The just ended Montserrado County by-elections have indeed traveled a tortuous path, whipped up emotions that ran high and, in some cases, resulted in violence. The elections are now over and in a very unprecedented twist of events, the ruling CDC found its grip over the Montserrado county electorate loosened with the loss of the Senatorial seat to opposition candidate Darius Dillon, with the District#15 Representative seat threatened by a newbie whose candidacy was dismissed by President Weah, swearing that neither she, her father or relative would ever win elections in Liberia.
As if the taunts by the President was all they needed, the electorate turned out in significant numbers — sufficient enough to clinch the seat defeating his CDC female candidate. The District#15 elections were however marred by charges of fraud and irregularities and complaints from the opposition were filed before the National Elections Commission (NEC).
The matter is now being investigated and hopes are high that those investigations will be concluded soon, and the results made public in order to ease the growing tension. In many respects, the just concluded by-elections can be considered a dress rehearsal for Presidential and Legislative elections in 2023, when the stakes will be even higher.
The unprecedented spate of complaints that ended up at the Supreme Court, following the 2014 elections, for example, suggested that the National Elections Commission (NEC) needed to urgently overhaul the elections complaint mechanism in order to inspire greater public confidence.
Under current arrangements, the complaint mechanism is handled solely by NEC. Its hearing officers are all NEC employees, while Commissioners serve in an appellate capacity. Critics contend that such arrangements place the NEC in a position of judge, jury and executioner. Recommendations calling for the setting up of an ad hoc tribunal, composed of judges to handle elections disputes in order to reduce the burden on the Supreme Court, have since not been implemented.
Additionally, the Final Registration Roll (FRR), which is key to holding free, fair, transparent and credible elections, have yet to be cleaned despite a mandate from the Supreme Court to do so in 2017. This situation has given rise to claims that the elections results were fixed.
This newspaper recalls that the integrity of the 2017 elections results was called into question, because it had been discovered that the FRR contained many duplications which, if left uncorrected, would have compromised the integrity of those elections results.
The matter was taken to the Supreme Court amid palpable tension that left the entire nation virtually on edge. While the Court ruled that alleged fraud and reported irregularities did occur, they did not constitute a margin significant enough to warrant a rerun as had been prayed for by the parties.
Nevertheless, the Court concluded and ruled that the FRR in question did indeed contain duplications which, if left to stand, would have compromised the integrity of the results.
Accordingly, a clean-up of the FRR was mandated by the Supreme Court but which was never done and, as the evidence now shows, the same compromised Roll was used during the just-ended by-elections. Going forward, it means the country stands the risk of instability and possible relapse into a spiral of violence if such concerns are left unaddressed.
This should be considered instructive in view of impending senatorial by-elections in Grand Cape Mount County, owing to the recent passing of Senator Edward Dagoseh.
Another matter of concern is the use of Electoral Districts for elections purposes which is unconstitutional.
Electoral Districts have no fixed population figures, and such have not only given rise to trucking of voters from one Electoral District to the next, it has, in equal measure enhanced possibilities for the perpetration of fraud.
Admittedly, Electoral Districts came into use in 2003, following the end of the civil war and the use thereof was intended to address problems created by massive population dislocations caused by the civil war and also because the country was at the time ill prepared to conduct a national census on whose results constituencies can be demarcated as provided for in the Constitution under Article 80, section c, d, and e, carried below for enhanced understanding.
And they read:
c) Every Liberian citizen shall have the right to be registered in a constituency, and to vote in public elections only in the constituency where registered, either in person or by absentee ballot; provided that such citizen shall have the right to change his voting constituency as may be prescribed by the Legislature.
d) Each constituency shall have an approximately equal population of 20,000, or such number of citizens as the legislature shall prescribe in keeping with population growth and movements as revealed by a national census; provided that the total number of electoral constituencies in the Republic shall not exceed one hundred.
e) Immediately following a national census and before the next election, the Elections Commission shall reapportion the constituencies in accordance with the new population figures so that every constituency shall have as close to the same population as possible; provided, however, that a constituency must be solely within a county.
The Legislature must awaken to this problem which is laden with potential for conflict. Under current arrangements, based on the constitutionally provided 20,000 threshold per constituency, some counties are underrepresented in the National Legislature including Bong, Nimba and Montserrado — especially Bong — where there have been stirrings for a split into two counties.
These are unfinished business for both the Legislature and the National Elections Commission which should be considered exigent.