The NEC letter addressed to the Press Union of Liberia requesting that body’s assistance to conduct civic voter education before the holding of the December 8 polls have raised a specter of uncertainty about the fate of the elections.
This is because all the signs appear to suggest that Commissioners are at a complete loss as to what has to be done to bring this process to a successful conclusion. NEC’s ever-changing timelines bear testimony to this.
For example, Elections Magistrates are reportedly experiencing great difficulties in obtaining requisite supplies to do their work. Nearly all of them are said to be in Monrovia still awaiting logistics.
Sources say that unlike before, Magistrates are now being allotted with 200 gallons of gasoline across the board for use, which includes the fueling of their vehicles for the return trip to their respective assignments.
It must not be forgotten that some of these Magistrates come from far off areas that are difficult to access which requires greater consumption of fuel. Additionally some of this fuel is also intended to run office generators and to fuel vehicles to facilitate movements within their respective assigned areas.
More to that is the non-availability of cameras to use for the update of the Voters Registry/Roll(VR). The VR to be used in the December 8 elections appears to be, for all intents and purposes, the same compromised Voters Roll used in the 2017 Presidential elections.
A Supreme Court ruling on the matter conceded that the VR was indeed compromised or corrupted and accordingly ordered its clean-up before the holding of the elections, but its mandate was never carried out although the elections were held.
Further to issues of the VR, is the proposal advanced by the NEC Chairperson, Davidetta Brown Lansanah to conduct what she called “mobile update”. But she is fully aware that NEC had previously experimented with mobile registration.
That experiment in 2014 proved to be a disastrous failure. In fact, according to sources, mobile updating and registration will encourage voter trucking and could eventually brew confusion.
At this time of the year, which is at the height of the rainy season, why would NEC be conducting mobile registration when it is clear from the get go that a good number of mobile teams may not get to their destinations within the specified time owing to bad road conditions?
This makes all reasons why the decision to stick to mobile registration seems farfetched and illusionary.
Another key concern is the virtual lack of public awareness on the issues concerning changes to the Constitution in the proposed referendum, which is scheduled to be held alongside the elections or concomitantly, so to speak.
Aside from flashy giant-sized posters bearing President Weah’s photo with messages that convey virtually no meaning, there has been little or nothing heard of any civic voter education activities undertaken by NEC recently.
Also of troubling concern are reports that the NEC Chair, Lansanah, called a meeting of stakeholders to discuss elections matters. Notably absent were representatives of political parties.
That the NEC would declare a meeting in which political parties were absent as ‘successful consultations with stakeholders’ suggests that Chairperson Lansanah is not as familiar as she ought to be, with the Constitution of Liberia.
The role and raison d’etre of political parties is enshrined in Article 77 of the Constitution as shown below.
a. “Since the essence of democracy is free competition of ideas expressed by political parties and political groups as well as by individuals, parties may freely be established to advocate the political opinions of the people. Laws, regulations, decrees or measures, which might have the effect of creating a one-party state shall be declared unconstitutional”.
More to that, Chairperson Lansanah should never lose sight of the fact that the credibility of the elections over which she is to preside will, to a large extent, hinge on the participation of political parties. This means that the NEC should constructively engage political parties and ensure that the rules are fair and transparent.
While it is important to engage chiefs, traditional leaders and others including civil society groups, it is even more important to engage political parties as they represent and articulate the political views of the people.
From the overall look of things, these forthcoming elections, aside from being grossly underfunded, missteps on the part of NEC amongst others could torpedo its successful outcome and create uncertainties for which there could be consequences unforeseen.
NEC must awaken to its responsibilities and act responsibly. Changing timelines in the electoral process is a recipe for trouble and the sooner the Chairperson can realize this, the better it will be for us all.