Saah Joseph, Henrique Tokpa take early lead in Montserrado, Bong, respectively
By David S. Menjor in Montserrado and Marcus N. Malayea in Bong County
Early results from Bong and Montserrado Counties Senatorial By-election have reportedly put Dr. Henrique Tokpa, former Internal Affairs Minister and Representative Saah Joseph in comfortable lead.
low voter turnout at the polls yesterday during the Montserrado and Bong Counties by- elections have been attributed to voter apathy, general public disenchantment about the current economic downturn and the seeming inability of this government to halt the slide into economic recession, according to media reports quoting several individuals spoken to in the wake of the elections.
The by-election was organized by the National Elections Commission (NEC) in order to decide replacements for the senatorial seats rendered vacant when George Weah and Jewel Howard Taylor, former Senators for Montserrado and Bong Counties respectively, won the popular vote to become President and Vice President of the Republic of Liberia.
On a tour of several polling precincts in Montserrado County yesterday, registered voters expressed to the Daily Observer how extremely disenchanted many of them are, to the point of possibly boycotting subsequent electoral processes in the country.
“The people are vex with the way politicians are running the country. They are not coming to vote because they think it will only be for the sake of enriching individual politicians, one voter who came from the Red Light market told us this this morning,” an electoral supervisor in Paynesville, Montserrado County, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the Daily Observer.
According to him he was given the task to monitor several precincts in Montserrado but, as of the time the Daily Observer caught up with him (2:30pm), he could hardly boast of more than 200 voters participating in the process across the precincts under his control.
“We are still waiting, but I think today’s case will be different from those of the past when people showed up at the eleventh hour to the close of polling centers to vote,” he noted with a sense of frustration on his face.
He said his precincts had in total 31 polling places and out of the 31 polling places, it was his expectation, as set by NEC, to see 15,500 voters participating in the senatorial by-election.
Of the 2.1 million registered voters nationwide in 2017, Bong County has 208,150 registered, while Montserrado has 777,503.
As it was with many of the voter precincts in Paynesville, all of the NEC polling staff (Presiding Officers) in Electoral Districts 2, 11, 12 and 13, also expressed discomfort with the on the low voter turnout.
“Although NEC will certainly pay us for what have come to do today, to be frank with you, our goal will not be achieved,” a polling staff at Calvary Temple polling place in Jacob Town, said.
She noted that one of the reasons she has discovered as responsible for the low turnout was that NEC did not do well with conducting civic voter education.
In Bong County, Madam Korto Kollie, a middle-aged woman, told the Daily Observer that she stayed away from voting because according to her some of the incumbent lawmakers had made promises but failed to achieve those pledges, adding, for example, her incumbent lawmaker for Electoral District #3, Rep. J Marvin Cole, vowed to electrify Gbarnga with 1,000 solar lights, a promise that he has reneged on, adding that she cannot vote for that kind of person.
The Senatorial by-election in Bong County appears to be a two-horse race between Rep. Cole, who is heavily supported by Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, and Dr. Henrique Flomo Tokpa, former president of Cuttington University (CU).
Former Bong County lawmaker George Sylvester Mulbah described the process as good for Liberia’s democracy but was quick to say that he supports the bill introduced by Grand Cape Mount County Senator Varney Sherman for sitting lawmakers to resign their positions if they want to contest in any by-election.
Speaking to the Daily Observer via mobile phone, the Senior Magistrate of the National Elections Commission (NEC) for Upper Bong County, Mr. Daniel G. Newland, said many factors contributed to low voter turnout in Tuesday’s Senatorial by-election including voting fatigue, the suspension of the vote date from May to July, voters dissatisfaction of promises made by candidates, etc.
Commenting on incidents that would disrupt the voting process, Mr. Newland said there was no report of major incidents except in Foequelleh, Electoral District #4, Bong County, where one person was apprehended for allegedly voting twice.
When contacted, the spokesperson for NEC, Henry Flomo, told the Daily Observer that NEC did all it could to inform the public about the Senatorial by-elections.
“We did what we could, but as it is, we are not here to compel people to vote. Voting is a constitutional right bequeathed only to people of mature ages and minds, not children or under-aged,” Flomo said in response to the question of the dismal voter turnout.
