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Panelists Discuss Successes and Challenges of October Elections

Following the October 10, 2017 national elections, the Governance Commission held a Roundtable on the theme “Elections and Security” to assess successes and challenges of the polls and lessons learned. A number of elections-related disputes erupted after the elections with some political parties calling for a re-run and/or recount of the votes (in some districts). These political parties include the Liberty Party, Unity Party, All Liberian Party and the Alternative National Congress.

Panelists at the GC organized Dialogue in their presentations noted the successes and challenges during the elections with a number of similarities in their findings. The panelists were drawn from the security, civil society and media sectors of Liberia. They included Deputy Police Commissioner for Professional Standards Col. Randall Dennis, Elections Coordinating Committee Executive Director Oscar Bloh, and University Lecturer Frank Sainworla. This latest Dialogue was held on December 1, 2017 at the Lutheran Conference Hall in Sinkor.

Colonel Randall Dennis began his presentation by pointing out that the security task force set up to provide security during the October 10, 2017 national elections encountered a number of challenges including deployment of personnel without their Daily Sustenance Allowance (DSA). He named other challenges as bad road or inaccessible or hard to reach assigned post/communities, poorly conditioned vehicle/trucks which eventually break down before reaching their destination, and poor or no arrangement for feeding and shelter for personnel assigned to rural communities such as Sinoe County.

Colonel Dennis also noted that the Inter-agency security personnel assigned at polling stations/precincts had no established single command structure at those precincts. Officers communicated with and/or reported to their individual supervisors and institutions. The Colonel however observed that lessons learned from the first round of the elections, the national security task force was now better prepared for the Run-off Presidential elections.

The Run-Off Presidential elections was previously scheduled for November 7, 2017 but was eventually held on December 26, 2017.

For his part, Election Coordinating Committee Director Oscar Bloh said government’s electoral reform agenda is not being properly implemented and that the October 10, 2017 elections experienced a number of administrative lapses.

He recalled, among other things, incidents of election violence between the Liberty Party (LP) and the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) in Nimba County that was investigated by the Liberia National police, adding that the LNP is yet to reveal findings of their investigation to the Liberian people. Mr. Bloh however commended the police for planning and exhibiting high level of professionalism during the October 10 polls contrary to the Georgetown University report which predicted and anticipated quite the contrary. Mr. Bloh described the campaign period as being rigorous but relatively peaceful except for the LP/CDC clashes which the LNP was able to timely intervene and quelled.

Mr. Bloh also pointed out that inadequate funding to the NEC could impact the Commission’s ability to adequately prepare staff for the electoral process, adding “..undercutting adequate training to NEC staff and frustrated voters could undermine the holding of peaceful elections in Liberia”. He observed that frustrated young voters in a few communities on Election Day caused long lines and huge delays at some voting centers causing NEC Commissioners and senior staff to visit such polling centers and brought the situations under control.

Mr. Bloh joined many others that have expressed lack of confidence in the National Elections Commission’s ability to conduct free, fair, transparent and credible democratic elections due to lapses observed in the October polls, and called on NEC to clean up the voter registration roll to build voter confidence. He reminded Liberians that poorly managed elections could lead to accusations and mistrusts in the Presidential run-Off election result and provide room for speculations, rumors of electoral fraud and irregularities, and increase risks of insecurity. Bloh however commended the Supreme Court for swift adjudication of election dispute cases, and Political Parties for making use of Liberia’s legal system for election dispute resolution.

The ECC is the largest civil society organization in Liberia. It deployed more than two thousand election monitors/observers throughout the country during the October 10, 2017 national elections.

The third panelist University Lecturer Frank Sainworla spoke on the role of the media in the democratic electoral process. He reiterated that the role of the media during any electoral process could either lead to peace or civil war as witnessed in some countries around the world.

In the case of Liberia, Mr. Sainworla highlighted the crucial role the media play in our electoral process and a continuous need for free media in this country. He commended the Liberian media and civil society for providing civic and voter education, information on the electoral process and analyses as the process evolved, despite institutional challenges.

Mr. Sainworla emphasized that Liberia’s democracy is evolving and maturing and so too is the independent media. He alleged that Liberia had a problem with voter apathy in the October 2017 elections as compared to the 2005 and 2011 elections, and credited the voter turnout on Election Day to a direct result of the hard work of the media and civil society. He did not provide statistics to support his findings.

Mr. Sainworla however urged journalists to delve more into other problematic issues such as those surrounding constituency demarcation, political party financing, campaign promises actualization, NEC presiding over election disputes (judge and jury), respect for the rule of law, election law reform (to assure free, fair credible future elections) confidence building, security, funding support for LNP and other security apparatus, police and community relationship, community policing among others.

Mr. Sainworla cautioned his media colleagues and political commentators against using hate speeches, publishing half-truths and/or outright lies in mainstream media and/or social media.  These, he noted, have the propensity to cause chaos in any fragile democracy such as Liberia. Mr. Sainworla concurred with the presentations of the previous speakers.

At the same time, the Governance Commission continues to play a pivotal role in Liberia’s national electoral and transitional processes contributing immensely to efforts aimed at ensuring the holding of peaceful, transparent and credible elections in 2017. The Commission, among other things, held numerous Roundtables on elections related topics including but not limited to Electoral Dispute Resolution: Implications for Smooth Democratic Transition; Issues for 2017 (Nov. 2015); Political Parties in Election Dispute Resolution (Dec. 2015); Vision 2030 and the 2017 elections: reaffirming commitment to a common agenda through elections (Jan. 2016); and facilitated the holding of the National Political Forum for the holding of peaceful elections in October (May-June 2017). The GC also produced its well-researched Annual Governance Report on Liberia’s Electoral System ( Feb. 2017); and a book titled “Managing Democratic Transition in Liberia 2016-2018” which jump started the Transition Act and other documents on Liberia’s Transition.

The Commission’s AGR on Elections was launched in February 2017 with a number of recommendations geared toward enhancing Liberia’s democratic electoral system and elections. The report is also a retrospective analysis of Liberia’s electoral system and lessons learned from past electoral processes and elections in Liberia.



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