GoL Must Use Elections to Strengthen Citizenship

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The Liberian government must use the forthcoming elections to strengthen the country’s citizenship by using contests among political parties and individuals to promote the people’s commitment to the country.

That was one of several recommendations contained in the Annual Governance Report (AGR) of the Governance Commission (GC) that has been released to the government.

The AGR said elections are the core of democratic governance, and democratic governance drives as well as benefits from Liberia’s development agenda. “The 2017 (October) Presidential and Legislative Elections are an integral part of Liberia’s Triple Transition,” the report said.

The other two are the transfer of security responsibilities from UNMIL to Liberian security forces, which took place last year, and the transition from the five-year Agenda for Transformation (AfT), which has just ended, to a new five-year development plan, that is in the making.

The AGR said the election of a new government this year will mark the first time since 1944 that executive authority will be transferred from one elected president to another.

“Moreover these elections will lay the political foundations upon which Liberians will continue to maintain peace, advance development and pursue reconciliation,” it said.

The report also examined the institutions, rules, procedures and processes that constitute the electoral system of Liberia. “Its goal is to contribute to strengthening the electoral system so that it can successfully hold peaceful and credible elections. Beyond this immediate goal, it also seeks to identify issues for post-elections electoral reform,” the report said.

The report calls on responsible parties, including the Ministry of Education (MoE), the National Elections Commission (NEC), the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), the mass media, pro-democracy civil-society organizations and the Inter-Religious Council, among others, to use elections as a platform for debates on national development issues.

“Election contest must serve as a platform for informed and responsible debates among parties and candidates on policy issues and priorities. Political parties and candidates must be pressed to do so,” it said.

The report said the PUL, civil-society organizations, academic institutions, prestigious clubs such as Rotary, among others, should address the 10-year residency requirement stipulated in the Constitution for presidential aspirants, which was twice ruled as inapplicable and therefore “there must be a pronouncement on this constitutional provision.”

It explained that the Constitution and Elections Law provides strong grounding for elections, but that in some instances they are highly prescriptive, stipulating specific dates and timelines for events such as the holding of elections, adjudicating electoral disputes and for political parties to elect their officers, which ensures internal democracy, among others.

“Enforcement of some of the prescriptions has been problematic due to the inapplicability of these provisions or the lack of enforcement capacity of the Elections Commission.

“For example, the 10-year residency requirement for President that has been inapplicable over the last two presidential elections, and the requirements for monitoring and inspecting financial records of political parties by NEC have not been enforceable due to capacity constraints, among others,” the report said.

The report called on the NEC and the Supreme Court of Liberia to intensify and expand civic education. “Using the National Curriculum on Civic Education, delivering civic education modules to schools and for non-formal education purposes to deepen and broaden understanding of (the) importance of elections as (the) responsibility of citizens,” it stated.

The report recommended that the MoE, GC and NEX should monitor and strengthen voter education; and since it is already underway, they must devise and implement monitoring project with the view to strengthen and expand coverage and addressing special needs.

The NEC and GC, it said, should strengthen voter roll verification, which will “strengthen public confidence in voter registry through measures, including electronic and ample public vetting.”

The report said the NEC with support of international partners should monitor campaign spending and financial flows into political parties. It, however, noted that the NEC lacks the capacity singly to monitor campaign financing and financial flows into political parties; therefore, NEC must enter cooperation agreements with appropriate entities such as the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and other integrity organizations, consistent with the Elections Law, to monitor campaign financing and financial flows into political parties as prescribed in the NEC’s mandate.

The report said the 2017 October Presidential and Legislative Elections are being held in an environment of excitement laced with a certain amount of uncertainty. “High unemployment, inflationary pressures, declining exports and a state of persistent poverty shape the economic context that impacts the electorate.

“High illiteracy rates, especially among women, slowly improving health care facilities and significant challenges in the educational system and road infrastructure are among factors that could impact participation in the electoral process,” it said.

It noted that the political environment is characterized by an overactive but less informed public realm and a range of civil-society organizations that are not sufficiently empowered but are struggling to invigorate public space productively.

The report also mentioned the lack of a national identification card against which Liberian citizenship can be identified that poses a major constraint to voter registration verification as it does to voting.

It also examined the commitment of agents of political parties, the establishment of national elections monitoring networks and situation rooms, formulating and implementing ethical code of conduct for parties and candidates and the recruitment, training and equipping of adequate numbers of election magistrates and hearing officers, among others.

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