"The World Will Give its Verdict After the Election:" History is on the Side of the 2005 Presidential Election Observers

By William E. Allen, Ph.D.


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
November 30, 2005


The allegation by Mr. George Weah, the recently defeated Liberian presidential candidate, that international observers conspired to cheat for the winner, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, is difficult for the majority of Liberians to believe. This is so because international observers have a long history of correctly assessing Liberian presidential elections. Since the 1920s, Liberians had begun to rely entirely on international observers to confirm their suspicion that the results of presidential elections were rigged. Liberians depended on foreign observers because they had lost faith in the independence ascribed by law to the election commission and because the people distrusted the government to be an impartial referee in the process. Thus, Liberians have always accepted the opinion of the international observers, especially after some of the most controversial elections. One early presidential candidate who placed his fate in the hands of international observers was Mr. D. Twe, a distinguished Liberian of the Kru ethnic group. Mr. Twe's confidence in foreign observers is manifested in the quotation found in my title. The full quotation reads: "Our ability to adhere to democratic principles will be tested and the world will give its verdict after the election" (Wreh, 1976, 53). Mr. Twe wrote these words during the 1953 presidential election when he attempted to challenge incumbent president, William V. S. Tubman. The reliability of international observers, which can be traced even further back to the 1927 presidential election, is firmly established in Liberian history. This is why the charge by the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), Mr. Weah's political party, that the verdict by twenty-eight independent observers, representing hundreds of international observers, is unfair has failed to find support outside of CDC's small circle of overzealous supporters. Over the decades Liberians, like the late Mr. Twe have come to trust international observers. Therefore, today, Liberians know that history is on the side of the observers and not that of Mr. Weah.

I will examine two of the most hotly contested presidential elections in the last century to demonstrate the consistency of international observers. Also, I will show how a few intellectuals in Mr. Weah's camp are deliberately distorting historical facts in order to advance their theory of national and international conspiracy. But first it is essential that I give a short, personal account of my party affiliation during the 2005 election. I supported the Liberia People's Party (LPP), which later merged with the United People's Party (UPP) to form the Alliance for Peace and Democracy (APD). My support for the LPP goes back to the early 1980s when I was a student at the University of Liberia. I believe that LPP, in spite of its internal self-destruction, has the experience and leadership to promote genuine democracy in Liberia. As part of my support for the party, I contributed to the drafting of LPP's platform for the 2005 election; my section on the Liberian economy and the environment was included in the final document. However, when the runoff election pitched Mr. Weah against Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, my choice was obvious, and I immediately made it known to several old friends in LPP. I believe that Mr. Weah was unprepared to lead Liberia at this crucial point. In my view, Mr. Weah failed to articulate his vision for Liberia, including how he would lead the reconstruction, the reconciliation, and the fight against the endemic culture of corruption and impunity. I further concluded that, Mr. Weah was incapable of making the hard decisions that were bound to come. So even though Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had not been my first choice, I was thoroughly convinced that compared to Mr. Weah, she was far more competent and prepared to guide the nation after the turbulent decades of warfare and civil strife.

The 1927 Election: The International Verdict of Fraud
The election of 1927 was probably the hottest political contest since 1861, when the newly established True Whig Party (TWP) defeated the ruling Republican Party. From the onset, international observers were drawn to the 1927 election because it had the potential to unseat the TWP, which at the time had been in power successively since 1878. In 1927, the challenger, Mr. Thomas Faulker and his People's Party, generated international attention due to calls he made for equality for Liberia's exploited "native" population. The international community paid attention to Mr. Faulker's campaign for reforms because this was the same period that European colonizers in Africa were being criticized for their oppressive "native" policy. Consequently, the 1927 election placed Liberia under the glare of international scrutiny. Thus, when the election commission, which was appointed by the TWP government and staffed by TWP officials, announced that incumbent president TWP candidate Charles D. B. King was the winner, international and local observers immediately issued condemnations. International observers and Liberian newspapers documented widespread fraud. For instance, TWP officials and Liberian soldiers openly forced "natives" to vote for Mr. King and election officials publicly permitted TWP partisans to vote over and over and over again. (See Boley, 1983, Buell, 1965.) The evidence of this massive fraud and conspiracy was clearly manifested in the final result that was announced by the election commission: Mr. King and the TWP won by far more votes than the actual number of registered voters in Liberia.

Not only did international observers denounce the fraud and conspiracy, but they publicized the dishonesty in the international press. For example, the 1927 election went down in the Guinness World Book of Records as the most fraudulent election in recorded history. Moreover, Faulkner's claim that the government exploited indigenous Liberians led to an international commission of inquiry. In 1930 the commission found evidence of blatant human rights violations. The commission noted, among other things, that the indigenous people were forced to work in Liberia and abroad without pay; this practice of forced labor, the commission concluded, was similar to slavery. Under international pressure, President King and Vice President Allen Yancy were forced to resign. The exposure of the 1927 election contributed to the condemnation from abroad and a call for a fairer treatment of the indigenous people. This is why nearly three decades later when the TWP, under President Tubman, attempted to deny presidential candidate Mr. D. Twe his constitutional right to participate in the election, he confidently told his supporters "the world will give its verdict after the election." Mr. Twe and the indigenous people (all Liberians for that matter) had absolute faith in the international observers because of its history of honesty and consistency. This explains why Liberians and the international community continue to dismiss CDC's attack against the international observers.