About whether there is or was a low turnout in any election process, Flomo said counting from the voting precincts and tallying done by NEC data collection experts should be the determiner of low or high turnout.
“When we get the percentage of those who participated and re-look at the number of registered voters as per our voter roll, then we will be able to determine and inform the public about low or high turnout,” he said.
He added that that the Liberia Media Democratic Initiative (LMDI) Executive Director, John Kollie, was instrumental in ensuring that people across the two counties get important information about the elections.
Kollie, reacting to the issue of his civic voter education work done through town hall meetings and debates with the candidates in Bong and Montserrado, said people complaining about almost everything has become a unique part of life.
“The LMDI began offering services on the Senatorial by-elections in late June, but with all that we have done people are still complaining that there was no enough civic voter education. That is their view and we cannot change it except they choose to,” Kollie said.
At Red Light market, where thousands of eligible voters are found, nothing less than frustration about how Liberia is governed could be heard from the lips of people going about normal business instead of voting.
Sarah Gongar, who sells bitter balls (garden eggs), said she could not go out to vote because, in her mind there is no reason to continue participating in a process that is making no good impact in the lives of the majority of the population.
“I have my voter card but I am not going out to vote. I have nothing to benefit out of voting in this country anymore,” Gongar lamented.
She noted further that although times are hard everywhere, when leaders of a country truly love their country and fellow citizens, they will choose to live a simple life each in order for others, who are not in power to benefit a fair share of the country’s wealth.
“I don’t think I will ever vote in Liberia again,” the 36 years old Gongar said, adding that Lawmakers, who are the direct representatives of their people, accept fabulous salaries and astronomical benefits which, in her mind, could be reduced in order to improve the education system and the health sector.
A host of other marketeers expressed similar views and attributed the poor state of the country to bad governance and “indulgence in corruption” by state leaders.
Veteran Liberian educator and an executive of the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC), Dr. Olu Q. Menjay blamed the poor voter turnout on fatigue and other economic reasons.
Menjay served as Head of Election Observation Team for the LCC.
“I think voter fatigue, especially in the delay of these elections beyond the Constitutional time allotted; poor elections awareness and economic hardship are responsible for the low turnout,” Dr. Menjay told the Daily Observer via mobile phone.
Recalling a conversation with voters earlier in the day, Dr. Menjay said, “One registered voter who did not vote said to me, ‘I am not going to use my money during this hard time to transport myself to go and vote. I don’t care about people who just don’t care about my welfare. Things are so hard. No encouragement to vote for anyone.'”
Tracking down the response of voters during elections, the cases in Bong and Montserrado in 2017 were of varying perspectives but could likely be more welcoming than the turnout yesterday at the polls in the two Counties.
During the first round of the 2017 Representative and Presidential Elections, Bong County had a total number of 163,436 or 78.5 percent voter turnout. Furthermore during the runoff Presidential election held between George Weah (now President) of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and Joseph Nyumah Boakai of the then ruling Unity Party (UP), 113,517 registered voters or 54.5 percent voter turnout in the county.
As for Montserrado, 590,839 or 75.9 percent of the registered voters participated in the first round of the 2017 elections, while 508,080 or 65.3 percent of the 777,503 total registered voters took part in the run-off election.
Meanwhile NEC has announced that the official tally of votes as well as release of official preliminary results in the both counties will commence today and tomorrow.
The chairman of NEC, Jerome George Kokoya, said in a press release, “The official tallying of results for Montserrado County will begin August 1, 2018 at the NEC Headquarters in Monrovia, while tallying of results for Bong County will also begin August 1, at their magisterial offices in Totota and Gbarnga.
“The Commission will thereafter begin announcing preliminary results by 6pm on the same day, Wednesday, August 1.”
He said there was no report of any violence at all of the 2,292 polling places across the two counties. “The Commission is impressed with the peaceful manner and form in which the voting process went,” Kokoya said.
He admonished all political party representatives to desist from spreading unofficial results as the Commission is still doing its work in both counties and as provided for by law, is the only body officially charged with the responsibility to announce conduct and announce elections results.
He thanked all election observers, including international partners, the media and NEC poll workers who worked hard to ensure that eligible Liberian voters in the both counties exercised their constitutional right to vote without any impediment.