When President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf commissioned two new Commissioners of the National Elections Commission (NEC) last Monday, she warned the NEC to ensure the protection of the state from any disturbance by demonstrating neutralism and efficiency. The President urged the NEC Commissioners to build trust in Liberians to accept the election results. She went further to acknowledge concerns raised by people and institutions in the process, specifically pointing out the voter registration and exhibition exercises wherein the Election Coordinating Committee expressed dissatisfaction over the way they were done.
This newspaper, the Daily Observer, in a recent editorial, had sounded similar warning to NEC chairman Jerome Korkoya and his team of Commissioners. Under the title, “Korkoya, Please Handle Our Election with Care,” we underscored unfolding instances that may possibly result to conflict if the election is not managed properly, fairly and honestly. These instances, in fact, continue to unfold. There is no independent body to conduct a poll to determine who is on top of other candidates in terms of popularity in the ongoing campaign; yet some parties are already claiming victory. From the exhibition, a dark cloud grew over the credibility of the NEC, especially when the chairman, Jerome Korkoya, said “Even if a registered voter’s name does not appear on the list but has a valid voter card, he/she will be eligible to vote.”
At that point, many people wondered again as to how credible the election would be when the registration period was full of irregularities that led some to have more than one voting ID card. Although pulling crowds in a campaign does not necessarily guarantee that people turning out are going to vote for that particular candidate, some candidates have turned delusive in believing that they have a greater share of the voting populace, judging from the crowds they see. Last weekend we heard the ruling Unity Party speaking of detecting foul play and implicating NEC in tactically devising a strategy to tamper with the election results in favor of an unspecified opposition political party. Meanwhile, the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) was heard accusing UP standard bearer, Joseph Nyuma Boakai, of planning with some foreign agents to assassinate George Weah. Prior to these instances, George Weah himself had warned in his speech during the launch of CDC’s campaign that NEC must be careful and honest not to tamper with the election result.
These are all serious concerns of suspicion that this particular election is risking both peace and violence, depending on the way it is conducted. NEC, therefore, needs to know that it is sitting on a time bomb that could explode at any time if it does not manage this election in a way that will win the confidence of the Liberian people and international partners. We can candidly say that continuation of the 14 years of peace we have enjoyed will depend on the outcome of the pending election. As President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf cautions NEC Commissioners to exert efficiency and neutrality in the election, she, too, must avoid suspicious interference with the election since she is not participating in it this time as a candidate.
Though we have heard her say that she supports her Vice President, members of the very Unity Party are suspicious of her status in the electoral process. Indeed, a very high UP official told the Daily Observer recently, “one foot here and one foot there,” referring to the mixed signals the President has demonstrated during the course of the campaign. There is mounting speculation that despite her public pronouncement of support for Boakai, she is instead underhandedly supporting Charles W. Brumskine of Liberty Party (LP). Brumskine had once commented on this and insulted the Vice President for his alleged connection with the speculation.
Just in recent days, rumors circulated that the sudden switching to the CDC of Gbehzohngar Findley, one of Ellen’s closest confidantes, is driving the President to support that party instead of Liberty Party that had earlier been suspected. While all these scenarios may be treated as unsubstantiated rumors, the fact remains that the President has the constitutional right to support whomever she wishes. There is also fear that her influence could drive the NEC to do what she may wish. After all, she has remained completely silent on the controversy regarding chairman Korkoya’s alleged holding of an American passport. Many are wondering why did not the President call in Mr. Korkoya and ask him pointedly: “Do you hold an American passport?”
Apart from the one-party system which, under the True Whig Party, dominated Liberian politics for more than a century, the Unity Party led-government, headed by President Sirleaf, is the first in 73 years that is expected constitutionally to hand over power to another administration. Since all Liberians, including President Sirleaf, expect this positive history-setting to come to pass, let the NEC set the basis for it by being fair, honest and transparent, and let the President play a neutral role to ensure the fulfillment of this historic peaceful transition.