March 11, 2011
In 2005, Liberians, proving to themselves and to the world that they were ready to take their seat among the comity of nations of the civilized world, participated in an electoral process, despite all of its inadequacies, to make history for Liberia and Africa. This was a historic first for Liberia when it elected its first female president in almost a century and the half of its existence as a Republic. This was also a first for the continent of Africa, when for the very first time in all of Africa, a female President was elected to the office of the Presidency in a continent that has been mostly dominated by male leaders since its colonial and postcolonial history.
Despite numerous reported irregularities, by most acceptable international standards, the elections of 2005 were considered free and fair. And in the spirit of peace and tranquility, the elections were accepted by all stakeholders and the Liberian people. But after almost 5 years since the ushering in of a new, constitutionally-elected government, the strength of our democracy continues to remain fragile. Sure enough, all of the gains made thus far could be undermined by the continuing institutional weaknesses and the glaring lack of will by the political leadership to address and confront the very problems that persisted in the last election cycle. The failure by the national leaders to address these problems and their total disregard to accept meaningful suggestions, are causing serious concern about future peace and tranquility as we approach the 2011 elections cycle.
As the country prepares to hold its second and most significant elections in October 2011, the key question being asked and the challenge it faces, is whether it is ready to conduct a free, fair, transparent, and credible elections. Whereas in 2005, the elections were internationally-supervised and managed by the UN, ECOWAS, EU, AU, among others, supported by an avalanche of goodwill from ordinary people from all parts of the world who espoused the universal right of mankind to exercise their freedom of choice, this 2011 elections will be fully-owned by the Liberian people, with the international community playing only a supportive role this time around.
The National Elections Commission (NEC), is the body charged with the responsibility of managing this process, by putting in place all of the procedures necessary to conduct a successful electoral outcome. With the elections only 8 months away, Liberians and the international community are very much concerned as to whether the NEC is institutionally and politically equipped to perform its responsibilities. Can the country achieve a successful electoral process- one that will be largely owned and managed by its own people? Is Liberia ready to join the company of other countries like Sierra Leone, Ghana, Senegal, and South Africa, all of whom have had successful elections? Or will Liberia go down the path of its next door neighbor, the Ivory Coast.
Like other democratic voices, The Coalition of Liberian Professionals For Grassroots Democracy (COL), strongly believes that election matters and, having a successful elections in 2011 matters most as this will solidify the foundation for strengthening the Liberian democratic process. The COL believes that one sure way of guaranteeing electoral success is by strengthening the Voters Registration Process, ensuring that all those who are eligible to vote, including the youth who would turn 18 years old this June, be encouraged to register and participate in this process. COL believes that all votes must count! A good measure of success would be determined by the increase in the percentage of the Voters Participation Rate, up from the threshold reported in 2005.
Judging from what is unfolding thus far from the ongoing Voters Registration Process, which was extended by another week after numerous outcries from the Liberian populace and the international community; this does not appear to look right for the 2011 elections. COL believes that from its beginning, the ongoing registration process has been fraught with serious problems which are not being properly addressed by the NEC. First and foremost, the NEC, either by an act of commission or omission, has demonstrated a glaring disregard and violation of the Liberian Constitution in the early stages of the electoral process. These violations began with the passage of the controversial Threshold Bill. This bill which was passed into law under darkness, and away from the bright eyes of the Liberian people, has been viewed by many keen observers, including national and international legal scholars, to be inconsistent with the Liberian Constitution.
Today, majority of Liberians are not aware of what this bill contains and how it affects their Right to Vote! This bill has been signed into law by the President of Liberia, and is currently being implemented by the NEC. Some Liberians have challenged the illegal and unconstitutional basis of this bill, but their pleas and lawsuits have been ignored by the nation’s highest court, The Supreme Court. By its failure to adhere to the constitution of the Republic, the NEC has created an environment of distrust and confusion related to the ongoing electoral process.
