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G C Observes October 10, 2017 National Elections, Run-Off Delayed

The October 10 Presidential and Representative elections have come and gone with a Run – off presidential elections slated for November 7, 2017 between Unity Party Joseph Boakai and Coalition for Democratic Change George Weah. Weah obtained 38.4% while Boakai received 28.8% of the total votes cast in the poll. The run – off came into play because no single candidate won an absolute majority of the total votes cast (50% plus one vote). The Run – Off was originally scheduled for November 7, 2017but the Supreme Court has placed an injunction on the Run-Off until the entire Bench can trash out complaints of election fraud by some political parties. Twenty presidential candidates contested the October 10, 2017 elections.

Elections results published by the National Elections Commission show that fourteen of the twenty Presidential candidates that contested the October polls received below 0% of the total votes cast. Charles Brumskine of Liberty Party, Prince Johnson of Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction and Alexander Cummings received 9.6%, 8.2% and 7.2% of the total votes cast respectively. Benoni Urey of All Liberian Party received 1.6% of the total vote cast.

Political parties, civil society organizations, national and international organizations all had observers observing and monitoring the elections. The Governance Commission also had twelve of its staff observing and monitoring the polls on October 10, 2017. The GC team covered eleven districts in Montserrado County including districts 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 & 13.

It is important to note that some political parties including Liberty Party (LP), All Liberian Party (ALP), Alternative National Congress (ANC) and the ruling Unity Party (UP) have all complained about irregularities in the 2017 elections. LP wants a re-run of the elections while a few others have called for the replacement of the NEC Chairman Cllr. Jerome Kokoya.

It can be recalled that the Governance Commission’s Annual Governance Report on Elections released February 2017 proposed a number of recommendations geared toward the holding of free, fair, transparent and credible democratic elections come October 10, 2017. Nearly all of the Commission’s recommendations were accepted and implemented by all stakeholders and actors including the Supreme Court and NEC in the October elections.

Let us recap the Governance Commission Annual Governance 2017 Report on Elections’ recommendations and implementing institution(s) intended to inform the Liberian electoral process. These include recommendations to be implemented prior to the 2017 elections:

  • Use elections as an opportunity to strengthen citizenship: While recognizing that elections are contests among parties and individuals, a conscious effort must be made in the public realm to promote elections as a time to strengthen citizenship commitment to Liberia.

Lead responsible parties: GC, the Ministry of Education (MoE), NEC, the Press Union of Liberia and the mass media; pro-democracy CSOs; and the Inter-Religious Council; 

  • Use elections as a platform for debate of national development issues: Election contests must serve as a platform for informed and responsible debates among parties and candidates on policy issues and priorities. Political parties and candidates must be pressed to do so.

Lead responsible parties:  The Press Union of Liberia, CSOs, academic institutions, prestigious clubs such as Rotary and Lions Clubs, among others.

  • Address the 10-year residency requirement stipulated in the Constitution: Twice ruled as inapplicable, there must be a pronouncement on this constitutional provision.

Lead responsible parties:  NEC and the Supreme Court

  • Intensify and expand civic education: Using the National Curriculum on Civic Education, delivering civic education modules to schools and for non-formal education purposes to deepen and broaden understanding of importance of elections as responsibility of citizens.

 Lead responsible parties: MoE, NEC and GC

  • Monitoring and strengthening voter education: With voter education already underway, devise and implement monitoring programs with view to strengthening content, expanding coverage and addressing special needs.

Lead responsible parties:  NEC, CSOs and GC

  • Strengthen voter roll verification: Strengthen public confidence in voter registry through selected measures, including electronic compilation and ample public vetting.

 

Lead responsible parties: NEC, with support of election monitors and international partners.

 

  • Strengthen capacity, and monitor campaign spending and financial flows into political parties: NEC lacks the capacity to singly monitor campaign financing and financial flows into political parties. NEC must therefore enter cooperation agreements with appropriate entities such as the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), and other integrity organization where, consistent with the Elections Law, to monitor campaign financing and financial flows into political parties as prescribed in NEC’s mandate.

