— Call for the referendum to be halted to avoid political crisis
By Joaquin M. Sendolo and William Q. Harmon
“An election is not an event but a process and, as such, an election can only be considered credible if the processes leading to the conduct of the polls are transparent. But regrettably, the preparations leading to the conduct of the pending Special Senatorial Election are not transparent,” an NGO of elections experts operating under the name, Center for Development and Elections Management (CEDEM), have said.
The experts, all of whom are Liberians, some of them former officials of the National Elections Commission (NEC), led by former NEC chairman James M. Fromayan, said they have observed to a greater extent that activities as they relate to the conduct of the pending Senatorial Election are symbolic devoid of any genuine effort to conduct the polls in a manner that would contribute to the consolidation of Liberia’s democratic experiment and thus enhance the chances for genuine peace and development.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, CEDEM noted that some of the procedures that are being fraudulently done include the recruitments of registration staffers such as Electoral Supervisors, Registrars, Data Entry Clerks — “all of which were and are being conducted in secrecy.”
“The facts are glaring. Recruitment of registration staffers such as Electoral Supervisors, Registrars, Data Entry Clerks, etc. were conducted in secrecy with no announcement to the public as per the criteria or qualification required of the individuals who are hired by the Commission,” the statement noted.
“As was the case with their recruitment, so was the training of these individuals,” the CEDEM release stated. “It was a matter of secrecy detached from the Public domain. Civic education activities necessary for the creation of awareness for the current Voter Update Exercise are non-existing. No banners, no billboards, no adequate jingles and songs in the media across the Country to create the necessary awareness that is needed for such a crucial Process,” it said.
The group also said the lack of seriousness that is being accorded the conduct of the pending referendum by the NEC evidenced by the absence of vigorous Civic education activities in a Country of high illiteracy rate clearly indicates the incapability of the NEC to concomitantly conduct the Senatorial Election along with the Referendum on 8 December 2020. “As a consequence, the NEC should abandon the plan to conduct the Pending Referendum to avoid a political crisis such as the situation in neighboring Guinea,” it said.
CECEM also observes that there has been no launch of Civic education activity in a manner and form that would raise public awareness for the ongoing process—contributing to the lack of momentum of the entire preparatory process. “It is important to note, that the current Voter Update Process is crucial and as such, a necessary precondition for the conduct of the Pending Election,” the statement added.
FRR Grossly Inadequate
CEDEM also raised the issue of the current Final Registration Roll (FRR), which it says is grossly inadequate to meet the requirement of Free, Fair, and transparent Election. “The paramount reason is that there are thousands of voter’s Cards in the hands of individuals whose names are not on the FRR,” it said.
Though the situation could be managed with a degree of skill that could make possible the conduct of election on a limited scale as has been the case with the past By-Elections, but cannot be on a larger scale that involves the entire Country, the group said.
Finding a solution to this problem must be the primary objective of the current Voter Update Exercise, the group said this seems not to be the case. “Correction of this major inadequacy associated with the current Final Registration Roll (FRR) could be achieved by an Update Process using the time tested Stationary approach.”
“The current Update Process is incapable of addressing the major challenges confronting the current FRR. As such, it is an exercise in futility that should be abandoned in the interest of Peace and democracy in Liberia,” CEDEM warned.
The National Elections Commission also on Tuesday, September 22, 2020 acknowledged that there were people carrying on double registration which it said it is criminal, but could not state what it would do to revert any foul play in casting ballots during the election as many people and groups have registered their concerns that the process is not credible.
Hiring of camera boys to carry out NEC’s functions
Another problem associated with the preparatory process for the pending Election, CEDEM said, is the procurement of indispensable Update material such as cameras. It is no secret that the NEC embarked on the current update process with no cameras in Country—and in order to navigate its way around said problem, the Commission resulted to what the election experts group termed as an unprecedented act by hiring Camera boys from the Streets of Monrovia and around the Country with no regard to their partisan status.
“This act enables these photographers to possess crucial data such as the negatives of the photographs that makes the duplication of more photos possible.”
This singular act, the group added, sufficiently undermines the ongoing process and renders its credibility highly questionable. “It is a glaring recipe for chaos evidenced by the increasing acts of violence in many parts of the Country associated with the Update Process. This is a sad and troubling development obtaining in Liberia because the fundamentals of the relative peace prevailing in our Country is the entrenchment of confidence in the electoral process.”
CEDEM frowns on new registration of voters
The experts noted that the current Voter Update Process should have been intended for the updating of existing Electoral Roll and not a new registration.
“It is alarming to see the multitudes that are claiming to be individuals who have turned 18 and above since the last Voter registration in 2017, along with those who are also claiming to have changed residence from where they previously resided.”
The NEC had earlier stated that the update process was meant for three categories of people: First time voters; those who lost their voter cards and people who changed their areas of residence.
CEDEM said the NEC is rather conducting what appears to be new registration of voters under the guise of an Update exercise because there is an absence of a mechanism to determine whether an individual is already a registered voter or not. “The abandonment by the NEC of the Stationary Registration Process that could certainly make possible a verified process has given rise to the lack of credibility associated with the current update exercise.”
The NEC could not admit whether or not it sees it wrongful to open another round of voter registration, but said the update process is going according to schedule under challenge of over crowdedness.
CEDEM also noted that truck and bus loads of individuals, many of whom are below the age of 18, claiming to belong to either of the two categories indicated are being transported by Political Actors in a manner that has rendered our Electoral process laughable.
The NEC has acknowledged receiving messages about voter trucking and expressed that it is “Deeply concerned about reports of “trucking”. We wish to reiterate that trucking is prohibited under Chapter 10.1(a) of the New Elections Law and is punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment of up to six months.”
“It is alarming to note the open influence of money in the Update Process. Social Media has a video showing a Montserrado County Senatorial Aspirant dishing out money to prospective Voters. This amounts to a negative omen for the Electoral Process, because it further undermines the credibility of the Update Exercise.”
“These disturbing activities are being made possible by the failure of the NEC to execute the current Update Exercise using a verification process. A verification process entails the uploading of data at every precinct to ensure that a claim by any individual to the effect that he or she was not registered during the last registration would be verified prior to the inclusion of said individual on the Roll.