– Who Will Bear the Burden?
The NEC has released the final results of the October 10 elections and determined that, since none of the 20 presidential candidates managed to gather the required 50 percent plus one of the total valid votes cast, there will be a run-off election. However, there is reason to believe that voter turnout could significantly affect the outcome of the run-off due to a phenomenon from the voter registration period — voter trucking.
This would definitely be the biggest dilemma that the two remaining presidential candidates should ready themselves to face as Liberians head for the runoff.
It is no secret that during the voter registration period, thousands of voting-age people, especially jobless youth, were transported by legislative candidates to their (candidates’) respective districts in order to have an edge in the October 10 election for the House of Representatives. While some of those trucked may have had some genuine native connection to the districts to which they were transported, others went to register in those places mainly in exchange for cash.
The deal would be that, political candidate agrees to transport each person in a group to the candidate’s district, to register to vote. There is a fee attached, to be collected by the would-be voter. When registration is complete, the candidate takes possession of all voter registration cards made on his or her behalf to keep until election day. The fee for the registration is paid and the newly registered voter is transported back home until the election. Just before election day, those registered are then trucked back to the candidates district to cast their votes and pick up their final fee before being transported back home.
Ahead of the run-off, legislative winners have already been announced, leaving no real interest in transporting contracted voters back to their places of registration to vote for any presidential candidate. Equally, most trucked voters quite unlikely to pay their own way to the areas where they registered, to cast their vote for their choice for president.
The trucking of voters is, meanwhile, a violation of Liberian law. Under Section 4.5 of the Elections Law of Liberia, a violator guilty of trucking voters faces up to six months in prison.
Because trucking of voters was done secretly, there is no way to tell how many votes would go un-cast or the effect it would have on how either presidential candidate performs in the run-off election.
Despite numerous protests emanating from some of the major opposition parties such as the Liberty Party, the Alternative National Congress and the All Liberian Party over irregularities in the conduct of the polls, NEC Chairman Korkoya declared at the press conference that campaign activities for the runoff have started.
It has definitely been a headache for the CDC and UP candidates with regards to who will take these voters back to vote in the upcoming runoff. “They were trucked outside their districts by legislative aspirants throughout the country in order to enhance their winning chances. But with the legislative election over and the run-off presidential election imminent, who will take these trucked voters back to these far off places to exercise their franchise?” an election observer asked at the NEC press conference yesterday.
When summoned earlier this year to appear before the Plenary of the House of Representatives by Montserrado County District #3 Rep. Bill Twehway (CDC) to answer questions on some of the challenges faced during the VR process, NEC Chairman Korkoya said he was hoping that the NEC would learn from and avert some of the painful lessons of the 2011 presidential and legislative elections, especially trucking of voters.
The NEC then promised to seriously monitor voter trucking activities, and defined trucking as taking voters from one place to another where they had no connection for the purpose of voting.
At the time, Korkoya noted: “It might be premature to tell you that everything that comes out of the trucking issue will be addressed. We will try to determine the intent. People have a right to go to places where they come from to vote and I don’t think that was the intent of the lawmakers when they passed the law.
“What trucking tries to prohibit is, let say for a lack of better word, bad people going into other areas they have absolutely no connection with, but to propel them in power… they will face 6 months in prison,” he said, although there are no instances of this happening despite the rampant nature of the act.
The same Rep. Twehway just lost his seat to UP candidate Ceebee Barshell in the October 10 polls.
The bigger question is, how does one determine the intent of “illegal” voter trucking? The question exposes the larger issue of the capacity of NEC or law enforcement to regulate voter trucking.
Officials from the CDC and UP are yet to commit themselves to transporting these electorates to their respective voting areas, but are looking to see whether it will be necessary to do so, a source told this paper.
“We will see what we can do as the time approaches, but we have to first of all identify some of these people—where they reside and where they did their registration,” a top member of the UP campaign team said.
“We are still in contact with all of our legislative candidates, including those who were not successful at the polls. So there is likelihood that we will do just that,” the partisan, who asked not to be identified, said.
Officials from the CDC said they couldn’t speak on the issue because it is a decision that needs to be taken by the Executive Committee of the coalition. “This is a very serious issue that any serious political institution should look into, but I can’t tell you that we will take responsibility because I’m not clothed with that authority. This is an issue that we should bring to the attention of the hierarchy of the coalition,” the top CDC official said.
The trucking issue has been a major concern for many, particularly those looking to oust incumbents from office.