 

Lead responsible parties: NEC, LACC and FIU 

 

  • Enhance political parties’ and their agents’ commitment to the integrity of the voting (including collation), result announcement and complaint filing processes: Some political parties often take deployment of party agents as optional and lightly; yet electoral complaints typically rely on their reports. NEC must require political parties to take the recruitment, training and participation of their party agents as a serious legal obligation with all its consequences. NEC must also set a requirement of the minimum numbers of party agents to be recruited by each party, provide sound training to them, and require and monitor their full deployment.

 

Lead responsible parties: NEC, political parties, election monitoring networks

 

  • Establishing national elections monitoring networks and situation rooms: Ensure proper training and deployment of teams of highly respected and morally upright individuals as election monitors constituted in certified networks. Support establishment of “situation rooms” organized by both national and international groups of monitors.

 

Lead responsible parties: NEC, CSOs, Inter-Religious Council, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other regional and international partners.

 

  • Formulate and implement an ethical code of conduct for parties and candidates: The campaign and subsequent phases of the election process can draw conflictful debates and actions that can induce violence. There is a need to strengthen commitment to peaceful, violence-free elections through solemn declaration and commitment to an ethical code of conduct.

 

Lead responsible parties: National Elections Forum, NEC, political parties, Inter-Religious Council, with the support of international partners.

 

  • Recruitment, training and equipping of adequate numbers of election magistrates and hearing officers: The actions of election magistrates and hearing officers have been at the center of most elections disputes that have reached the Supreme Court. These election officials are few in numbers, thereby leading to delays of hearings. Records of hearings are sometimes inadequate, thereby posing challenges for Supreme Court reviews. The recruitment of adequate numbers of qualified individuals, preferably law students, lawyers and others of competence; aligning training with Supreme Court requirements, and providing them with needed equipment and supplies.

 

Lead responsible party: NEC, with training support of Judicial Training Institute

 

  • Rationalization of NEC’s operational processes: Strengthening the internal processes such as procurement, logistics and human resources capabilities, particularly at times of scarce resources and urgency are invaluable.

 

Lead responsible party: NEC with support of entities with relevant expertise

 

 

  • Addressing capacity gaps: Improving communications, monitoring and evaluation and other staffing capabilities as an ongoing undertaking is essential. Ongoing voter registration is uncovering significant gaps in the capacity of those engaged in registering voters. Such gaps need to be urgently addressed through rigorous training. The recruitment and training of polling officers cannot become an emergency matter done at the last minute.

 

Lead responsible party:  NEC

 

Implementation of the Code: All doubts regarding the constitutionality of the Code of Conduct were removed by the ruling of the Supreme Court on March 3rd, 2017 in the case of Polson-Mappy versus the State. An excerpt from the judgment of the highest court is captured below:

 

“….. Not having been able to find any law upon which we could rely to question the wisdom of the Legislature in this regard, we hold that the Code of Conduct Act, whether in whole or in part, does not violate the Liberian Constitution. Also, the Code of Conduct neither enlarges nor contracts any constitutionally protected rights.”

 

The ruling of the Supreme Court should lay to rest any and all controversies on the constitutionality of the Code of Conduct Act. The GC fully respects the Supreme Court’s decision. Implementation of the Code of Conduct Act may not be without challenges, given proximity to the October 2017 elections. The Supreme Court notes in the March 3rd ruling that:

 

“….there is at present, no forum of first instance to receive and address complaints of alleged violations of the Code of Conduct Act. This is of critical concern as the law solely vests the Office of Ombudsman with original jurisdiction not only to have oversight, monitor, and evaluate adherence to the Code of Conduct Act, but also to receive and investigate all complaints, in respect of adherence thereof…”

To address these challenges it is the considered opinion of GC that the Office of the Ombudsman be made functional expeditiously to facilitate the unhindered implementation of the Act.

Lead responsible parties: NEC, Office of the Ombudsman and Supreme Court

 

 

  • Supporting NEC’s budget: The decision to provide budget support to NEC from the National Budget over two fiscal years (2016-2017 and 2017-2018) is understandable in view of the current economic decline and the dip in revenue inflows; but this practice exposes NEC and the 2017 electoral process to risks. The GoL must prioritize the funding of NEC’s budget and provide to NEC all the resources needed for the 2017 elections by the end of the first quarter of fiscal 2017-2018. The President of Liberia and the leadership of the Legislature will do well to ensure that this happens.

