Reflections on the Just Ended Senatorial Elections and Referendum

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The specter of violence rearing its ugly head during the elections as it did during the pre-electoral period simply fizzled out as Liberians trooped peacefully to the polls to cast their votes.

Prior to the December 8 vote, there had been fears that the elections would have been characterized by violence in view of the recent violent incidents in Grand Cape Mount County.

The convoy of vehicles carrying CPP senatorial contestant Simeon Taylor was allegedly attacked by CDC supporters and set ablaze.

Before then, there had been a spate of violent attacks mounted against opposition politicians by supporters of the CDC, beginning from the attack on opposition candidate Cornelia Kruah Togba in District 13 in 2018, Telia Urey in the 2019 District 17 elections, and the stoning of opposition politicians Alexander Cummings and Representative Yekeh Kolubah in Zwedru.

Those violent attacks had succeeded in conveying a distinct message that anyone or party opposing the CDC should expect to be treated in similar fashion. And this was clearly demonstrated in Grand Cape Mount County just a day or two prior to the December 8 elections.

Perhaps such violent tactics were aimed at intimidating the opposition in order to discourage challenges to the CDC dominance of the country’s political landscape.

And to ensure sweeping victory at the polls, no stone was left unturned. CDC officials, including Montserrado County senatorial aspirant Thomas Fallah, were seen at various places around Monrovia distributing wads of cash (LD$500 banknotes) to potential voters.

Finance Minister Tweah, according to eyewitness accounts, was seen on 18th Street on the morning of December 8, distributing US dollars to supporters to go out and vote for the CDC.  

Despite the challenges, and there were many, the vote went peacefully. For example, Poll workers recruited by NEC on a non-contractual basis were forced to spend virtually the entire day at the various polling centers without being fed, quite unlike previous past elections.

According to some poll workers (identities withheld) spoken to, NEC had recruited them with mere promises to pay, absent any contract binding NEC to pay them following rendition of their services.

At some polling centers, for example, polling workers were using nails with stones as hammers, rather than perforators to punch holes into voters’ ID cards, following the vote. Additionally, many voters reported that the indelible ink used could be easily washed off with a chlorine solution.

Voters were also turned away because their names did not appear on the Final Registration Roll (FRR). One of such voters was popular Liberian Reggae musician Rabbie Nasrallah, commonly known as Nasseman.

He and his fiancée were both turned away at the CDB King polling center on Camp Johnson Road and Benson Street, where they had, in previous elections, cast their votes. Polling staff had insisted that he referred the matter to NEC for solution.

According to Nasseman, he was encouraged by friends to access the NEC website and enter his voting ID number. He did and his name popped up. He then returned to the polling center and displayed what he had obtained. Only then was he allowed to vote.

Reports now coming from the counties point to serious shortcomings on the part of NEC. Its Chairperson Davidetta Browne Lansanah admits that in some areas there were no polling staff. In other areas the wrong ballots were sent, thus denying people there the right to vote.

Madame Lansanah has told journalists that those denied will be allowed to vote later before the official vote-count period expires. Whether this is in keeping with law is unclear. But it draws into question the ability and competence of the entire NEC Board of Commissioners.

Prior to the election of President Weah, Liberia had experienced 2 successful Presidential elections back to back and several by-elections, which should have provided sufficient lessons learnt as well as guidance on how to conduct well-planned successful elections.

From the outset, its Chairperson began with missteps, some of which were deliberate and in contravention of the law such as flouting PPCC regulations concerning the procurement of election materials and, against sound advice, drastically reducing the budget from US$17 million to US$13 million.

Clearly, the elections were grossly underfunded according to elections expert and former elections Commissioner Jonathan Weedor, now of the Center for Democratic Elections (CEDEM).

Prior to the elections, he had told the Daily Observer that he had warned that underfunding of the elections budget by the NEC Chairperson would have adverse consequences for the successful conduct of the elections. But such ideas were of no import, it appears, to the NEC Chairperson.

In a way, she appeared to have surrendered her authority to Minister of State, Nathaniel McGill, who took to the airwaves to declare that the referendum would go ahead despite the stay-order placed by the Supreme Court.

Legal analysts say although Commissioners Teplah Reeves and Boakai Dukuly are both lawyers, yet they failed to see the transgressions of the law inherent to the referendum plan.

Additionally, there was no official Gazette published to reflect this change as required by the Constitution.

“Where is the Gazette,” was the question posed by Darius Dillon on a local radio talk-show to Attorney-at-law Urias Goll, who had called in to support the position taken by Minister McGill to go ahead with the referendum.

Attorney Goll, a coordinator of the Rep. Thomas P. Fallah senatorial campaign team, apparently caught flat-footed, finally blurted out, “I don’t know”.

But, according to observers, such is the deceit and hypocrisy of President Weah’s officials who have, without doubt, told him tissues of lies which are now beginning to unravel.

The solemn pledge to achieve victory in Montserrado appears to have been dented by Dillon’s lead in the vote count. The massive spending of cash in Montserrado and probably elsewhere, have clearly not achieve the desired objectives.

Now as to whether these outcomes spell a death-knell for the CDC at the 2023 polls remains uncertain. What is certain is that things are no longer what they used to be.

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