What This (2003) Election Should Be All About (Part 1)

By: James W. Harris

The Perspective

August 17, 2001

As the year 2003 rapidly approaches, many Liberians at home and abroad, are "curiously" looking forward to the upcoming presidential and general elections that are scheduled to be held in their beloved country. Given Liberia's continuing "bad" image as a "pariah nation" and its virtual isolation from the rest of the civilized world, they doubt whether their war-ravaged country will actually be prepared to hold "free and fair" elections when that day comes around.

And their fears could be well grounded. Up until now, it can be said that very little efforts, if any, have been made on the part of the beleagued Taylor government as well as the country's so-called opposition groups, to lay the necessary ground work that would make it possible for Liberians to cast their votes at that time.

Because to hold "free and fair" elections in Liberia just about two years from now, it would entail the "immediate" resolution of two major problems that are presently facing the country: First, the problem of the ongoing "destructive" war in Lofa County and other parts of the country must be finally dealt with. This war must be brought to a speedy end, simply, because, many innocent lives have already been lost there and personal properties destroyed. And secondly: The need to immediately address the declining security situation in the country in order to lessen fear amongst the people should be of paramount importance to everyone, Liberians and foreigners alike.

The most reasonable way to resolve the first problem, obviously, would be for the Taylor government, the United Nations (UN), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA), and, of course, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) as well as all other interested parties, to meet soon at a designated place to find a permanent solution to the deadly conflict in the North. Liberians, with the help of their many international "friends", MUST find a better way to resolve their differences, whatever they are, without perpetrating this kind of "senseless" violence against each other.

In all fairness, the responsibility to resolve the second problem squarely falls on the shoulder of the Taylor-led National Patriotic Party (NPP) government, and rightfully so, since it controls all security forces in the country. But just in case the government wants some "free" advice on how to go about dealing with the country's current deteriorating security situation, which it in fact created, it could conveniently turn to the latest Amnesty International report. Among other things, the report (strongly) urges the Liberian government and LURD, to publicly condemn breaches of various international humanitarian law, including, "extra judicial executions, unlawful killings, torture, rape, etc."

The AI report also has some "good" recommendations for the international community. It called on the UN and the European Union (EU), for example, to publicly condemn various forms of human rights abuses that are being committed daily on both sides.

With the final resolution of the two "big" problems as mentioned above, the country could then move on to the next phase - resettlement. When Liberian politicians, or any politician for that matter, refer to the "people", they are no doubt talking about tens of thousands of people spread across their particular country's vast lands. I hope that this can also be said about Liberian politicians.

But coming to think about it, there are hardly no "people" left in Liberia these days as the fierce battle in Lofa County between government and dissident forces, coupled with President Taylor's rigid security network, are forcing them to flee their homeland. Not to mention the tens of thousands of Liberians that are finding every imaginable way to leave the country daily, despite the inevitable possibility of death on the high seas or on land. For them, even death is better than staying home, because they are definitely that desperate to make life somehow worthwhile for themselves and their families elsewhere. There are countless stories about how Liberian refugees are continuously being treated by their "African brothers and sisters." But right now, we'll leave it at that!

And the only thing that may likely bring these "people" back home in time for the elections, would be some form of security guarantee by a respectable organization, like, the UN. Mind you, it would not be a surprise if it turns out that many of the present war victims could have also been victims of Mr. Taylor's previous civil war. And so, they might just not have confidence in the current Liberian government, knowing fully well that it often reneges on its promises. That's why it's not a surprise either that many Liberians just don't trust their government anymore.

In order for Liberians to gradually build confidence in the state's security apparatus, and for their own personal safety, it would be most appropriate for the UN to consider the following AI recommendation since it (UN) already has a Support Office on the ground in Liberia. AI recommends "the UNshould now consider employing human rights observers in the country to closely monitor and publicly report on the abuses committed by the government and opposition forces." If this can be done, while at the same time enforcing the existing UN sanctions on the Taylor "rogue" regime, some good could be accomplished after all. The only apparent downside in this scheme is that it would almost require a long-term commitment from the World Body as well as other groups that are interested in the general well being of Liberians to stay the course. It is difficult to know right now whether or not the UN or other entities could be sufficiently determined to do so.

