The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC), a non-partisan elections observing body working to promote transparency and accountability in Liberia’s electoral process has recently concluded a series of town hall discussions in Grand Kru County on electoral reform.
The discussions, which were held as part of the ECC’s efforts to strengthen the democratic process, were formatted in such a way that allowed each of the three facilitating civil society organizations, the Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL), the National Youth Movement for Transparent Elections (NAYMOTE) and the Center for Democratic Governance, to engage in smaller, separate discussions with a specific sub-set of Grand Kru citizens.
The Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia, for its part, gathered a cross-section of local women to discuss pertinent electoral issues such as low volume voter participation and barriers to female candidacy. Some of the discussion also reflected election day considerations, such as the difficulties of mothers with babies and young children.
One topic that appeared to be of interest to all was the need for better legislation to support the women’s leadership aspirations, and provide increased options for all voting citizens. They expressed concern that the 30% voluntary quota currently accepted by NEC and accredited political parties, was not adequate to “the needs of our people”.
In similar fashion, The Center for Democratic Governance facilitated a lively discussion, focused on people living with disabilities. Representatives of the disabled community discussed challenges during elections time, their needs and expectations. Daniel Karmbor, president of Seator Community Disabled Group, said the discussion was another opportunity to stress key issues. “There is a good number of people living with disabilities in Grand Kru County, eligible voters who will not vote on election day due to problems of accessibility”, he asserted.
He emphasized that disability is a condition that no one expects, but that people live with on a daily basis. In the process of discussing electoral reform, the need to address the complications of disability should not be taken lightly.
For its part, NAYMOTE interacted with young voters, including students, pehn-pehn riders, representatives of Grand Kru Youth Development Association (GKYDA), students and the Grand Kru Youth Secretariat. The youth raised the issue of voter trucking as a troubling reality which, according to them, undermined the fairness and transparency of elections.
The young people called for legislation that especially and directly prohibited such fraudulent action on the part of so-called leaders. GKYDA President, Hamilton Gbessay Nyennie, described the act as “an embarrassment a detriment to our electoral process,” especially when those who are trucked to register at a particular polling place are unable to be trucked for the next elections “when the politician is no longer interested”.
“Trucking of voters, particularly young people, has been hampering true democracy. Trucked voters are not legitimate residents of the area and will leave tomorrow. Whatever wrong decision made, the actual residents of that area will have the impact, whether negative or positive,” Hamilton said. Peace Mahteh Boyee, NAYMOTE Program Assistant, expressed happiness with the turnout and interaction of the Grand Kru gathering.
Ms. Boyee said the three partnering organizations conducted meetings in all 15 counties and the views gathered through the nationwide discussions would be documented for submission to ECC. Participants of the various sub-groups had very similar feedback and perspectives, regardless of their county of residence.
“Since we started around the country, we have listened to almost the same things affecting voters across Liberia — the issue of bad weather during elections time, increasing women’s participation, tenure of political leaders and problem that the disabled face during elections’’, they concluded.