By all accounts, these by-elections appear to be a dress rehearsal for the 2020 and 2023 elections. And, judging by the current outlook, those elections as well as any future elections before 2020. A key issue of contention which keeps arising is that of the Final Registration Rolls (FRR) which, in some cases, have proved problematic as some individuals who showed up to vote had problems with their Voter Registration cards. In a number of instances, duplication of Voter ID numbers was observed.
For example, there are questions why several Voter ID numbers begin with the number 7 and end with the same number 7. Also, there are issues about names not matching ages and a host of other contentious issues surrounding the FRR and, if those issues are left unaddressed, the likelihood that future elections may turn violent cannot be ruled out.
As evidenced by reports of violence in some areas during yesterday’s by-elections in District #15 and also as evidenced by the recent violent attack on opposition candidate, Telia Urey, future elections could be plagued by an even greater degree of violence should these warning signs be ignored.
As regards the integrity of the FRR, it can be recalled that in the run up to the 2017 elections, it was also recorded that several individuals were caught engaged in fraudulent registration and, in some cases, illegal cross-border registration. One such individual caught in illegal Voter Registration was an official working in the office of then President Sirleaf.
He was caught red-handed with a stash of voting materials, including equipment to produce fake registration cards, right in his Johnsonville home. And there is no evidence on the record that anyone was ever prosecuted for those illegal acts.
However, the integrity of the Voters Roll (FRR) was called into question by opposition political parties and they eventually placed a challenge in the Supreme Court. But before then NEC Chairman Jerome Korkoya had appeared before the Liberian Senate to provide insight into reasons for the spate of complaints raised in the public about the integrity of the FRR, which the political parties claimed had been compromised. And a NEC Commissioner, stressing the importance and relevance of an integrity compliant FRR, openly argued that from the look of things, the FRR had indeed been compromised.
It was not surprising therefore that the Supreme Court, after having become seized of the matter, concurred and ordered a clean-up of the FRR before the holding of the 2017 run-off elections. But the NEC chairman, instead, ignored the Supreme Court’s mandate and proceeded to hold the elections on the basis of a compromised FRR. While the NEC chairman was in one breath falsely claiming the FRR was being cleaned up, yet in the other breath the NEC had placed the same compromised FRR on display in a remote Lofa County village.
Now two years later today, the very same issues continue to confront Voters who turned up to vote in the District#15 elections, which have been attended by some violence. Thus, as a result of the dereliction on the part of the NEC to sanitize the compromised FRR, problems have once again arisen and, as noted, if these irregularities on the FRR are not with forthwith, they may likely produce outcomes which may endanger the security and stability of the country.
These are matters that should be a preoccupation of the nation’s political parties. However, being weak as they are, opposition political parties have not vigorously pursued this issue as would be expected. Clannish and self-seeking leaders of most political parties already appear to be jostling for preeminence and ascendancy in a crowded political field, which may likely become even more crowded as the 2023 presidential and legislative elections approach.
Another issue which appears to be of benign concern to political parties is the imperative of returning to Constituency-based elections, which can be used for national development planning purposes, as opposed to Electoral District-based elections. Constituencies have fixed population figures as opposed to Electoral Districts which have no fixed population figure and which lends easily to fraudulent acts, such as the trucking of voters from one District to the next.
The Liberian political classes — “opposition” as well as “no position” and “ruling position” — as Independence Day Orator Leymah Gbowee put it during her Independence Day oration, need to awaken to these imperatives. If left unattended or treated with benign concern, then we should not be surprised, should future elections produce outcomes inimical to the peace, stability and security of the nation.
Indeed, these are national imperatives which have now become exigent.