The October 10 Presidential and Legislative Elections stand to be a very critical turning point in the history of the country as it would ensure the deepening of the country’s young democracy as well as ensure the smooth political transition that is expected place for the first time since 1944. And therefore, the need for a peaceful transparent electoral process cannot be overemphasized as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her administration have committed themselves to do everything in their power to ensure a peaceful and unbiased process.
It was against this backdrop that President Sirleaf urged the National Elections Commission (NEC) to ensure that the country, with just 48 days to the polls, remains in a state void of electoral tension.
While commissioning two of elections commissioners on Monday in Monrovia, the President told the NEC that it must ensure that it protects the state from any disturbance, ordering commissioners to demonstrate efficiency and neutrality in the decisions they will make, which would strengthen Liberians’ trust in the electoral body. The two new NEC officials included Commissioners Jeanette A. Ebba – Davidson and Boakai Amadu Dukuly. The two were accompanied to the Foreign Ministry office of the President – where the ceremony took place, by the NEC chairman Jerome G. Korkoya and other officials of the commission.
President Sirleaf called for the NEC to conduct itself responsibly at a time when the electoral process has already experienced some minor glitches, to which CSOs and other stakeholders, especially the Elections Coordinating Committee, have raised serious contentions. There were a lot of irregularities that were reported during the Voter Registration (VR) exercise as well as the VR exhibition exercise. The VR exhibition was overshadowed by reports that the names and photos of many who had registered at the various centers across the country were missing. Exacerbating the skepticism at the time was the pronouncement by Korkoya that everyone with a valid voter registration card would be allowed to participate in the electoral process. It was against this pronouncement that the Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) and others called on the NEC to execute all the phases of the electoral process in a more transparent manner in order to instill confidence in the overall electoral exercise.
Though the ECC commended the NEC for releasing a summary of the final VR figures last month, with names, gender, age, districts, and locations, it wondered whether the listing addressed the issue of some missing names and photos linked to the Provisional Registration Roll (PRR). Some of the issues that have brought some discord in the electoral process are: the citizenship status of the NEC chairman, who alleged to be a US citizen—an allegation that was brushed aside by the Supreme Court when the NEC chairman was taken to court; the NEC’s decision to deny some candidates from participating in the process, which was later overruled by the Supreme Court. The ECC called on the NEC to make public the detailed voter registration roll that highlights the particulars of every voter, as this will help political parties and independent candidates to better plan their campaigns.
But speaking at the commissioning ceremony, President Sirleaf reminded the NEC officials that “Liberia looks forward to a major transition” and they must do things that would gain the confidence of the Liberian people. “You must ensure that we depend on them,” she said, emphasizing that the neutrality and efficiency of the commissioners will build Liberians’ trust in them.
The NEC, since the cessation of hostilities in the country, is at the brink of experiencing its toughest task of conducting an electoral process that involves 20 presidential candidates, 22 political parties and a little over 900 representative candidates who are vying to occupy 73 seats at the House of Representatives. Responding on behalf of the NEC, Commissioner Jeanette A. Ebba – Davidson promised Mrs. Sirleaf that the Commission will continue to fearlessly perform its constitutional tasks, and assured that it will deliver free and fair elections void of violence. While assuring President Sirleaf that the NEC will create a level playing field for everyone, Madam Davidson took a moment to appreciate the president for being supportive to the Commission financially and otherwise, whenever her help is needed. She noted that the NEC will be at President Sirleaf’s doorstep if there are hitches anywhere that require her help, saying that Mrs. Sirleaf sees the success of the October elections as one of her biggest legacies. Commissioner Davidson warned Liberians against electoral violence, noting that “punching a colleague’s eye will only incite violence.” She said that Liberia has missed out on a lot of opportunities, and pleaded with the citizenry that these October elections must not be one such opportunity that the country would miss out on.