By William Q. Harmon and Hannah N.Geterminah
The election observer missions of the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have described the December 26 presidential runoff election held between the ruling Unity Party (UP) of Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai and the Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC) of Senator George Weah as credible and was conducted in line with international standards.
“On the whole, the processing of voters and the casting of ballots followed acceptable standards and were in accordance with the laws and procedures governing elections in the country. The improved management of the voting process, the greater familiarity of polling agents and voters with the process, and the vastly reduced number of candidates on the ballot paper, ensured a speedy turnover, with each voter needing about a minute to complete the process John Dramane Mahama, the Head of the ECOWAS Election Observation Mission (EOM) said.
At a joint-press conference with the head of mission of the AU Observer team, Erastus Mwencha, the former Ghanaian President, John Mahama noted that the counting processes at the polling places were conducted transparently and professionally in the presence of parties agents and some local observers.
Some of the local observers came from the Election Coordination Committee (ECC); Liberian Election Observation Network (LEON) and the Independent National Commission for Human Rights (INCHR).
“Most Polling Places visited opened not later than 15 minutes after the official opening time of 8:00am; with an effective presence of representatives of both Parties (CDC and UP) in all the Polling Places covered,” Mahama said, also adding that there was effective presence of Security at Polling Precincts.
He added, “Voter turnout at the opening of the polls, compared to the first round of elections, was generally observed to be low, with an average of between 8 to 36 voters on queues. However, by the end of the day, the voter turnout had improved to about 55 per cent.”
“The ECOWAS Election Observation Mission noted with satisfaction the peaceful conduct of the poll, though the Mission was informed of an isolated incident of arrest by police of an individual who was in possession pre-marked ballot papers.
He commended VP Boakai and Senator Weah for their demonstration of statesmanship and exemplary conduct so far, and urges them to stay the course of restraint, legality and peace until the end of the process.
The Head of Mission also urged the two candidates, in particular, and their political parties and followers to accept the verdict of the ballot box as will be declared by the competent authority, the NEC, and refrain from prematurely declaring results of the election.
“We want to appeal to the candidates to gracefully accept the will of the people and in the event of genuine grievances, to resort exclusively to legal means to seek redress,” he said.
He also lauded NEC staff for the measures taken to correct the shortcomings observed during the first round election and for the professionalism demonstrated throughout the run-off presidential election.
“We want to congratulate Liberians for their patience, determination and peaceful conduct demonstrated so far and appeal to them to maintain the same spirit till the end of the process,”
Mahama urged the NEC to approach the concluding phases of the process with fairness, openness and transparency until the proclamation of results by NEC. The ECOWAS Observation Mission also urges NEC to work diligently and expedite action on the proclamation of the provisional results in order to avoid creating anxiety within the polity.
AU Head of Mission, Mwencha, said the mission will continue to monitor the tallying process, and any other post-elections related developments because a comprehensive final AUEOM report will be published within three months after announcement of final results.
The team, he said observed opening in 10 precincts in urban areas, and voting in 154 polling places, 91 in urban and 63 in rural areas in Monsterrado, Margibi and Bong counties.
“Polling places opened on time and all essential elections materials were available in adequate quantities. The atmosphere inside and outside the polling precincts during opening, voting and closing was generally peaceful, and secrecy of the vote was guaranteed,” He added.
He also reported that Mr. Mwencha explained that his team observed isolated cases where a few people were turned away in polling places such as the Philadelphia church in Montserrado and Scheffelin commissioner’s office in Margibi Country because their names were not found in the voters’ registry.
“We observed improvement and efficient management of the voting process, particularly, queues controlling, voters’ identification and adherence to NEC’s procedures. Security personnel were visibly present outside most of the polling places visited during opening, voting, and closing, but their presence was mostly discreet, non-intrusive and professional,” he said.
He also appreciated preferential treatment given the disabled and the elderly.
Mr. Mwencha noted that in all polling places observed, the two political parties in the runoff were adequately represented by their agents who performed their duties without hindrances or restrictions.
However, at the Mother Sarah School in District 4 in Montserrado, an isolated incident occurred where a voter was discovered with two ballot papers marked for one of the candidates. Both the voter and the polling official who issued the ballet papers were subsequently arrested for future investigation.
Meanwhile, the joint press conference was also attended by the Special Representative of UN Secretary General, Farid Zarif and others.