The former president of the Central African Republic (CAR) has been selected by the Carter Center (CC) as one of three heads of a high-power elections observation mission in Liberia to observe the October 10 elections. Catherine Samba-Panza, former President of CAR, is coming along with Jason Carter, Chairman of the Carter Center’s Board of Trustees, and Jordan Ryan, Carter Center’s Vice President for Peace Programs, a press release said over the weekend.
The statement, described as a pre-election statement, summarized key findings from the campaign period and pre-electoral environment in the lead-up to the October 10 polls.
The presidential and legislative elections are just eight days away and so major international observer missions are now putting themselves in top gear to grace the Liberian stage. They include the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the European Union Observer Missions (EUOM) with local offices in the country.
Madam Samba-Panza is the head of the Carter Center’s principal observer mission, along with a total of 30 short-term observers, who are to arrive this week to observe the voting, counting, and tabulation processes of the elections and support free, fair and transparent elections, yearned for by Liberian electorate.
Samba-Panza was born in Fort Lamy, Chad in 1956 to a mother from the Central African Republic (CAR) and a Cameroonian father. Prior to politics, she was a businesswoman and a corporate lawyer. She moved to the CAR at the age of 18. She was trained in law at Panthéon-Assas University.
The first female leader of CAR, and only the third in Africa, she has inherited a legacy that left her trying to pull her country back from the brink of a civil war in 2014. However, the emphasis on her gender is no mere media contrivance—but because many of her compatriots, as a woman and a mother was best placed to bring reconciliation—as everything they had been through had been the fault of men.
But “Mother Courage,” as she has been dubbed, took on a state that had been barely functional since independence from France in 1960. Its presidents, including Jean-Bédel Bokassa, found their writs seldom ran beyond the capital.
However, the current phase of the Carter Center mission includes six long-term observers deployed across the country since August and a core team of electoral experts in Monrovia.
In its statement, the Center among other things, made several recommendations on steps to increase public confidence in the election and flags a few issues that could prove problematic, including several that could be addressed prior to Election Day.
The Center indicated that the NEC should consider using all media and telecommunication options to communicate the availability of the SMS voter list verification tool to voters, which would contribute to the public’s confidence in the quality of the list and help familiarize voters with the location of their polling places.
“To further its commitment to transparency, the NEC should publicly post the lists of people selected as polling station staff so that the names may be scrutinized by the community,” it said.
The Center also called on the NEC to continue its efforts to explain the tabulation process and the provisions for ensuring adequate access for party agents and observers, and any other safeguards it is implementing. “Further, a clear outline of the planned timetable for releasing results would help prepare political parties and the general public for the days following Election Day,” it said.
“The police and political parties should continue the commendable cooperation they have shown to date. All parties and candidates should reiterate their commitment to a peaceful process and respect one another’s right to campaign,” it said.
Candidates should exercise caution in their rhetoric and remind their supporters that no matter their ethnic group or heritage, they and their opponents are all Liberians.
In order to assure that voters cast their ballots free of intimidation and that the secrecy of the vote is fully protected, all parties should refrain from gathering voter identification numbers in the time before Election Day, the statement noted.
“The NEC should prepare itself to respond to questions about the number of voters who were allowed to vote on Election Day when they showed up with a valid voter registration card but were not on the published list,” it added.
While stakeholders have the right to gather and disseminate information regarding the process of the election—including results collected from polling stations—any results released by a political party before the official results are finalized have the potential to increase confusion and misunderstanding and could unnecessarily cast doubts on the legitimacy of the outcome.
It is likely that discrepancies will arise because of differences in the speed and location of unreported results, the additional checks the magistrates will be conducting during the NEC’s official results tabulation process at the county level, and the different methods for gathering the information—as such, the Center has urged stakeholders to refrain from releasing early and unofficial results as it will help limit confusion among the electorate and avoid inflaming tensions.
The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.