Following lots of condemnations, basically from the 2017 Representative and Presidential elections that the Final Register Roll (FRR) used by the National Elections Commission (NEC) was faulty and responsible for fraud at the polls, the NEC has announced dates for the Voter Roll Update (VRU) ahead of December 8 Special Senatorial election and the national Referendum on a few key items presented by the Law Reform Committee (LRC) and its partners.
Yesterday, at the launch of the review process of the 2017 Voter Roll (VR) and the involvement of stakeholders in the 2020 Voter Roll Update (VRU), the Commission announced September 1 to the 15 as dates on which the VRU will be conducted ahead of December 8, 2020.
It can be recalled that in 2017, the Liberty Party of deceased Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine filed a lawsuit against the NEC on grounds that there were suspicions of frauds across the country as the polls were conducted.
The legal proceedings halted the Presidential runoff until lots of arguments were proffered by both the LP and the NEC as well as their collaborating partners in the case; something which proved factual that there were discrepancies which amounted to electoral fraud.
The Supreme Court, in its wisdom, said while there were pieces of evidence that there were frauds, they were not so egregious enough to cancel all of the results of the polls to call for a rerun.
Since the 2017 polls that brought to the presidency former soccer star turned politician, George Manneh Weah, there have been series of by-elections but with the NEC using the same fraudulent FRR, although they were mandated by the Supreme Court of Liberia to clean the FRR before proceeding with future elections.
Davidetta Browne Lansanah, the chairperson-designate of the NEC, yesterday assured the public including partners, both local and international as well as all political parties and the media that the NEC under her watch will do all it takes to clean up the FRR and conduct free, fair, transparent and credible elections as well as the referendum.
“On September 1-15 the Voter Roll Update will go on. Staff will work assiduously to fulfill the rolled-up plans of this Commission. This will be executed with support from the political parties and all of our partners,” Lansanah assured.
She added: “NEC remains committed to conduct free, transparent, fair and credible VRU, the Special Senatorial election and the Referendum.”
Lansanah, who replaces Cllr. Jerome George Korkoya whose tenure expired March this year as a chairperson of NEC said there will still be 2080 voting centers across the country but some modifications have been made.
“We have completed the assessment of all the 2080 polling centers throughout the country. This is a cardinal preparatory requirement to the entire election process. We have made the necessary changes and approval of the centers for the conduct of the mobile registration.”
“Let me emphasize that some of the centers used in the 2017 elections have been changed and renamed. However, as per our normal procedure, the new centers are within the same localities. The Commission will duly inform citizens of the 2080 registration centers to be used during this 2020 voter roll update, the Senate election, and the referendum,” she said.
The new NEC boss said teams, each to comprise a registrar, clerk, shader and a photographer will be assigned to the polling centers, a maximum of four centers each.
According to Lansanah, another set of teams will be led by a supervisor each to go around to monitor what the staff at the polling centers updating the FRR do, and a team will stay for three days at each location to ensure that the right job is done before allowing the team on ground to submit its report to the supervisor who will then submit said report onward to the NEC headquarters.
To help ease tension and erase speculations about any wrongdoing, she said representatives of the Inter-Party Consultative Committee (ICCP), the NEC, and its partners will jointly work together in ensuring that the right thing is done.
“Let me inform you that prior to the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), a dialogue was held between the NEC and political parties. The UNDP and some other partners were part of the said dialogue and at the end, the registered political parties agreed to form a committee which is the inter-party consultative committee to work with us in achieving the best electoral options.
We remain open to working with you as we have come to launch this review process today, it is our hope that you will give us your best technicians who will work with our staff in updating the Voter Roll,” she said.
Lansanah said a training manual has been prepared and it captures all health protocols announced by the health authorities to be adhered to by all, including the temporary staff to be trained across the Country.
About the funding of the electoral processes, she said Government has so far provided almost 3 million United States Dollars of the over US$17 million requested and approved for the conduct of the processes.
She noted, however that her Commission is grateful to the government for the efforts, but appealed that the funds be made available so as to ensure the speedy and smooth conduct of all of the processes.
Lansanah said both local and international procurement of electoral materials has begun, naming a printing and publishing international vendor, Al Morac as an international company that has already shipped in the country the optical recognition forms commonly known as OMR forms.
“The OMR forms will be used for capturing the registrants’ data during the VRU. A local vendor, Unique Enterprise, has procured data processing equipment, including laptops for our data center and three brand new servers have been procured and installed in our data center where we store data captured during the VRU,” she explained.
She thanked the UNDP for turning over to the Commission newly constructed building facilities in some of the 15 political subdivisions and the Swedish and U.S. Embassies near Monrovia for their relentless support to the electoral processes in the country.
On behalf of all registered political parties, mainly those now in the opposition seat, Ciaffa Saah Gbollie, Vice Chairman for Administration of the National Democratic Coalition (NDC) sent a caveat to the NEC that his coalition and by extension, the entire opposition community will not accept results from the December 8 Senate election should the ruling party win without a proper voter roll update and total cleaning up of it.
“We are open to work with you. You are charged with the responsibility to conduct elections, announce results, and certificate winners, but due to the critical electoral experiences in the past, including the most talked-about 1985 Presidential election as well as the recent 2017 Presidential election, we will no longer sit back and watch things go.
“We are all responsible to maintain the peace but you, the NEC, have the greatest responsibility to ensure that there is a fair playing ground and that results from the field, expressing the intents of the people should not be tampered with,” Gbollie cautioned.
He emphasized that the 2017 Representative and Presidential elections have left a huge dark cloud over the NEC’s credibility due to the conduct of those elections with a faulty voter roll.
“Our international partners and we ourselves, through the Supreme Court ever since gave you, NEC the mandate to clean up this messy VR, but you have waited all too long and used the same VR to conduct several Legislative by-elections. As you have expressed the will to get it cleaned up and updated, do it right for the benefit of all,” the NDC executive admonished.
He added that Liberia is at the poor level it is because there have always been fraudulent electoral processes that brought politicians to power, but this time can be an opportunity for the country to correct the said error and begin its truest democratic journey.
Earlier, Mr. Rowland Cole who represented his boss, UNDP Country Director Lamin Beyiah, said the UNDP will continue to stand with the NEC in ensuring that the country’s democracy is safe and on course.
Also making remarks, Charles Coffey, President of the Press Union of Liberia, assured the NEC and its partners as well as all other citizens and residents of Liberia that, his office will do all it can to support journalists factual and credible information sharing with the public.
Mr. Coffey said training for journalists on how to go about reporting on specific election matters is essential as the public is gullible and runs with almost everything they see on social media, in the newspapers or hear on the radio.
He said journalists need to know electoral jargon and if they become better educated, they, in turn, will be able to properly inform the public in clear words what the NEC, politicians, and the voting population, as well as all others, want to hear and need to listen to.
“The reason there are always distractions and conflicts when there are elections is because the communication channels are either wrongly fed with information or those who carry the news deliberately do so because they have a different understanding about issues pertaining to election,” Coffey concluded.