By Ben T.C. Brooks
Two recent community forums held in Grand Gedeh County brought a cross-section of citizens together to dialogue on the nation’s electoral process, such as the reforms.
Grand Gedeans representing numerous and diverse communities, organizations and political affiliations, gathered in Zwedru and Toe Town to take part in the Citizens in Liberia Engaged to Advance Electoral Reform (CLEAR) initiative that discusses the electoral reform.
The forums were moderated by Tonieh Gibson of Liberia Media for Democratic Initiatives (LMDI) and relayed on Flash, Top and Smile FMs community radio stations.
Some of residents became so eager while interacting with one another, and were exceptionally pleased with the LMDI, a well known radio program since 2017, conducting the election debates, afford them a platform to join the national conversation on electoral reform.
Each of the forums lasted approximately three hours; and began with the moderator first providing the ‘big picture’ of electoral reform as a civic engagement exercise intended to get the views and recommendations of Liberians.
The dialogue took into consideration, the differences between constitutional, statutory and regulatory electoral reforms with two specific issues including election timeline and adjudication of complaints and grievances arising thereof.
Liberia’s current version of the constitution requires that elections are held on the second Tuesday in October of any election year at the immediate end of the rainy season. This means that all electoral activities, including campaigning, the movement of election materials and personnel, and voting take place under abject seasonal conditions posing major difficulty to the conduct of elections across the country.
“National infrastructure limitations and the fast encroaching effects of climate change further compound the logistical challenges of the season,” the participants recalled.
At the Zwedru City Hall forum, Madam Betty Gaye, vice president of Grand Gedeh County Rural Women, strongly supported the idea of reconsidering the national elections timeframe with a possible change from the constitutionally mandated October day to an agreed date in the dry season (preferably between December and March) and an accompanying matched timeline for inauguration.
“Look my fellow Grand Gedeans and Liberians, reflect and compare the numbers of registered voters and see the turn-out during election day. She stressed that while there may be several reasons for the significant difference between registration and voting numbers — citing for example death, illness and migration – the major reason was simple. “According to my study,” she stated, “the registered voters are more than the electorate, who show up on voting day, because rain and deplorable roads lead to them staying at home.”
Madam Gaye added that this was particularly true for her constituents, rural women, which led to a situation ‘where citizens suffer’ because the majority’s choice may not be their choice.
Logistics officer Alfred Dunner, confirmed that Liberia’s October timeline was “a huge challenge’ for the Grand Gedeh County NEC magistrate’s office as well. At the same time, Dunner stressed that it was not up to the body of the National Elections Commission (NEC) to carry out reform of any article within the Liberian Constitution. Rather, he said that reform needs to come from the people’s dialogues, which constitute the citizens’ decision.
In this matter, whereas the NEC Code of Conduct states: “Challenges and complaints are assessed, investigated and determined, according to regulations and procedures,” forum participants strongly recommended the establishment of a separate court to handle electoral conflicts and related issues. Under the existing electoral legal and regulatory framework, NEC is both judge and jury in a time consuming process, including instances where their own procedures and activities are allegedly at fault or in questioned.
At Toe Town Hall meeting, Chebo Toe, Supervising Principal of Grand Gedeh County School System Principal Association and Principal of Toe Memorial Institute, affirmed B’hai District’s support for establishing a separate, election-specific court.
Albert Doe, a member of the National Civil Society Council of Liberia’s county chapter, re-emphasized that establishing a separate tribunal to look into election matters would help reduce NEC’s responsibilities and allow them to focus only on the conduct of elections.