 

  • Elections Security Arrangements: The joint security arrangements established by the Inspector General of Police under the oversight of the Minister of Justice and with the cooperation of NEC need to be supported by the Government and international partners.

 

  • Lead responsible parties: Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Liberia National Police (LNP), NEC with oversight of the President

 

  • Aligning NEC’s process of certification with the Supreme Court’s decisions: Early certification of candidates have led to the filing of numerous writs of prohibition and the exacerbation of tension, confusion and negative aspersion on the electoral system. The Supreme Court and NEC would do well to ensure expeditious and properly aligned processes of Supreme Court rulings and NEC’s certification.

 

 

Recommendations for Consideration Following the 2017 Elections

 

  • Use voter education and civic education to strengthen citizenship and reconciliation: the National Curriculum on Civic Education was designed as a tool for building citizenship and promoting reconciliation. MoE and GC must undertake urgently to develop the range of civic education textbooks as required as the next phase of the project.

 

Responsible parties:  MoE and GC

 

  • Updating and verification of voter rolls: Processes for the inspection, verification and updating of voter rolls are spelt out in the Elections Law and should be widely publicized to increase public awareness and reduce the prospects of misunderstanding. They should also be implemented with the input of public institutions, as prescribed by law.

 

  • Registration of youth turning 18: Youth whose 18th birthday will occur before elections day should be allowed to register even if voter registration takes place before their 18th

 

Lead responsible parties:  NEC

 

  • Preparing for referendum on constitution amendment propositions: It is expected that propositions to amend the Constitution will be adopted by the Legislature before the end of the 2017 legislative session. NEC will do well to begin the process of preparing for a referendum on the propositions, including the mobilization of financial and material support early in 2018, following the 2017 Presidential and Legislative Elections.

Lead responsible parties: NEC, the President

 

  • Elections during emergencies: The Constitution prescribes specific dates for the holding of elections. The Ebola Virus Disease pandemic occurred at a time when elections should have been held. While the Supreme Court decision brought closure to the controversy about whither and when elections should be held under the circumstances, there is need for clarity of law regarding the holding of elections during periods of emergency. This should be initiated by NEC.

 

Responsible parties: NEC and the Legislature 

 

  • Preparation for chieftaincy elections as required by the Constitution: While the Constitution is said to be ambiguous about the holding of municipal elections, it is clear about the requirement to hold chieftaincy elections. The fulfillment of the constitutional provisions for building electoral democracy is incomplete as at now without addressing electoral requirements at a local level of governance. This challenge should be joined by NEC following the 2017 elections.

 

Responsible parties:  NEC, Ministry of Internal Affairs, GC

 

  • Reviewing political party membership requirement at registration: The Constitution requires a minimum of 500 members registered from six counties. Yet the Constitution also requires that all political parties be inclusive, broad-based and national in character. With changing demographics and political and administrative jurisdictions, this requirement crafted in 1986 needs review. This is a project for electoral reform following the 2017 elections.

 

Responsible parties:  NEC, GC, Law Reform Commission, Legislature

 

  • Funding political parties: A review of the financial requirements for registering a political party as well other fees paid to the NEC need to be rationalized against the services expected to be provided to political parties by NEC. There is also a need to consider public funding of certain expenses of political parties in a manner that serves the public interest, promotes competitiveness of political views and meets standards of equity.

 

Lead responsible parties:  NEC, political parties, Legislature

 

  • Dissolving political parties: The provision of the Elections Law for the dissolution of political parties should be enforced with care and in conformity with all of the stipulations of the law including the involvement of other agencies of government as prescribed.

 

  • Funding NEC: Henceforth, support for elections should be planned and appropriations should be made and resources secured from the consolidated account by the end of the fiscal year preceding the year in which elections are to be held. The Legislature and the Executive will do well to implement this recommendation for future elections and as part of comprehensive electoral reform.

