Statement By President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf On The Conduct Of Senatorial Elections

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Fellow Liberians and International Partners,

One of the cardinal pillars of democracy is the right of the people to elect their leaders. This is a fundamental exercise that must take place at certain times. As you know, we were supposed to have election this year, on October 14th, to elect those legislators, who would fill seats of members whose term would expire. However, in October this year, our country was deep in a health crisis that did not allow the process to take place.

After consultations with the leadership and political bodies of the country, the National Elections Commission has decided to hold the senatorial elections on December 16, 2014, in a month’s time.

These elections are important, but they are being held under very difficult circumstances. We still have the deadly Ebola virus in our country and in the neighboring countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone. This puts a new responsibility on all of us, to ensure that the political activities that will be carried out during the campaign and the voting do not lead to a resurgence of the epidemic. People will be meeting at places in groups for campaigning.  When the time comes to vote, we will line up to vote. These could lead to serious risks.

While we are sustaining our democracy, we have decided to put in place measures that would safeguard us all. Therefore, in consultation with relevant local and international partners and political parties, the National Elections Commission will issue guidelines and protocols that we must all abide by. We can only enjoy democracy if we are healthy and alive.

Although we continue to see decline in the number of new cases of Ebola, we must not relent our efforts, we must not lay down our guards and we must not become complacent.

As campaigning starts in the next day, it is my responsibility and my duty to remind you all, politicians, voters and elections workers that we will put in place stringent measures, contained in our health laws that everyone must and will abide by. When we say no hugging, or shaking hands and rubbing shoulders, we mean it and we want people to take this seriously. We want democracy, we want to elect people, but we want to do so keeping all of us healthy.  Making sure that we do not return to those difficult days must be our common priority number one.

We all remember how things were bad several few weeks ago. Now we are seeing progress, but we cannot talk about success as long as there is one case of Ebola. We all know what to do to avoid catching the disease. When someone is sick, don’t play doctor, take them to a health center. Wash your hands constantly. When passing in front of a store or anywhere  where people have thermometers, take your temperature. If somebody passes away, call the health care respondents and they will come and do what is necessary. We all like our traditions but these are not normal times and we have to let go some of our habits.

The Ministry of Health, in collaboration with agencies and partners, under the Public Health Law, will be announcing a number of preventive measures tomorrow to ensure that we are all safe especially during this electoral process. In so far as they are intended to keep our people safe, I will endorse all of the preventive measures and will direct that they be strictly followed.  These rules would not stop anyone from campaigning or interacting with the people but are there to ensure that people are protected.

Let it be known: We do not conduct these important elections because we feel it is easy or okay to do so. We do this with the support of other leaders of the government, because it is a right and a duty which must be fulfilled.

Finally, the true essence of democracy is to compete on the basis of ideas – ideas about how we improve the lives of the people we aspire to lead. This will mean that candidates will disagree. But I know we can disagree and exchange our ideas, as well as afford the voters a chance to understand our values, without resorting to mudslinging or violence. I therefore urge all of our candidates, even as I wish all of them well, to stand up for tolerance – to lend their campaigns to civil discussions from which our people will know them better, and the final decisions of the people will benefit their communities and the nation.

May God continue to bless our Republic.

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