A group comprising Liberian experts on elections has been set up to provide civic and voter education and monitor electoral activities in Liberia ahead of pending elections. It is the second election monitoring organization after the Election Coordinating Committee (ECC) and possibly the only one with Liberian election experts including former National Elections Commission Chairman, James M. Fromayan, former NEC Commissioner Jonathan Weedor, as well as others including Lucia Massalee Yallah of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Center for Women and Development; Edwin W. Sarvice of the Program Delivery Unit (PDU) of former President Sirleaf; A. Blamoh Sieh, a former civil society leader and Civic Education Director at the NEC; and Yarsah G. Karmo-Fallah, former Assistant Superintendent for Development in Gbarpolu County.
The Center for Development and Election Management (CEDEM), initially the Edward Wilmot Blyden Center for Research and Development, seeks to liaise with the National Elections Commission (NEC) to achieve the objective of free, fair, and transparent elections.
As a not-for-profit grassroots organization dedicated to addressing challenges and finding real solutions to electoral and development issues, CEDEM is set to participate in the electoral process by focusing in the areas of civic and voter education, election observation and monitoring, consulting services to political parties and independent candidates, electoral law reform, and women’s participation in the electoral process.
CEDEM says it intends to also network with international electoral institutions such as the Electoral Divisions of ECOWAS, the African Union, the United Nations, the United States Agency for International Development and the European Union, in an effort to “Sustain the gains of the Democratic experiment” in Liberia.
With regard to the upcoming special senatorial election, CEDEM’s release issued over the weekend notes that, “… there is a compelling need to intervene in order to ensure the conduct of a viable civic and voter education exercise. Liberia being a country of more than eighty percent illiteracy rate, the conduct of intensive civic and voter education would enable Liberians to make informed decisions. With reference to election observation and monitoring, the need is even more urgent.”
For the last two years till now, Liberia’s political environment is volatile with a number of reported incidents of election violence and tense pre-campaign activities. It may be recalled that in 2018 there was a violent clash in Montserrado District #13 by-election between supporters of the opposition and the ruling CDC that left several people injured. In the said violence, Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee was accused of masterminding the violence, and Koijee, who had denied any connection with the violence, lambasted Justice Minister Musa Dean for not being effective in investigating the incident.
Also in Montserrado District #15 in 2019, opposition contestant in the by-election of that district, Teila Urey, was attacked by some believed to be supporters of the ruling party and her vehicle was damaged in the process. The incident took place in the presence of officers of the Liberia National Police who were fully clad in riot gear, but refused to intervene in the situation. Meanwhile, none of the violent perpetrators were arrested and investigated by the Justice Ministry.
Recently in Clara Town where Montserrado County Senator Darius Dillon had gone to meet with his supporters, some individuals believed to be loyal to the ruling party attacked the Senator and his supporters with stone throwing, causing pandemonium. Dillon, a popular Senator expected to contest the upcoming senatorial election against the ruling party, praised the police this time for saving him during the violent attack.
With these incidents characterizing the current political atmosphere in Liberia, CEDEM said: “The prevailing political atmosphere as the country gears up for the pending Senatorial Election is so tense making the eventuality of election-related violence apparent. To reverse this growing negative trend, there is a dire need for the pending Senatorial Election to be independently observed and monitored.”
CEDEM has written the NEC seeking its indulgence for collaboration to monitor and provide civic education on the election. While it awaits a response from the NEC now headed by Davidetta Browne-Lasannah, who the opposition community claims is loyal to the ruling party, CEDEM in the mean time says it is vigorously mobilizing resources in support of its civic and election observation programs.
CEDEM’s experts believe that Liberia has a different election history when it comes to civic education and that its involvement in monitoring and civic education would make a significant mark.
“The case pertaining to the Electoral jurisdiction of Liberia is peculiar as it relates to Civic Education. Unlike many countries within the West African sub-region such as Ghana where there is greater attention accorded civic education evidenced by the establishment of a National Commission on Civic Education, the case of Liberia is different. The Liberian situation regards civic education as a part-time activity of the National Elections Commission, even though resources provided the Election Management Body (EMB) is usually inadequate.”
“Considering the serious time limitation associated with the conduct of the pending Senatorial Election coupled with the limited level of funding so far provided the NEC, it is obvious that many activities inclusive of Civic education that must be thoroughly executed to ensure that an election is conducted consistent with International Standard will not be achieved. As a consequence, there is a dire need for CSOs intervention to ensure that the pending Senatorial Election is conducted in a nonsymbolic manner,” said CEDEM.