As time draw closer for the ensuring October 11 elections in Liberia, there is a saying that disunity which spreads animosity among community members never succeed if the elders within the community don’t support it. We have had the bitter taste of ever ugly event in the country for the past two decades, and it is time that we solve our problems once and for all, and the only chance available at present is peaceful and transparent October 11 elections.
But, the disproportionate representation as shown by the results of voter registration may create imbalance in the House and consequently produce the worst form of Legislature in the history of the nation in recent time; hence, agree with Dr. Sawyer who had earlier called for a national conference to discuss some crucial issues before the elections.
National Elections Commission ( NEC)
My suggestion to have national conference is based on the fact that the argument presented by NEC and International Experts and followed by their recommendation to the NTLA on the Election Reform Bill was very prejudicial, and feel that it is not too late to correct the mistake. There is a common Liberian parlance parable which says, “When senior wine taper be in control of a wine tree, the spear for taping the wine can never go missing”. I believe with one mind to build and unit the country, we can set upright whatever had gone wrong.
The point here is, democracy also means minority right and was inappropriate to condemn the entire demarcation set up by past administrations. First, let’s review the argument that led to NEC’s recommendation to NTLA on the Election Reform Bill. Below is the entire text.
The Initial Argument
“The National Election Commission (NEC) and International Community argue that the 1984 Demarcation was unfair, arbitrary, and unacceptable. The allocations of Legislative seats had no constitutional basics. The number of seats that the constitution of Liberia should have had based on the constitution of Liberia was 86 since 20,000 constitutes a constituency. However, President Doe felt that the number was too large and government did not have the resource to have such a large house. He therefore reduced the number to 64.
Now, when he came up with 64, what he should have done in order to be fair was to take total population (the 2.1 million) and divide it by 64 to come up with the quota required to have a representative. That did not happen. Instead, Doe just unfairly and arbitrarily assigned seats to counties mostly in favour of south eastern counties.
For example, Grand Gedeh had 98,512 population and she was assigned six seats. Margibi County had 151,800 plus population and was assigned only 2 seats. This means that it took nearly 76,000 people to have one representative in Margibi County, while it only took about 17,000 people to have a representative in Grand Gedeh County.
This was grossly unfair and since the CPA requires that elections in 2005 meets international standard, the NEC and the international community were saying that they cannot go with such unfair demarcation.
NEC thought that since it is almost impossible to have census before the coming elections, voter registration information should be used to determine how many representatives will come from a county.
The result of the voter’s registration will be divided by 64 seats in the House of Representative and the result will be used as the quota that will take to have representative. If a county has the quota, they would have two Representatives.
The NTLA wanted the demarcation to remain as it is or have a census before the elections. They were afraid that they will loose seats to Montserrado County since the population is so shifted in favor of Montserrado County.
The NEC and international experts decided to go an extra mile and give two seats to each county up front. However, they must meet the requirement for getting two seats in order to get additional seat. For example, if the threshold is 10,000, it will take 30,000 registered eligible voters in a county to have three Representatives. In other words, a county must first meet the requirements for having the first two seats before she can get any additional seat. However, if the threshold is 10,000 and the number of people who registered in a county is only 18,000, that county will still have two Representatives”.
This recommendation created very heated debate in the NTLA and was finally decided in favor of NEC and the Elections Reform Bill (ERB) was approved.
The Outcome of Voter Registration
Following the approval of the Bill (ERB), the voter registration was done and the partial result is given by county in table 1. The result indicates clearly that the bulk of the registrants are found in Montserrado County and followed by Nimba. This implies that on the basis of the formula, counties such as Gbarpolo, Grand Cape Mount, Grand Gedeh, Grand Kru, Maryland, River-Gee, Sinoe and perhaps Rivercess will be represented by two Representatives in the House, while the rest will gain more than two seats respectively based on the final decision by the Election Commission.
Besides the negative implications of the result itself, it gives highlight on the present pattern of population distribution and the level at which people are still in Diaspora as well as still internally displaced. It was on the basis of the skew population distribution, that NTLA tried to prevent, given the fact that the October 11 elections is to some degree special for it meant to bring peace and reconciliation among the citizens, rather than changing old administrative boundaries of the country.
Although, NEC only singled out unfair practices of Doe without first reviewing the circumstances; more importantly, failed to give reasons why such decisions were even taken in the past. For instance, it can be recalled that the present Maryland County was referred to as Mississippi and joined under the banner of the Republic of Liberia in the year 1857. After this treaty, the people of Maryland County have long enjoyed some common understandings of administrative arrangement among which is the level of representation in the House. To reduce their level of representation in the House now in order to introduce true democracy after 14 years of hostility may probably open old wounds.