Second, doubts have not only been cast on the constitutionality of the process, but more and more questions have been raised about the potential political disenfranchisement of thousands of Liberians from the process. In its initial reporting of the results of the voters’ registration process, the NEC Chairman, Mr. James Fromayan, acknowledged that it failed to achieve its projected estimate of 2.1 million voters. The NEC further confirmed that only 38% of the estimated 2.1million voters have registered. What does this mean for our democracy? And should we accept this low voters participation during this first phase of the electoral process? Should Liberians be satisfied with less than 50% participation come October 2011?
The COL believes that what has contributed to the further erosion of the process, is the NEC’s registration of voters without the reapportionment of Electoral Constituencies as enshrined in Article 80© and e of the Liberian Constitution. Article 80© gives “every Liberian citizen the right to be registered in a constituency, and to vote in public elections on only in the constituency where registered either in person or by absentee ballot; provided that such citizen shall have the right to his voting constituency as may be prescribed by the legislature.” Also, Article 80(e) of the constitution, requires the NEC to “immediately following a National Census and before the next elections, reapportion the constituencies in accordance with the new population figures so that every constituency shall have as close to the same population as possible…” The Population Census was conducted since March 2008; and it is now more than two years counting, and the NEC has failed in its responsibility of conducting the reapportionment of legislative constituencies to reflect the new population distribution. By arrogating unto itself extra-constitutional powers, outside its governing responsibilities, and pursuing an illegal course, the NEC has made itself a problem in an electoral process that has all the trappings of a flawed process.
The NEC has run amok by not reapportioning legislative constituencies before carrying out voters’ registration!
The Coalition of Liberian Professionals For Grassroots Democracy also calls attention to the fact that this illegal course of action of the NEC not only disenfranchises the Liberian voter, but would also lead to the potential disqualification of Candidates in the event they are relocated in legislative constituencies that they have not domiciled in for one year prior to the date of the 2011 elections. For example, Article 30(b) of the Liberian Constitution requires candidates of the House of Representatives to “be domiciled in the constituency to be represented not less than a year prior to the time of the election…”
The COL believes that while the NEC bears greater responsibility for ensuring that all Liberians eligible to vote fully participates in this process, responsibility also rests with each and every Liberian voter, political parties, and the larger civic society. With continuing disturbing reports about individuals, politicians, and political parties, aiding and abetting in an already flawed process, Liberians and those with vested interest in Liberia, more than ever before, have to be vigilant, to ensure a corruption-free process.
The COL cannot overstate the importance of the October elections, and how that is hinged to the health of our infant democracy. The COL believes that this is a one- time opportunity Liberians have to make sure what has gone wrong with our Electoral Process in the past, is made Right. COL firmly believes that the following steps must be taken right away to help strengthen the electoral process before the October elections and for the Future of our democracy:
1. That the National Elections Commission be Re-constituted immediately into a nonpartisan institution to include representatives from all walks of life of the Liberian society. The numerous calls to have the Commission reconstituted should be heeded to restore Trust and Confidence in this electoral body;
2. The Commission should immediately publish the 2005 Voters List and the Current Voters List based on results it has received from the Voters Registration Process;
3. Adhering to requirements as stipulated in the Liberian constitution, Legislative Constituencies must be demarcated, to be followed by a New Voters Registration Process;
4. Liberia’s international Partners and Stakeholders should manage this process side by side with the newly-reconstituted Elections Commission; and
5. Finally, The Liberian Supreme Court, must now live up to its constitutional responsibility by addressing grievances that have been filed or will be filed with this court as the process proceeds.
The Coalition of Liberian Professionals for Grassroots Democracy believes that every Liberian has a vested interest in the health and viability of our democracy, and the direction of long-term growth and development of our country we all claim as home. The COL is convinced that this nation is poised for greatness, but to achieve this, we all must pledge allegiance to uphold the Republic for which it stands by doing what we know is Right! Now is the time to fix what is wrong before it is too late!
James Kpanneh Doe
Acting Executive Director
Coalition of Liberian Professionals for Grassroots Democracy
Edwin N. Dennis
Director, Legal & Constitutional Affairs
ISSUED FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2011