The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM) chief observer, Ms. Maria Arena and her team have met with three of the 20 presidential candidates vying to replace President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at the upcoming polls.
Those Madam Maria, a member of the European Parliament, and her team met in Monrovia include the standard bearers of the Liberty Party, Charles W. Brumskine; Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), Senator George M. Weah; and and the ruling Unity Party, Joseph N. Boakai.
According to the EU observer team, the meetings were meant to interact with these major stakeholders to get their views on how the electoral process is so far proceeding, and will ascertain from them what are some of the hurdles or challenges each of them is being faced with.
These meetings come at a time when there are reports of a nervous negativity within the electoral process as a result of recent violent encounters between opposition Liberty Party and the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) in Nimba County and another riot between CDC partisans and supporters of the ruling Unity Party.
All EU EOM observers are bound by a code of conduct, which requires strict neutrality and non-interference.
Ms. Arena noted that during the meeting with the LP and CDC candidates, the issue of access to the media was a major topic as they complained of lack of access, as compared to the ruling party, especially on the national broadcasters.
“These things happen in all countries, even in Europe, but we must find a way of addressing them so that everyone has access to the media, especially the national broadcasters, if we want to make our democracy better. The difficulties faced during campaigning during the rainy season was also highlighted,” she said.
Apart from meeting with the presidential candidates, the observer team also met with the other major stakeholders such as the National Elections Commission (NEC), civil society organizations (CSOs) and the Supreme Court of Liberia.
“After several meetings in Monrovia yesterday and today, I can see good will from all sides to conduct the upcoming elections according to international standards.
“Our long term observers are following the electoral process in all 15 counties since last week. They have met already various stakeholders and are doing comprehensive analyses in the regions,” Ms. Arena said.
She indicated that the team on the ground is here to observe the pre-election phase, the Election Day itself and will stay in the country until the completion of a comprehensive assessment of the electoral process, “including recommendations for future elections,” she said, promising that the team will keep to its mandate of non-interference and neutrality. “Our mission is here to contribute with impartial and objective assessments to a democratic transition in Liberia,” she emphasized.
On Election Day, an additional 34 short term observers will reinforce the EU Election Observation Mission, which will have more than 60 observers and analysts on the ground.
Asked as to why they only met the three candidates, who are considered the forerunners of the elections, the chief observer indicated that these were the ones who made themselves available for the short time she was in the country. She promised to be back very soon to meet with the others.
“We would have loved to meet with all of them but with the contacts we made these were the ones available to us. We all know that this is a very critical period because everyone is busy with campaigning activities,” she noted.
She indicated that there is another planned meeting when she returns to meet with most of the presidential candidates. “We still have time to meet with the ones we weren’t able to meet.
“The presidential and House of Representatives elections scheduled for 10 October 2017 are a crucial test for the democratic process in Liberia; a peaceful transition from one elected president to another is important not only for Liberia, but also as an example for the region,” said chief observer Arena at the Friday press conference in Monrovia.
The EU Mission was deployed at the invitation of Liberian authorities and arrived on September 1, with an advanced team of analysts in Monrovia. The mission will observe and assess the elections against national law, commitments and obligations for democratic elections deriving from international and regional human rights instruments, as well as good practices for democratic elections.
“We deployed already 20 long-term observers throughout the different regions in Liberia. We observe and analyze the whole electoral process, including the legal framework, electoral administration, voter registration, nominations, campaigning, the conduct of the media, voting and the counting, the tally of results and dispute resolution mechanisms,” said Ms Arena.