LEON commends the NEC for sending inexperienced staff to run the delayed elections which have built confidence despite the existing tensions and, with a strong security presence, allowing for a peaceful election. However, LEON is concerned that the low turnout of around 20% indicates that voters were deterred by previous violence or threats on the day from exercising their democratic right to vote.
The Liberia Elections Observation Network has a team of five senior observers in Nomdatanau who are observing in all four polling places and have been meeting with all local and national stakeholders.
The Senatorial elections and referendum were organized for 7 January after allegations of fraud, theft of election materials and violence derailed the vote on 8 and 15 December. Tensions are high since just 449 votes currently separate the leading two candidates, Botoe Kanneh ,an independent and Alfred Gayflor Koiwood of CDC. There are 2021 registered voters in Nomodatanau so the result in this town could change the election result. The NEC held a meeting between the candidates on December 30th to determine a way forward. Although Koiwood agreed to the holding of the election at the time he filed a writ of prohibition with the NEC to further delay the elections on the grounds that the NEC had not fully investigated the previous complaints of election fraud. This writ was rejected by the NEC on 6 January, the eve of the election, on the basis that it was not filed in the required time.
LEON observers noted that the polls opened on time in all four polling places with the full number of election staff, who were all experienced staff brought in from outside the county so as to ensure neutrality. There was an extremely high level of observation with LEON, ECC, Women’s CSO network including the African Women Leaders Network all present and a situation room was established by The Peacebuilding Office, Ministry of Internal Administration, NCCRM and others. There was a large security presence around the town and this has helped establish trust and transparency. There have been no technical issues and procedures are all being adhered to.
However, tensions continued throughout the day over voter eligibility. Dialogue forums continued in the town on 6th and again on 7th, under the auspices of the Peace Building Office and the Election Magistrate from Lofa, explaining to the townspeople that everyone with a valid voter card would be allowed to vote. It has been a major issue in the town that people customarily cross the border with Sierra Leone to register and to vote and the candidates are accusing each other of trucking without regard as to whether these people are Liberian, and entitled to register, or not.
LEON heard rumours that people were being prevented from coming to vote from villages covered by this precinct. LEON noted a few people coming to vote from the surrounding villages but the border crossing was quiet. People with replacement voter cards were also initially denied to vote since their replacement status was not marked on the Final Registration Roll (FRR). The Magistrate informed NEC HQ who determined that these people should be allowed to vote.
In the afternoon 50 people were stopped from entering the town because they were not believed to be Liberian by local youth, calling themselves the civil militia. The Liberian Immigration Service and the Situation Room intervened, with the result that the town Chief agreed to identify citizens from non- citizens. Although this allowed dozens of people with valid voter cards to vote the decision went contrary to the previous ruling that everyone with a valid voter card should be allowed to vote.
Counting was conducted efficiently and accurately. In total 217 votes were cast for Alfred Koiwood and 188 for Botoe Kanneh. Since Ms Kanneh was ahead by 449 votes in the county this figure ensures that she remains in the lead for the senate seat, pending complaints procedures. Only a small number of votes were cast for other candidates in the town indicating that only around 20% of the registered voters turned out, giving some credence to the earlier rumours of voter suppression.
The Liberia Elections Observation Network (LEON), launched in May 2017 is a platform of four Liberian Civil Society Organizations: The Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), Liberia Crusaders for Peace (LCP), Federation of Liberia Youth (FLY) and National Union of Organizations for the Disabled (NUOD) with the goal to meaningfully contribute to democratization processes in Liberia.
LEON receives funding from the Swedish Cooperation and Irish Aid and technical support from the Carter Center and would like to express its appreciation to these partners.