For a beleaguered government, hemmed on all sides by a host of problems i.e. economic, governance, security and most critically the growing lack of public confidence, going at lengths to create a favorable public image by distorting the truth just to save face is not something unusual.
It is something that most governments around the world do in some shape or form when they find themselves confronted with awkward and embarrassing situations. And for this, many or most governments around the world have at their hire, spin doctors. Their job is to make governments look good and for this they are paid thousands, if not millions, of dollars.
And private media houses including PR firms play key roles in such undertakings. It is because private media houses are more likely to be trusted and believed by the public when they publish stories, basically because people normally do not trust statements /pronouncements etc., emanating from the government.
A case in point is that of the results of the referendum which was held concomitantly with the December 8 senatorial elections. Despite advice from several quarters of civil society, including the Liberian Council of Churches calling for the postponement of the referendum, NEC boss, Davidetta Browne Lansanah, strongly supported by Minister of State Nathaniel McGill, insisted the referendum would go ahead as planned.
More importantly, the Supreme Court had placed a stay on the conduct of the referendum following the hearing of a Petition filed by the CPP, advancing several reasons why the referendum should not be held.
Key amongst such reasons advanced was that of insufficient public education on the issues to be voted on as well as the time limits imposed by the Constitution requiring that the referendum be held not sooner than one year prior to the publication of an official Gazette announcing the referendum and stating reasons for its conduct.
Well, the referendum was held anyway, despite the Supreme Court’s Stay order. Results show that the number of invalid votes was significantly high and that the votes failed to attain the two-thirds majority required.
The officially proclaimed winner of the Montserrado county elections, Darius Dillon had, prior to the vote, urged all his supporters to vote NO to all the referendum proposals while his rival Thomas Fallah urged his supporters to vote YES.
At the end of the day, the records showed that Dillon had won with an overwhelming margin securing nearly a quarter of a million votes (246,000) as opposed to his rival who captured just about half (125,000 votes). As a matter of fact, the CDC lost in nearly all the counties save three (3).
But rising public concern about the referendum results prompted the December 14, 2020 editorial of the Daily Observer, questioning whether the results of the referendum were in limbo since Madame Lansanah had apparently deliberately avoided mention about its results.
Since then, NEC has announced that so far, across all 15 counties, an average of 60 percent of the ballots cast in the referendum were invalid votes — confirming warnings by civil society, the religious community, and other groups that there was not proper and sufficient voter education done on the referendum. Therefore, if any of the propositions in the referendum pass, it would be by a simple majority — not the two-thirds of registered voters requirement prescribed by the Constitution. Meanwhile, the NEC is relying on an (Section 4 (a) of the elections law under “referendum” to suggest that referendum results be calculated based on two-thirds of valid votes cast.
According to elections experts and former NEC Commissioner Jonathan Weedor and former NEC Chairman James Fromayan, now of the Center for Democratic Elections (CEDEM), the legal and constitutional requirement for the referendum to pass is two-thirds of all registered voters voting in the election, meaning 66 percent of all votes cast. This is different from the absolute majority requirement which is much easier to obtain as it requires 50 percent plus one of all votes cast.
In the opinion of the Daily Observer, this is a serious matter with deep implications for sustained peace and stability in our dear Liberia and it is one about which spin doctoring and mercenary journalism have no place.
That said, the Daily Observer calls on the NEC to release the results of the referendum forthwith in order to help lay the matter to rest. The Daily Observer also calls on opposition political parties to publicly release their tally sheets showing evidence of the referendum vote count in order to help dispel any claims that the referendum results show overwhelming approval of the 8 proposals advanced.
In the interest of peace and stability, all sides should consider it an obligation to provide the evidence. The Chairperson of the NEC, Davidetta Browne Lansanah is especially urged to publish by voting precinct/polling center/county, the results of the referendum just as was done with the results of the senatorial elections.
Remember, this is not all about money, prestige or status. It is all about Liberia, its sustained peace, stability and the future of its generations yet unborn.