Elections Schedule Must Remain On Course


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
May 18, 2005


Many Liberians and observers of Liberian politics were surprised by the latest move of the National Transitional Assembly (NTLA) to appeal to the international community and the National Elections Commission to postpone elections for two more months because of inclement weather. The august body unanimously passed a resolution, which, if adopted, would move the date of the suffrage from October to December 2005.

This very important resolution was discussed in chambers and was only known to the public after it was adopted. Why was there no public debate about such an important decision? Why were all stakeholders, including funding sources, the executive branch, and the general public not included in the debate about the suggested changes?.

There are many reasons why elections in a post war country like Liberia could be postponed. If disarmament had stalled, no doubt the majority of Liberians would have asked that the process be postponed. If last hour technical difficulties had surfaced, there would have been a reason for postponement. But rain and road conditions? Were the weather conditions not known to the decision makers when the elections were scheduled? .

Could there be other reasons than the weather why the voter’s registration is not going well? Could the lack of enthusiasm on the part the electorate be because they are tired of being taken for ride by their leaders? . Could it also be that those in charge of informing the public about the importance of registering to vote did not launch a well thought out public relations campaign? . Could it simply be that everyone is waiting for the last minute to register. These are not enough reasons to postpone elections. Adding about two months to the registration process, even if ill advised, could have resolved the matter.

The resolution calls for the postponement of the date of the elections but not that of the inauguration of the new government still to be held in mid-January. The difference is that according to the current calendar, there will be a government in waiting on November 1, 2005, a government legally empowered to carry out certain tasks and therefore limiting the capacities of the outgoing lame duck administration. If elections were to be postponed, such a situation would not occur until January 1, 2006, or even later.

There is something uneasy about this resolution. The lawmakers may sincerely and truly believe that by postponing the elections date for two months, they would help the process. But did they not know when they passed the elections law a few months ago that the rainfall was likely during those months? As lawmakers representing their counties, did they not travel those roads to visit their constituents? What does the process gain by moving the goalposts? Are there any plans to repair the roads that would have been even more damaged after the raining season prior to elections?

It is common knowledge that politicians have been touring the country for months. Chairman Bryant himself (to his credit) has traveled across the breadth and length of the nation, including visits to Lofa twice in recent weeks. Members of the international community have been plying the roads to provide relief and peace to in the countryside as well. Why has none of these groups or people called for postponement of the elections?

In a situation as fragile as Liberia finds itself, moving the goal posts in the course of a major political exercise such as elections could set a dangerous and slippery precedent. The lawmakers owe it to themselves and the rest of the nation to give rational reasons why the elections should be postponed and what would be done to correct the situation. The upcoming elections will not be perfect in anyway. There are still thousands of Liberians in refugee camps across West Africa and in displaced centers in Liberia who might even take part in the process. But in the end, the elections will usher in a government that is accountable to someone.

If there were adjustments to be made in the electoral schedules, we would suggest that:

1. Registration be open and continuous until the final list of voters is compiled and printed;

2. Campaign period be extended, backwards not forward, that it is allowed to begin in August and not September, giving ample time to candidates to reach wherever they need to go to campaign;

3. Elections are held on October 11, 2005 as scheduled.

4. Although directly unrelated to the issue at hand, if the Transitional National is really committed to furthering democracy in Liberia, the assembly needs to put into motion the process of amending articles 45 of the Liberian constitution which calls for the election of Senators for nine years and article 50 which calls for the election of the president of Liberia for six years to the election of senators for six years and the president to four years during or two weeks before the national elections. This bold step by the assembly, would demonstrate to the Liberian people and the international community that it is truly committed to good governance in Liberia.

The perspective says no to any back door maneuver by the Liberian assembly to hang on to power. The process must move ahead.