The countdown continues and the harbinger of what lies in store for the general and presidential elections in 2023 is the conduct of the pending December elections. These elections will serve as a national temperature gauge and will to a large extent provide clear indications as to what lies ahead in 2023. A new Board of Commissioners will now preside over the elections. However the new Board, like its predecessor, is already saddled with credibility issues.
How it handles these elections will determine whether Liberia will proceed along a peaceful trajectory towards the 2023 elections at which time President Weah is expected to contest a second term of office. The public is unsure, for example, whether Commissioner Floyd Sayor, who has oversight of the NEC data center can be trusted to handle the figures that will be coming out of the various polling centers during the December elections.
During the recent District 15 elections, he was the NEC officer in charge of the data center. But he was found to be at the center of fraud allegations concerning the manipulation of vote count figures. And despite having received instructions from his boss to correct the figures he steadfastly refused to do so out of allegiance to the CDC whose membership he allegedly formed part of.
This Commissioner also had a role in the 2017 elections and is said to have played a key role in corrupting the Voters Registry (VR). It can be recalled that because of irregularities in the handling of the VR, the previous head of the data center had resigned mainly over policy disagreements with Chairman Korkoyah, concerning the management of the data center.
During the 2017 electoral period, although he had since resigned and taken employment abroad, yet his expertise was sought to help clean up the messy and compromised Voters Roll. He is said to have called for the scrapping of the entire VR but his advice went unheeded. Even the team from ECOWAS that was brought in to help clean the VR accomplished little.
And under the then leadership of Chairman Jerome Korkoyah, the NEC, although ordered by the Supreme Court to clean up the VR, NEC flagrantly disobeyed the Court with impunity.
It proceeded to hold the elections on the basis of a fraudulent VR.
Not surprisingly, the elections produced results which were not only challenged at the Supreme Court, but which led the country to brink of civil conflict. But prior to then, the entire electoral period had been characterized by lapses and fraudulent activities intended to alter elections results.
Illegal voter registration activities carried out by a functionary in the office of President Sirleaf were discovered by security forces who nabbed the functionary red-handed producing VR cards in his home. Added to that was the meeting, unprecedented in Liberia’s contemporary history, that President Sirleaf held at her home with Elections Magistrates which was clearly intended to influence the outcome of the elections.
Further came an expose of email exchanges involving then Finance Minister Amara Konneh and Robert Sirleaf on the movement of ballots to southeastern Liberia. And then the promised payment of WASSCE fees for Liberian students that saw thousands of Liberian high school students flocking to the CDC Congo Town headquarters.
This was around when the first batch of newly printed Liberian dollar banknotes had been brought into the country. The 500LD note was at the time in hot circulation. The nation recalls then Education Minster George Werner’s “da book we will eat” statement made to justify the promise made to pay WASSCE fees, which the public least suspected may have been coming from the batch of the newly printed banknotes.
Probably this can explain why the case of the missing 16bn and the criminal trial of those accused of involvement appears to be more of a charade than anything else. But back to the issue, the current atmosphere in the build-up to the December elections appears to bear much of the hallmarks that characterized the 2017 Presidential elections and the 2019 District 15 elections.
For example, President Weah’s exhortation to his ministers and officials to go all out to ensure a CDC victory at the December Polls bears strong resemblance to President Sirleaf’s actions and utterances during the run-up to the 2017 elections. It even suggests that the use of state resources, albeit illegally, to accomplish such objectives cannot be ruled out.
Also, not to be ruled out is the possibility that such exhortations by the President could prime into action, unscrupulous characters in charge of the electoral body such as Commissioner Floyd Sayor and other members of the Board of Commissioners with known ties to the CDC and attempt to “please the CDC” by fingering elections results in favor of the candidate of the ruling party.
But it will do NEC Commissioners well and, by extension also, officials of this government to bear in mind that the handling of elections in Liberia can prove to be akin to one sitting on a powder keg and playing with matches. Any careless mistake could result to one being blown to smithereens.
NEC Commissioners are especially entreated to take their duties seriously and perform with honesty and credibility. Anything short of this could prove inimical to the interests of the country as well as those of their own personal interests. It is nearly mid-August and, before one realizes, December will be here. In view of this a bit of stock-taking may be necessary.
For example, public awareness and sensitization about the Voters Roll Update(VRU) process is very poor and needs to be ramped up. Also, poor and ineffective communication about the referendum which is to be held concomitantly with the elections may likely result in poor turn out at the polls, particularly outside Montserrado County.
This is because voter turnout during Representative and Senatorial elections are generally poor and any results gained therefrom on the referendum may be hampered by credibility and legitimacy issues.