-says Cllr. Frances Johnson Allison
Former Chairperson of the National Election Commission (NEC), Cllr. Frances Johnson-Allison has advised that Liberia cannot go to the 2020 special senatorial elections “under the kind of ugly circumstances that were observed during the 2017 general and presidential elections.”
Cllr. Johnson-Allison, who also once served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, told participants at a daylong dialogue with political parties over the weekend that elections are tracers of conflicts if they are not carefully managed in a way that brings integrity to the process, that all parties can see transparency, free and fairness.
She called on the new board of Commissioners to manage the 2020 special senatorial elections carefully to ensure that the mistakes of 2017 would not be repeated because, in Liberia, elections have increasingly become sources of conflict and violence.
The 2020 special senatorial elections roundtable dialogue, held at the NEC, brought together representatives from the various political parties under the theme; “Inclusive and non-violent Peaceful elections.”
The roundtable dialogue was organized by the Liberia Peace Building Office in collaboration with ZOA, with funding from the Ireland Embassy in Liberia.
Major topics discussed at the roundtable dialogue included how the capacity of the NEC can be strengthened to be responsive for the successful implementation of the 2020 special senatorial election and 2023 general and presidential elections; what lessons can be drawn from the 2017 elections to guard against violence and promote peace; what are some policy recommendations that can be advanced for consideration by the government, civil society organizations and international partners to sustain peace, promote national reconciliation and achieve social cohesion; as well as what are some challenges political parties face before, during and after elections.
Cllr. Johnson-Allison said the quest for power has become such that people will almost kill themselves simply to loot, steal, marginalize people, punish those that voted for them, and enrich themselves.
“The voters do not understand; that is why every time they get in the rain and sun to vote, they vote people who do not care about them. They vote for few cups of rice and, at the end of the day, their leaders turned their backs only because they lack education about the true meaning of elections and the responsibility of their elected leaders,” Cllr. Johnson-Allison said.
“Voters need to understand that election is not about one person coming to power just to enrich themselves, but to improve the lives of those that voted them in power.
Speaking about reconciliation, she said Liberia has not made any gains but has successes in dividing the people based on political party lines.
Cllr. Johnson-Allison said Liberia does not have a collative Presidency, but a form of government where there is one head of state who serves as commander in chief of the AFL, head of governance and President. As such, political pronouncements should be made by the President, not for all government officials to confuse the already suffering masses.
She said Liberia cannot go back to a one-party system. That is why people should not be asked to join the ruling establishment as a precondition to working in the government, indicating that such pronouncements are contrary to the constitution and the sustainability of peace.
“This government is not just for people who voted them in power,” Cllr. Johnson-Allison said, “This is not the intent of the Constitution. When you are elected, no matter how the process went, you become the president for everybody, and every citizen has the right to the entitlements that the country has to offer. We must understand this.”
Oscar Bloh, head of the Election Coordinating Committee, who served as one of the moderators, said Africa is starting to see a new dispensation where political parties are challenging the outcome of elections through the legal process.
Bloh named Kenya and Malawi as those countries whose elections results were overturned by the Supreme Court and the propositions of re-run won the case.
“Those are all new ways to strengthen our democracies in Africa that political parties can take advantage of,” he said.
Bloh said African political parties need to follow such emerging developments to help do things differently because, holding all things constant, an election does not take place on election day.
“The real election is the systems, process, structures, educations, legislations, and the involvements of political parties that are put in place. So all political parties have the responsibility to engage NEC constantly to inform them that you are following all the processes,” Bloh said.
Davidetta Browne Lansanah, NEC Chairperson-designate, said they are doing everything in their power to ensure that elections Magistrates have enough training to handle elections matters.
She said they are doing their best to ensure that things are done the right way to reflect a better outcome during the 2020 special elections.
When the issue of clearing the voters’ roll was raised by many participants, Commissioner Browne Lansanah said NEC will ensure that there will be a voters’ role update for the 2020 elections and the process will address outstanding challenges of the voter’s roll in 2017.
The political parties also advised that to strengthen the independence of the NEC, there should be reform in the elections law that will not allow the president to appoint commissioners to head that August body.
According to them, women’s inclusion in the elections process must be welcome and those that cause violence in the electoral process should bear the full weight of the law.
The participants hold the view that the special senatorial elections cannot be transparent with the 2017 voter’s roll, adding that there should be new voters registration to allow first-time voters to be part of the process and avoid those things that happened during the 2017 general and presidential elections.