reform, all of our ambitions, public utterances or condemnation would be exercises in futility,” he said in January when he spoke of giving a fair assessment of the Weah’s Government.

Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Prince Moye, said that the initiative could not have come at a better time. “We need reforms in our electoral process, and there is no better time than now,” he noted.

Moye, who officially launched the conference, indicated that the Legislature will play a very pivotal role in bringing the needed reforms to fruition. “We are committed to that as this is good for our democratic process.

Many political stakeholders have urged opposition political parties not to take for granted the need for a comprehensive electoral reform—one thing they believe should probably be one of the first and most important issues that should be tackled.

“If we would like to have the will of the voters reflected in election results; we must insist on electoral reform before 2023 elections,” LP vice chairman for political affairs, Abraham Darius Dillon said on the Costa Show in Monrovia.

Political parties are calling for the setting up of a special body to adjudicate elections related cases instead of NEC serving as both a defendant and judge, as is currently the case.

“This does not have to entail extra-budgetary expenditure to create a new court. The jurisdiction of an already existing court may be expanded to include the adjudication of such electoral matters,” Cllr. Brumskine said.

Representatives of the international partners, have therefore called on the government to ensure that the reform efforts are achieved before the next presidential elections.

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