If they will be given their "CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS" to vote in 2003, Liberians must do so in a calm atmosphere without any sort of intimidation or harassment from the NPP-led government. The international community must ensure that the country's upcoming elections are administered "free and fair"- nothing less!

Already, the chairman of the war-weary country's Election Commission (ECOM), Mr. Paul Guah, is crying out for help, stressing his commission's lack of funds to adequately prepare for this very significant occasion. "The electoral process must start now. Because we need to conduct census, demarcate newly created counties, voter registration and civil education", he was recently quoted in the nation's local Inquirer newspaper as saying. "We want to conduct free and fair elections in Liberia during 2003. With this, we need the support of the public and the international community", the paper further quoted him as saying.

Interestingly enough, Mr. Guah also mentioned several other problems that are facing his commission, among them, filling the vacancies in the National Legislature for Bong, Bomi, Montserrado, Grand Gedeh and Grand Bassa Counties. Please continue to bear in mind that these are just "few" of the problems that will have to be resolved before any election can take place in Liberia in the next two years.

The Inquirer also quoted the ECOM chairman as saying: "The President [Charles Taylor] mandated that we should complete the government [and] we have drawn up the budget but up to now there has not been any result." But does he really expect the "crooked" Taylor government to fully finance a commission under whose "careful" watch, along with the international community, could possibly end his tyranny against the Liberian people? I certainly hope not!

Of all the country's many political parties that are expected to take part in the 2003 elections, President Charles Taylor's NPP seems to be the only one that is best prepared for the war-wrecked country's "grand contest" up to this point. But don't we all know why? Because they're in power and tightly control all the country's resources, including most of the media!

If we were to put aside the NPP's overwhelming dominance of almost every aspect of Liberian life, especially economic and political, the apparent "lack of leadership" on the part of Liberia's so-called opposition parties, makes it even more likely that Mr. Taylor and company could again pull off another one.

Because up to now, at least as far as I'm concerned, no "credible" Liberian, male or female, has stepped forward that could pose a "serious" challenge to Mr. Taylor's and his NPP's second bid for the presidency and power respectively, despite their dismal failure for the past four years or so to solve the country's chronic problems, including, wide-spread government corruption; the lack of electricity; dwelling shelters for the poor; health facilities and safe drinking water, among other things. There have been no "reasonable" improvements in these sectors of the society since the NPP came into power.

Some Liberians, who recently visited the country, have admitted to having a "good time" while they were there, especially so, because they knew someone in government. They often remark in their "unique" Liberian tongue: "Man, don't mind the people...just watch the way you talk and everything will be okay. Just don't get in 'those people' way." But when pressed about the overall conditions in the country, they usually give up and admit that things are "very, very bad", especially, for the ordinary people. Within President Taylor's own "tightly-knit" circle, everything is just fine - but why not!

For example, it is widely known within the Liberian community that the country's Foreign Minister, Monie Captan, has ties to one of Monrovia's most flourishing nightspots catering mainly to the city's elites and foreign guests. Also, many current government officials are known to be engaging "actively" in their personal business ventures while holding their "official" positions.

Not to say that we are envious or jealous or anything like that. Because they too, like any other Liberians, surely have the right to own businesses or any other things as they so wish, but a "clear" distinction must be made between a Liberian government official's personal activities, vis a vis, his or her "public" duties. This distinction has been "very cloudy" in the past as there has absolutely been no kind of "accountability" for public funds on the part of government officials. That's why it's important that Liberians should demand the "full and complete financial disclosure" of anyone seeking public office in the upcoming elections.

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