The Elections Coordinating Committee (EEC), a local civil society organization, has been reviewing certain issues that are critical to the impending 2017 presidential and general elections. Those elections are crucial and historic because they will pave the way for the first peaceful and orderly transition of one democratically elected administration to another that we have seen in a long time.
Liberians can hardly believe, yet it is true, that the last democratic and peaceful transfer of power from one administration, following an election, to another took place in January, 1944, when President Edwin J. Barclay, following his voluntary retirement from office, ceded power to President William V.S.
Tubman. That would be every bit of 72 years ago!
There are roughly 14 months to the ensuing elections. All Liberians are called to pray, to think, to work and to strategize to ensure that these elections are held in a peaceful, free, fair and transparent manner to facilitate this peaceful transition from one administration to another that we all want, need and hope for.
Such elections will demonstrate to the world that Liberians are indeed a serious people, who know what belongs to their peace, progress and prosperity.
Among the issues discussed by participants in the ECC forum last week was the legal framework within which the 2017 elections will be held. Elections, said ECC Chair Oscar Bloh, are held based on laws and regulations, and if these are not responsive to the current situation, especially in the political context, then they “pose challenges for holding free, fair and transparent elections.”
This, we think, is a cogent word of caution that the National Elections Commission (NEC) needs to note as it formulates and concludes the preparation for the ensuing elections.
But we believe that one of the most serious issues discussed in the recent ECC forum is that of voter education, especially as it relates to the tens of thousands of our young people who would have just turned 18 by the October elections, when they will be casting their first votes in a national election.
What should they look for in each of the candidates—presidential and legislative, among whom these new voters—and indeed all voters—must choose? How should each of our new voters, for the first time, approach the ballot box?
But before even reaching the line to be scrutinized and confirmed as voters, when, where and how should these new potential voters register to vote? And once they have registered, how should they present themselves to the election officials to prove their eligibility to vote? This is a very important question because we remember how following the 2011 elections the Unity Party (UP), winner of those elections, boasted that many mothers, supporters of UP, had hidden their children’s voting cards to prevent them from voting for the opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC).
We pray that NEC will begin the Voter Registration Education Campaign early to acquaint all voters, but most especially our new voters, with all the Registration procedures. The Education Campaign for Election Day itself should specify when and where voters should go to cast their votes. This campaign should also be launched in time to ensure that every voter will be duly informed about the schedule.
New voters should also be instructed on how to mark the ballots.
NEC, in this Voter Education Campaign, should make allowance for and pay keen attention to those new voters who are unlettered; lest some of them mismark the ballot papers by voting for the wrong candidate and, in the process, commit political suicide.
We call on the Liberian government to make available all the necessary funding for the Voter Registration and Election Day preparations, so that there will be no last minute hitches. The importance and urgency of these elections dictate that the government does everything necessary to ensure that funding is adequately made available so that the process is conducted smoothly and successfully to the finish.