 

Responsible parties: NEC, the President, MFDP, Legislature

 

  • Reviewing the organizational structure and business processes of NEC: In view of the increasing number of elections and the increasing competitiveness of them, a comprehensive review of the structures and internal organization and overall capacities of NEC are needed to enable NEC to respond to increasing demands for election-related services. This review should be part of an overall reform of the electoral system.

 

 

Election Monitoring and Observation

In support of the GC recommendations, the Commission decided to join other national and international stakeholders to monitor and observe the October 10, 2017 elections. The following were irregularities observed.

 

Irregularities:  

  1. Some Polling stations opened late.
  2. Some voters names were not found on the roster.
  3. Some poll workers were too slow in finding the names of voters and did not know what to do if the voter name was not found on the roster. This therefore created unnecessarily long queues.
  4. Voters’ registration numbers were displayed in a range of numbers at polling places which made it difficult for voters to identify their polling station. Voters did not know which line to stand in and were frustrated after standing in line for two hours only to be told that they were in the wrong line.
  5. Some lines were too long at some polling stations causing polling stations to close later than 6 p.m..
  6. Confusion broke out at a polling stations because service workers (e.g. police and medical personnel were allowed to cut the line to vote.)
  7. Voting materials arrived late at some polling stations.
  8. Rains affected some temporary outdoor structures used as polling sites (covered by tarpaulin). This therefore posed a threat to these polling stations and the ballot papers and boxes. Visibility was also poor at night.
  9. Some polling places such as Precinct # 30484 Tyler Island 72nd Road was unsafe as it was very isolated and surrounded by bushes on the island. You have to cross rivers on plank bridges and walk in water to get there. It is not accessible by car and has less than twenty houses on the entire island.
  10. Some voters were running campaign on their phones to influence others to vote for a particular candidate.
  11. Some poll workers abandoned their post or were sleeping during the process.

 

 

Recommendations:

These are recommendations from the Governance Commission based on poll observers on the field.

 

  1. Ensure that all voters’ names are recorded in the roster prior to Election Day and educate poll workers on how to handle cases where voter name is not on the roster.
  2. Find a better way to display and verify “voter number” and lines at polling station to ensure that they are standing in the correct line were their names are registered.
  3. Use well trained educated poll workers at polling stations to make the line move faster.
  4. Train poll workers to use good judgment when necessary to help facilitate the process in order to prevent unnecessary chaos at polling stations (e.g. creating extra lines for pregnant women, disable and old people).
  5. Voting materials should be placed in closed bins to be transported to polling stations to prevent risk of loss, damage or compromise.
  6. Train NEC staff on how to handle resolve conflict during elections.  More police officers should be place at each precinct especially at night to protect poll workers and ballots.
  7. Better arrangement should be made for polling stations in temporary structures to protect ballot boxes and materials in the event of rain and for night time security.
  8. Relocate Precinct #30484 to the beginning of Tyler Island which is a small town before the river to make it more accessible and safer.
  9. Consider banning use of cellphones at polling stations.
  10.  Allow service workers (e.g. medical, police and other law enforcement personnel) to vote early on elections day.

 

CONCLUSION:

Despite minor irregularities on polling day October 10, 2017, the Governance Commission believes that the elections were credible at polling stations observed. The election was basically peaceful, fair and transparent; there were no major constraints on voters.  All of the political parties were ably represented and allowed to freely participate in the election by asking questions, recording and tallying votes and ensuring that ballot boxes were properly and securely handled.

 

The October 10, 2017 elections was also observed by National and International institutions including

ABIC – Angie Brooks International Center; AU – Africa Union; CC - Carter Center; ECC – Election Coordinating Committee; ECOWAS – Economic Community of West African States; GYIA – Good Youth Intellectual Association; IDEA  - International Institute for Democracy & Electoral Assistance; LHRCC – Liberia Human Rights Commission Observer; LCC  -  Liberia Council of Churches; Le Monde - a French News Paper; LEON – Liberia Election Observer Network; United States Embassy; and We4Self -Women Empowerment for Self Employment among others.

 

Others providing services on Election Day included the LNP – Liberia National Police; BIN – Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization; DEA – Drug Enforcement Agency and the AFL – Armed Forces of Liberia.

 

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