“Despite the prevailing will of Liberians, the October 2017 polls are being prepared as the country faces developmental challenges, such as poor infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, the lack of a national identification system, and difficult macroeconomic trends. “Dissatisfaction with some elected officials and service delivery may affect voter enthusiasm,” cautioned Robin Carnahan, Former Secretary of State of Missouri and member of the National Democratic Institute Board of Directors.
“Moreover, lingering grievances persist from previous election-related disputes. Against this backdrop, the National Elections Commission (NEC) and security services may face challenges in effectively carrying out their responsibilities in light of diminished international assistance.”
The National Democratic Institute (NDI) recently released a statement of the above findings and offered recommendations from its pre-election assessment of Liberia’s presidential and legislative elections scheduled for October 2017.
NDI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government. Over the last 25 years, NDI has conducted more than 150 election observation missions in 62 countries.
The elections have the opportunity to be a historic moment for the country – the first peaceful transfer of power from one elected president to another since 1944, the NDI report noted. The country is on the brink of consolidating democratic gains since the 2003 political transition, following years of devastating conflict. Successful polls would also continue a positive trend toward democratic elections and peaceful transitions of power in West Africa, NDI affirmed.
The NDI delegation included election experts from Africa, Europe, and North America, namely: Ms. Robin Carnahan(United States); Commissioner Terry Tselane, Vice Chairperson, Electoral Commission (South Africa); Christopher Fomunyoh, Regional Director, NDI (Cameroon); Alessandro Parziale, Observation
Mission Director, NDI (Germany/Italy); and Michael McNulty, Senior Program Manager, NDI (United States).
The delegation met with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Chairman and Commissioners of the National Elections Commission (NEC); potential candidates and political party leaders; government officials; civil society leaders, including citizen election observers; women political leaders; the justices of the
Supreme Court; elder statespersons; journalists; security officials; and representatives of the international community. The delegation also visited voter registration centers.
“The delegation is encouraged that Liberians recognize this historic opportunity to take full ownership of their electoral process,” said Robin Carnahan.
Christopher Fomunyoh added that “All Liberians with whom we met expressed a resolute commitment to nonviolence and peaceful elections that earn public confidence.”
Presenting its findings at a local resort in Monrovia over the weekend, the delegation highlighted the need for Liberia as a sovereign nation to take ownership of its national responsibilities, including the funding of elections and other obligations relevant to the peace and success of the country.
Key Findings & Challenges
The delegation noted that the October 2017 elections will be conducted in an open political environment. Most electoral stakeholders regard the NEC as an independent and impartial institution and expressed confidence in its commitment to running credible elections. They also said that the NEC and other state bodies demonstrate genuine political will to hold elections that reflect the will of the people. Platforms for inter-party dialogue, as well as for party engagement with the NEC and other stakeholders, are being utilized and should be enhanced. Barriers to participation for youth and women still exist, but there are unique opportunities for a more inclusive election this time around.
“Despite the prevailing will of Liberians, the October 2017 polls are being prepared as the country faces developmental challenges, such as poor infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, the lack of a national identification system, and difficult macroeconomic trends. Dissatisfaction with some elected officials and service delivery may affect voter enthusiasm,” Robin Carnahan, Former Secretary of State of Missouri noted.
“Moreover, lingering grievances persist from previous election-related disputes. Against this backdrop, the NEC and security services may face challenges in effectively carrying out their responsibilities in light of diminished international assistance.”
The delegation paid particular attention to the voter registration process, as this first phase of the 2017 electoral process is the foundation upon which credible elections are built and voters’ first impression is likely to influence how they ultimately view the legitimacy of the outcomes of the elections. Delegates found that despite some issues, there are no obvious systematic attempts to undermine the integrity of the voter registration process.
“The dedication and commitment of thousands of voter registration staff should be acknowledged. Voter education efforts started later than initially anticipated. Efforts should now be doubled to ensure maximum participation during the final days of the registration period,” Mr. Terry Tselane, Vice Chairperson of South Africa’s Electoral Commission, noted.
In the spirit of international solidarity with the people of Liberia, the delegation offered the following recommendations to various stakeholders on steps that can be taken in the pre-election period to enhance confidence in the electoral process and to foster peaceful and credible elections in October:
Voters – Register by March 7, 2017 to secure the right to vote in the October 10, 2017 elections; and practice nonviolence and hold each other, candidates, parties, and the media accountable for behaving peacefully and respectfully throughout the electoral process.
National Election Commission – Intensify voter education during the remaining days of the voter registration process, with a particular emphasis on outreach to rural communities, women and youth; intensify planning and logistical preparations for election day; and engage in more proactive, timely, and accurate public communication to share the Commission’s work/activities.
Political Parties – Urge all supporters and party members to register to vote; reaffirm a commitment to peaceful and credible elections; update the Code of Conduct signed in 2011; and recruit and train in advance party agents for the October polls.
State Institutions and Security – Prioritize and expedite funding of electoral operations and security budgets; and expand and publicize election violence mitigation efforts as a means of enhancing citizen’s confidence with regards to election security.
Civil Society – Intensify civic and voter education regarding the registration process, particularly among women, youth and rural communities; and integrate into systematic pre-election observation data collection on triggers of electoral violence.
Media – Intensify efforts to educate voters about voter registration and the electoral process more broadly; and promote responsible, objective, and issues-oriented election reporting, and refrain from using inflammatory language and disseminating misinformation.
This mission is the first activity from NDI’s comprehensive international election observation. In the coming months, NDI, in partnership with the West African Election Observation Network (WAEON) and the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), will deploy analysts and long-term observers to Liberia. NDI will also deploy a second pre-election observation mission during the campaign period and an international election day observation mission.
NDI first worked in Liberia in 1997 providing technical assistance to Liberia’s voter education and election monitoring efforts. The Institute has maintained a permanent in-country office in Liberia since 2003. NDI’s election observation mission is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).