The 1985 Election: Doe's Broad-day Theft, International Observers' Condemnation
The 1985 election will go down in Liberian history as the boldest electoral thievery ever recorded. After nearly five years of brutal dictatorship, marked by summary executions and other human rights violations, Liberians went to the polls on October 15, determined to rid themselves of the predatory regime of General Samuel Doe. They voted against General Doe at the ballot box, but the General stole the election in broad-day light. When early tallies showed that Mr. Jackson Doe's Liberian Action Party (LAP) was winning by a convincing margin, General Samuel Doe's appointed election chairman, Mr. Emmett Harmon, stopped the count. A new group of enumerators were selected and sequestered at Hotel Africa, away from the prying eyes of national and international observers; nearly all the new ballot counters were known members of General Doe's National Democratic Part of Liberia (NDPL). Accordingly, on October 29, Emmett Harmon declared General Doe the winner. Condemnation of fraud by the international election monitors was swift and direct. International observers reported gross cheating, including pre-stuffed ballots boxes with General Doe's votes, destruction of ballots of opposition candidates, and they photographed huge piles of burnt ballots in Margibi County, one of the counties that voted overwhelmingly against General Doe. An account of the conspiracy was compiled by an American observer team called the Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights. Its publication is entitled Liberia, A Promised Betrayed: A Report on Human Rights. The now defunct West Africa magazine also reported the fraud (see West Africa, November 4, 1985). Once again, international observers announced to the world that General Doe and his NDPL had stolen the election, just how they had told the world in 1927 that President King and the TWP defrauded the electorate. International observers have proved to be trustworthy. This is why Liberians now find it hard to believe the charge from Mr. Weah's camp that the hundreds of international observers from diverse backgrounds and nationalities conspired to cheat for Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Liberians, like the late Mr. D. Twe, have always welcomed the verdict of independent observers because it has been consistent with the facts.

Historical Distortion from Mr. Weah's Camp
One of the misrepresentations being made by the intellectuals in Mr. Weah's camp is that international observers have declared elections fair and free in the past, only to later concede that said elections were fraudulent. This statement is mistaken. What these intellectuals are not telling the public is that the international election observers are not necessarily the same as the few observers that usually represent national governments. International election monitors are generally journalists, representatives of international organizations (e.g., UN and the European Union), and human rights watch groups such as the Lawyers' Committee mentioned above. Because these groups are independent and apparently not beholden to any national government, their conclusions about elections tend to be accurate. On the other hand, government observers such as those from the US State Department tend to be less reliable; governments feel obliged by diplomatic protocol, which dictates that a nation should not interfere in the internal affairs of another. As a result, a government's assessment of elections in another country is often identical to that of the position of the holder of the election. For instance, after the 1985 election, the US State Department gave a positive assessment, claiming that the election was "a benchmark on which to build" (Liebenow, 1987, 305). Contrary to this hopeful outlook from the US Government, the international observers called the election a gross fraud and predicted that it would undermine democracy in Liberia. This well-documented fraud contributed to then senatorial candidate, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's refusal to take the seat that she won. Therefore, supporters of CDC are incorrect to suggest that international observers declared the 1985 vote fair and free.

The Weah camp also points to the 1997 presidential election as proof of the inconsistency of international observers. As evidence, CDC calls attention to the statement by the Carter Center that the vote was fair and free, when in fact it was not. Certainly many Liberians have questioned the veracity of this claim by the Carter Center. However, the Carter Center was just one among hundreds of international observers that monitored the 1997 election. The consensus among the observers is that opposition candidates were not allowed to freely campaign for votes in most parts of the country, and Mr. Charles Taylor's thugs intimidated candidates and their supporters. In other words, the environment was not conducive to hold the election. As a consequence, voters chose Mr. Taylor out of fear that rejecting him would lead to more war. Mr. Weah's supporters must tell the whole story, i.e., most international observers reported that the political landscape was not fair and free; the Carter Center's questionable conclusion was the singular exception.

International observers have historically been accurate about their evaluation of Liberian elections. This assessment goes back more than seventy-five years. Mr. D. Twe, one of the first prominent indigenous Liberian to challenge the status quo, strongly believed that international opinion would accurately report Tubman's machinations to prevent him from contesting the 1953 election. Mr. Twe was correct. Although Tubman and the TWP succeeded in disqualifying Twe, in the end international and national election observers duly noted that the vote was rife with fraud (Wreh, 1976). Now this time, international observers have declared that the 2005 presidential election was generally fair and free and that Mr. Weah lost to Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. History is on the side of the observers. So far, Mr. Weah has failed to present proof of "widespread" fraud and conspiracy he alleges deprived him of the presidency. The evidence that CDC has presented so far confirms what the observers said all along: First, there were some irregularities, but they were isolated events; second, those irregularities were inconsequential and hence, they could not have altered the current result; finally, there is no evidence to support the charge by CDC that local and international observers plotted to give the vote to Madam Ellen-Johnson Sirleaf. Mr. Weah must now follow the wise counsel of the late D. Twe, whose confidence in international observers led him to write the following: "Our ability to adhere to democratic principles will be tested and the world will give its verdict after the election." Mr. Weah, the world has given its verdict: you lost!

About the Author: Dr. Allen teaches history at Georgia Perimeter College in Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached at weallen@theperspective.org.