The attention of the Daily Observer is drawn to a front-page story written by Daily Observer reporter Hannah Geterminah carried in its July 8, 2019 edition headlined “Cummings: Cheating, Rigging are Reasons to Postpone By-Elections”.
According to the story, Alternative National Congress (ANC) leader Alexander Cummings has accused the National Elections Commission (NEC) of intent to cheat and rig the now postponed by-elections for Montserrado County. In his words the postponement is a deliberate attempt by the ruling establishment to create enabling conditions for “cheating and rigging of the elections”.
Questioning why NEC has consistently postponed the two by-elections scheduled to have been held on July 8, 2019, Cummings noting that the postponement is but a clever ploy by the ruling party intended to stave off defeat at the polls said it is sad that NEC has allowed itself to be used as such by what he described as a ruling party caught in its death throes.
Mr. Cummings’ observations are a poignant reminder of the ill-fated results of the 1985 elections, the first free and fair democratic elections, since independence, based on one man, one vote without imposed restrictions of real property ownership in fee simple. The results were however stolen by incumbent military strong-man acting in complicity and concert with the then NEC Chairman Emmett Harmon who thundered, “These elections results are ordained by God” when faced with challenging questions about the conduct of the elections.
The resultant groundswell of ill feelings and popular discontent led to popular dissent and eventual civil war which lasted for 14 long years. Historically, elections in Liberia especially under over a hundred years of True Whig Party rule and domination have been akin to a zero sum game with the winners taking all.
Perhaps it is the allure of public official and seemingly limitless opportunities for personal advancement and self-enrichment not by hard and unceasing toil but by skimming off the fat from the national pot of milk that has driven past and even present leaders and officials to the point where they have not hesitated to spill innocent blood to ensure their continuous grip and hold on the reins of power.
In this regard, the integrity and neutrality of the National Elections Commission remains key not only to the conduct of elections but equally so to national peace and stability. As experience attests, the prolonged nature of the Liberian civil crises was rooted basically in a single factor which was and is the struggle for power and domination of the country’s political landscape.
The official conduct of President Sirleaf during her tenure for example was one of almost endless efforts and attempts to completely dominate national political and economic life. Those whose support she courted as well as those who courted her favors were all treated to the same menu –submission to her will.
The National Legislature, for example, was treated with some respect though but one which bordered on contempt. A principal leveraging tool at the disposal of the President is the Constitutionally required Presidential warrant on official expenditures above a certain determined threshold.
In effect and in real terms it means for example not even the Speaker, who is head of the Legislative branch of Government, can spend a dime without approval even though they (legislators) are the ones who approve the budget before it is passed into law. The passage into law of 66 bogus concession agreements is but a reflection of the immense power wielded by the Presidency which can either be used for good or for personal glory and self-enrichment and in a worst-case scenario for seeing off political opponents.
But for a post-conflict country still struggling to come to terms with its bloody and inglorious past, elections — credible elections are the pivot on which rests movement of the nation into a brighter future or retrogression to its bloody past. The integrity and credibility of the national body charged to oversee elections must be such that individuals who man the institution must be men and women of character, prepared if needs be to speak truth to power without fear of the consequences.
The current composition of the National Elections Commission, probably with the exception of not more than two of its membership leaves much to be desired. For the first time in the history of this country since its founding, a foreign national (US citizen) is serving as head of that body and so are two other Commissioners who hold US citizenship which is against the Constitution and laws of the country.
Additionally, its handling of the special Senatorial elections in 2014 for example saw for the first time a slew of electoral disputes reaching the Supreme Court. And then the 2017 elections which again witnessed an unusually high number of cases of electoral dispute finding their way to the Supreme Court. The wise saying “it takes two to tango”, for example, found expression in the handling of the 2017 elections. On the one hand, the nation had an iron fisted velvet gloved octogenarian entertaining elections magistrates in the privacy of her home right on the eve of elections.
Her dogged insistence on interfering with the elections drove West African leaders, speaking through Guinean President Alpha Condé to openly upbraid her, calling on her to stay above the fray, which she never did; and something for which she may now be harboring regrets, especially in view of the criminal charges levied against her son by the man whose hand she virtually held to lead him to the seat of power, trusting in the wisdom of her to be ill-fated decision.
Guided and tempered by such experience, opposition leaders appear to be reading sinister intent and motives into Chairman Korkoya’s handling of the now twice postponed by-elections, which by all accounts have now morphed into an existential threat to the 2020 and 2023 elections. Liberia certainly can and must do better!