Even the population figures cited by NEC in paragraph 3 under the initial argument, to back their argument are incorrect. The population of Grand Gedeh according to the 1984 census results was 102,810 and not 98,512 while that of Margibi was 97,992 and not 151,800 (see table 2). If the 1984 total population (2,101,628) is divided by 20,000, there would have been a total of 105 constituencies, five constituencies more than the ceding of one hundred constituencies according to the revised 1986 constitution. Besides, the 1984 preliminary result of the census was released in 1987 therefore, it was impossible to have used the 1984 census as a basis for the 1985 constituency demarcation. Table 2 shows population of Liberia according to the census results of 1974 and 1984 classified by theoretical seats allocation by county.
We refer to the seat allocation as theoretical in that political decisions were later made, thus the actual 75 or 105 seats as the case might be, were later reduced to 64, and the shares for each county were also reduced in similar manner (see table 2).
However, Grand Gedeh maintained her four seats plus additional two while Margibi got two, one less than the actual, presumably, because of political interests or some common reasons relative to the land area. The population of Grand Gedeh is scattered over dense forest in contrast to Margibi which is clustered around the workers’ camps within the Firestone Plantations Company and Kakata.
The Land Area in Square Miles
Let’s further review the situation in the preceding sections in another way by inspecting the square miles of Liberia as given in table 3. The square miles occupy by each county indicates that Montserrado County where large number of the registrants are found constitutes only 2.8 percent of the total land area of the country far less compared to counties in the south east, particularly Grand Gedeh County which consist of 17.2 percent of the land mass prior to the creation of Gbeapo district as county during the Taylor’s administration. Similarly, Margibi County cited as example in the argument contains about 3.3 percent of the land area.
According to NEC, if they have used the 1984 population to institute fair democracy, Montserrado alone would have taken 27 Seats in the House. This simply implies that every street in Monrovia was going to be represented in the National Legislature. On the basis of this, I believe formula may have been drawn out by Doe’s administration to reduce the size of representation for smaller counties such like Montserrado and Margbi with large population in order to balance the House based on minority groups as well. This, although was not spelt out as an explicit governing policy to decentralize the political structure, but was implied.
Minority Right is Also Democracy
The issue here is, was Doe’s government wrong to assign six seats to Grand Gedeh and other south eastern counties in contravention of the constitution? In my opinion, the principle of good governance doesn’t base on abstract phenomena. Although, Grand Gedeh was entitled to four seats, but got additional two in contravention of the constitution governing the constituency demarcation.
However, I am not denying special political interest in the matter, but some reasons that might presumably led to such decision could be the population settlement pattern in Grand Gedeh. As indicated in table 3, the area of Grand Gedeh is six times larger than Montserrado County, and has heterogeneous population dispersed in satellite villages and towns over the dense forest with difficult terrain. Unlike Grand Gedeh, Montserrado County has homogenous population and is congested in the capital city, Monrovia, while Margibi population is mostly comprise of employees within the Firestone Plantation Company and clustered around the laborer camps, and student population of the training institutions in Kakata.
Even Montserrado County minus Monrovia city is nowhere likewise Margibi minus Firestone and Kakata city. Note that adding additional Representatives to Montserrado would represent the concept of diminishing return in economy, where supply of additional quantity of labors to a fixed piece of land turn to reduce the productivity per person. You would be compelled to further re-demarcate the city into blocks or streets to accommodate the additional Lawmakers. Therefore, increasing additional seats to larger counties and reduce for smaller counties was not any infrangement or an unfair practice and arbitrary decision, but to greater extent meant to bring minority groups into the main streamline of government.
Furthermore, some of these decisions were taken to appease some existing ethnic conflict at the time; and was necessary because it helped to maintain the stability of the country. For example, the long standing differences between the Grebo ethnic group of Gbeapo district and the Krahn in the heartland of Grand Gedeh county was minimized after they gained some autonomous status.
Also, Tubman’s administration appeased rift between other counties by granting autonomous status through traditional arrangement within the True Whig Party. For instance, the two Senatorial Seats in Nimba County was divided between lower and upper Nimba County, likewise the Senatorial Seats in Margibi County and other counties during Tubman and even up to Taylor’s dictatorial regime. We cannot condemn them at this time, saying, the decisions was unfair and arbitrary. It was their administrative style to unit the citizens, and also to decentralize the political administrative structure of the country.
Conclusion and Recommendation
In my view, the National Election Commission and the International Experts had inappropriately gone beyond their mandate by recommending condition based on theoretical framework. This framework has foreign innovation and does not seem to agree with any element of election transparency in the country. The election transparency as I see it for Liberia presently does not require changing of basic political demarcation or principles and common understandings which had helped to maintain political balance in the past, but to safeguard the electoral process to avoid vote raking and other electoral frauds. I therefore suggest that we host another special national conference to further discuss the disproportionate representation caused by using voter registration to determine level of representation in the House.