As the campaign for the ensuing Special Senatorial Election begins today across the country, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has called on Liberians to be peaceful in the process, while at the same time abiding by the preventive measures that have helped to reduce the rate of Ebola infection in the country.
The President told the nation in her address last night that after a thorough consultative process, the National Elections Commission (NEC), announced December 16, as the date set for the conduct of the election throughout the 15 counties. This date has been endorsed by the National Legislature and the President.
The NEC also set November 20th as the date for the beginning of campaign activities, which are expected to end 24 hours before polls open in three weeks.
She further stated that her government, through its requisite institutions, is putting into place stringent measures that will guide the campaign process and ensure that Liberians keep safe during this period.
“As campaigning starts on the next day [today], it is my responsibility and my duty to remind you all politicians, voters and election workers that we will put in place stringent measures contained in our health laws that everyone must and will abide by. We all know there is no hugging or shaking of hands. We mean it and we want people to take it seriously,” she said.
The President Sirleaf disclosed that the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in collaboration with agencies and partners, under the public health law, will be announcing a number of preventive measures today to ensure that “we all stay safe, especially during this electoral period.”
President Sirleaf also indicated that NEC will give out guidelines and protocols that all must abide by. “We can only enjoy democracy when we are healthy and alive. Although we continue to see decline in the number of new cases of Ebola, we must not relent our efforts. We must not lay down our guides and we must not become complacent,” she pleaded.
She noted that as much as the measures are intended to keep Liberians safe, she will endorse all of the preventive measures and will direct that they be strictly followed.
She said that the measures are not intended to stop anyone campaigning or interacting with the people, but government wants to ensure that people are protected.
“One of the cardinal pillars of democracy is the right for the people to elect their leaders. This is a fundamental exercise that most time take place at certain times,” she added.
She recalled that Liberians should have gone to the poll on October 14 this year to elect 15 senators whose terms will expire at the end of the year, but during that time the country was deep in a health crisis that did not allow the process to take place.
“These elections are important, but they are being held under very difficult circumstances. We still have the deadly Ebola virus in our country and the neighboring countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone. This places a new responsibility on all of us to ensure that the political activities that will be carried out during the campaign and the voting do not lead to a resurgence of the epidemic,” she said.
President Sirleaf further said, “People will be meeting in places in groups for campaigning. When the times comes to vote, we will line up to vote this could lead to serious risk. While we are sustaining our democracy, we have decided to put in place measures that would safe guide us more.”
“We want democracy, we want to elect people, but we want to do so keeping all of us healthy, making sure that we don’t return to those difficult days.”
President Sirleaf indicated that Liberians can still remember how bad things were several weeks ago and now there are progresses, but one cannot talk about success as long as there is one case of Ebola.
Finally, she told everyone, “True essence of democracy is to compete on the basis of ideas – ideas about how we improve the lives of the people we aspire to lead. This will mean that candidates will disagree. But I know we can disagree and exchange our ideas, as well as afford the voters a chance to understand our values, without resorting to mudslinging or violence.”
President Sirleaf wished all the candidates well and urged them to stand up for tolerance which will lend their campaigns to civil discussions through which voters will know them better.