-Chief Zanzan Kawor
The head of the National Traditional Council of Chiefs and Elders, Zanzan Kawor believes that the old “traditional” form of elections conducted to determine paramount, clan and zone chiefs in Liberia, were more transparent than the system of elections practiced today, which the Westerners have introduced.
Speaking through an interpreter recently at the headquarters of the council, Chief Karwor said during the traditional era, they understood each other and carried on their elections that were transparent and peaceful. But since the arrival of the Westerners, the entire process has become characterized by commotion and violence, he noted.
“When we used to have our elections like in the days of President Tubman, if six persons were contesting, we announced the voting time to everybody in the town and everybody wear their gown and stands before the crowd, the voters would go behind the person they want, and we would do the counting. If someone has 50 and the other 100, the persons with the highest numbers automatically win. That was what we called transparency,” Chief Karwor indicated.
In these chieftaincy elections, according to persons interviewed by the Daily Observer, each of the contesting candidates would sit, while their respective supporters were required to queue behind them, regardless of the weather condition, until a headcount was completed. Eligibility of voters was determined by designated individuals who could identify voters who belong to the respective constituency; height, in lieu of age, was also a criteria for eligibility to vote. At the time, most people determined their ages by how many farming seasons they had endured.
Interviewees did not recall any formal registration of voters, nor any record of the vote tally, which was simply determined by which candidate had the longest queue behind him or her. Also, everyone knew who the next person voted for; and the results were released on the spot.
This system was not without its problems, however, some of which are immediately obvious. The non-secrecy of the system caused much commotion, for example, between family members (such as between a man and his wife or parents and their eligible children) who supported opposing sides. The system thus also appeared to challenge the prevailing perception of leadership within the family.
In other cases, the results, whether accurate or not, created deep discontentment within families or among the contending candidates, sometimes to the extent that the most dissatisfied candidates would leave the “constituency” in which they lost the election, to go and establish their own. Examples include two towns in Nimba: Nyor Barlorplay and Nyor-Gbanwea New towns, were created in what is now the Buu-yao Electoral District #5.
By the exposing of opposing candidates and their supporters, family members used to feel deeply divided over a candidate of their choice, especially a father who would see some of his children or his wife in the queue of the opposition to his choice.
Also, one individual who says he was about nine or ten years of age when he voted, recalls that, because he was a bit taller than others in his age group, his parents augmented his height with some “Prince Niko” shoes to give “poll watchers” the impression that he was “of age” to vote.
Though Chief Karwor did say what was the population size of the country at that time of their ‘tradition voting,’ he said the secret voting system introduced by the Westerners has caused “disagreement and violence for the common people.” He said the secret voting process has made many politicians feel cheated, leaving the peace of the country unstable.
According to him, during the traditional process, “if someone ate a politician’s money, and that person did not vote for that politician, the person who ate the money would be exposed through the open line of voters,” adding that transparency is something that everyone looks at sometimes, not things that are done behind closed doors, and later bring out the result to the oppositions.
Chief Karwor also recalled how their days’ of elections never had confession or court process, noting that the secret voting process was introduced by the Westerners, which have caused many crises in the country.
He said all the power of the traditional people have been taken from them and assigned to the educated people, “but there is no progress that will make the nation peaceful.”
Karwor said that the educated people refused to sit on the old mat to plait the new mat; this is the reason why there are problems always in the modern transparent system they have setup, adding. “the Western system has also delayed voting process in the country.”
Chief Karwor argues that the old traditional system was done orderly, transparent and more peaceful than the western system that has caused many people to feel cheated, and gone to the court. In some countries lead to violence that cost many lives and properties, he said.