The Daily Observer in its July 3, 2018 edition reported that official campaigning for the senatorial by-elections began yesterday, and that the elections will be held on July 29, 2018. The elections had been postponed owing to what the NEC Chairman Jerome Korkoya said was the lack of money to hold the elections.
But the postponement of the elections was sure to draw fire from civil society including political parties who argued that not holding the elections was tantamount to a violation of Article 37 of the Constitution which inter alia states:
“In the event of a vacancy in the Legislature caused by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise, the Presiding officer shall within 30 days notify the Elections Commission thereof. The Elections Commission shall, not later than 90 days thereafter cause a by-election to be held, provided that where such vacancy occurs within 90 days prior to the holding of general elections, the filling of the vacancy shall await the holding of such general elections.”
It can be recalled that the National Elections Commission (NEC) had announced that it needed US$3.9 million to conduct the by-elections but this figure was rejected by Finance Minister Samuel Tweah who argued that government of Liberia lacked the money requested by the NEC to hold the by-elections.
After a drawn-out standoff accompanied by mounting public pressure, and with some donor assistance coming in, the government caved in and provided the additional required amount. This led the NEC to announce the July 29 date for holding the by-elections. But these elections, like previous ones, are more likely than not to generate considerable tension and disputations if results and experience of the past elections are anything to go by.
It can ALSO be recalled that the 2014 special senatorial elections produced so much contestations and disputations that eventually landed at the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, for unexplained reasons delayed the hearing of those disputes for prolonged periods. In some cases, political compromises were reached between contending parties while in others, the matter was decided but not without expressed public displeasure over the outcomes.
Until very recently, elections disputes arising from the conduct of the 2017 elections were still being adjudicated. As expected, the forthcoming elections are likely to be accompanied by acrimony which may eventually lead to court. Recalling the experience of the last elections, the integrity of the Voters Roll proved to be a major contentious issue that landed before the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court had ruled, following complaints from several parties that the Voters Roll was compromised and that the NEC cleaned up the Rolls before holding the runoff elections. Although the Supreme Court’s ruling had ordered the NEC to clean up the Voters Roll before the conduct of the 2017 by-elections, the NEC, against the protest of contesting parties proceeded to hold the elections without cleaning up the Voters Rolls as had been ordered by the Supreme Court.
However, at the time the NEC claimed that it was involved in cleaning up the Voters Roll, it was already displaying the fraudulent Rolls at a remote village in Kolahun District, Lofa County. The parties ran back to the Supreme Court for relief but that was not forthcoming for it became clear that Justices of the Supreme Court, for strange reasons, had appeared powerless to act in defense of its own mandate given to NEC to clean up the Rolls. The rest is now history.
But international partners supporting the process in post elections observations cautioned that transparency in future electoral processes, especially in the preparation of the Voters Rolls, be observed. Further the partners also recognized that mechanisms for resolving elections dispute needed to be overhauled and made more independent and transparent.
As preparations now get underway for the holding of the Bong and Montserrado counties by-elections, the Daily Observer cannot help but warn of the unforeseen consequences of holding elections based on a Voters Roll that has since been acknowledged to be fraudulent by the Supreme Court.
Its determination gave rise to its instructions to the NEC to clean up the Voters Roll before the holding of elections. As noted by former NEC Finance Director, Joseph Duana who resigned his post in protest against what he claimed was the fraudulent behavior of NEC officials in the handling of the 2014 Special Senatorial elections, how can the Liberian people for instance trust the population figures put up by NEC when the same Voters Roll which contained thousands of duplicated names is going to be used in these elections? The Rolls have never ever been cleaned as had been directed by the Supreme Court in the aftermath of the October 2017 elections.
But according to NEC of the 2.1 million registered voters for the 2017 elections, Bong has 208,123 voters, while Montserrado has 778,291. With the two combined, the NEC expects 986,414 registered voters to participate in the up-coming elections. The two counties have a total of 2,292 polling places, with 1,790 in Montserrado alone, while 502 are in Bong County.
NEC chairman Korkoya says these figures “represent 43 percent of the total number of 5,390 polling places in the country.” And according to him an estimated 12,000 temporary field staff, including poll workers, gender mobilizers, civic educators and electors and election supervisors will be required for the two by-elections.
The key question is how can Liberians trust that the actual number of ballots printed by NEC does not far exceed requirements as was the case during the 2017 general elections when ballots were printed far in excess of requirements?
This newspaper recalls the very contentious results of the 2014 Special Senatorial elections and the political compromise reached between candidates Henrique Tokpa and then incumbent, Jewel Howard Taylor, and the burning of ballots from River Gee County well before the Supreme Court had even decided the matter.
This newspaper also recalls the very polarized situation in Nimba County Electoral Districts 4 and 8 where opposing candidates in the race for the House of Representatives have virtually gone to each other throats to resolve matters arising out of elections related disputes.
We have cited all these instances to warn the nation of the potential dangers of going to elections using a fraudulent Voters Registry. As the clock ticks towards July 29, we can only hope that this time the NEC will get it right.
The protective shield of UNMIL is no longer here to keep the peace and from experience we must not lose sight of the fact that a fraudulent Voters Roll can only produce fraudulent results which will eventually lead to legal challenges and who knows what else should our Supreme Court find itself wanting as it did during the last elections when it appeared completely powerless to act in defense of its own mandate.
The NEC should and must heed warnings of the unforeseen dangers of using a fraudulent Voters Registry to conduct the elections. We need not say more!