A few months from now, registered Liberians voters are to queue up at nearly two thousands voting precincts across Liberia, for the sole purpose of casting their votes to elect a new Liberian leader that will be empowered in accordance with the Liberian Constitution to lead Africa oldest independent country, Liberia.
Ahead of the showdown, more than a dozen political parties and Independent aspirants have shown interest in taking over the country’s leadership from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female President, whose tenure comes to an end on January 16, 2018.
The expectations are high, the tension is mounting, the stage is being set, the countdown and emoting around the process are running high among all Liberian’s especially political actors.
What is even more of interest is the security atmosphere under which the pending process is to proceed; under the watchful eyes of the Liberian security apparatus.
All eyes, both local and international are pointed to the Liberia National Police to take charge; since the UN Mission in Liberia is to play a low profile role after the Mission has scaled down its strength in Liberia to allow the local security to take charge.
Armed Forces of Liberia Chief of Staff has informed Liberians that his force will not play an active role in the electoral process.
The burden is now at the feet of a young and experienced Police Inspector General Gregory Coleman, and his men in blue to safely handle the elections. Coleman has said that despite the challenges confronting the Liberia National Police, the job will be done.
But what has he put into place, with the bleak history of Liberian elections, especially with transition being so crucial to Liberia’s emerging democracy?
X-raying the history Of Liberian elections; A Look At 1927, 1985, 2011
Arguably, Liberian elections have not gone through without either violence over results, or over security biases thus creating insecurity in the country.
The 1927 Presidential Elections between Opposition Candidate J. R Faulkner, and President James S. King was a classic case.
In 1927 the outcome of said election was stiffly challenged by Thomas J.R. Faulkner who was then an opposition figure in the election.
According to an official statement, King received 234,000 votes however; Liberia had 15,000 registered voters at the time.
Thus, King won the dubious achievement of being listed in the Guinness Book of Records for the most fraudulent election reported in history.
The President won the elections by whatever means, but this created more problem for King and the country than he could ever imagine.
Thomas Faulkne the opposition leader at the time accused many members of the True Whig Party government of recruiting and selling contract labor as slaves.
Despite Liberia's firm denials and a refusal to cooperate, the League of Nations established a commission under the leadership of British zoologist Cuthbert Christy to determine the extent of forced labor and slavery still practiced by Liberia.
U.S. President Herbert Hoover briefly suspended relations to press Monrovia into compliance.
In 1930 the League of Nations published the committee's report, dubbed the ‘Christy Report’ after the Committee's chairman.
The report supported many of Faulkner's allegations, and implicated many government officials, including vice President Allen Yancy.
It was found that forced labor was used for construction of certain public works such as roads in the interior.
And certain tribes practiced domestic servitude that could be considered as slavery. King and Vice-President Yancy, along with other implicated leaders resigned.
Another case of elections hullabaloo was that of the General elections held in Liberia on 15 October 1985. This was the first election following the dethroning of the Grand True Whig Party that had been at the helm of the country’s leadership for more than a hundred years.
During 1984, a new draft Constitutional referendum was approved, which allowed a 58 member civilian and military combined Interim National Assembly, headed by President Samuel Doe.
The ban on political parties were lifted and four parties, namely, the President's National Democratic Party of Liberia ( NDPL) Liberia Action Party, Unity Party and the Liberia Unification party were in the fray to challenge the military that was now wearing civilian clothes.
History records that the polls were marred by allegations of widespread fraud and rigging. Official results showed that Samuel Doe won the Presidential election with 50.9% of the vote, just enough to avoid a runoff.
Many independent observers believed that the Liberian Action Party of the late Jackson Doe, who elections saw increased ethnic tensions, ultimately leading to the start of the 1989 and Doe's overthrow and murder in 1990.
2011 Runoff election saw violence between the opposition party the Congress for the Democratic Change and the Unity Party.
The CDC alleged rigging in the first round of voting thus prompting the party to call for a boycott of the run off on November 7, 2011.
The call by the Party for a peaceful protest, later turned sour when traffic was blocked along the main Tubman Boulevard where it’s National Headquarters is located.
Officers of the Liberia National Police quickly intervened to disburse the protesters, but the intervention turned bloody leading to the death of a CDC partisan.
Several Police officers were held liable for the death of a young man prompting the resignation of the then Police Chief.
Gregory Coleman pledged to bridge the gap between the stakeholders and the LNP
With such bleak history from the three elections mentioned above, the history of Liberia and its democracy is at stake in October of 2017, and the need of a process void of violence cannot be overlooked, and as such bridging the gap between the public and the security especially the Liberia National Must be seen as a national priority.
This is where the current Police Inspector General has started the ball rolling by reaching out across the country seeking popular support for the Police ahead of the elections to avoid a repeat of the past and to have the people create more confidence in their Police.
With all the confidence expressed by the Inspector General, he is aware of the need of a more comprehensive budgetary support to the Police ahead of the elections and even after the process if the Liberia National Police is to execute its statutory role by effectively protecting life and properties of Liberians and other foreign national residing in the country.
Coleman Impressed On Joint Legislative Committee To Increase Police Budget
In his presentation to the committee the Inspector General of Police didn’t hold back his frustration over the underfunded national Police. Coleman told the committee that the current budget (2016/2017) of the Police focused mainly on personnel cost which is put at US$ 14, 220, 672.00 and accounts for 79.65% of the Police budget.
Col. Coleman explained that with such high personnel cost it makes it almost, if not impossible, to run the operations of the institution with US$3,768 143.00, barely 20.
95% of the total budget ; thereby affecting some major budgetary lines including Fuel & Lubricant for vehicles and generator, Special Operations, Laboratory Consumables, Domestic and Foreign Travels, among others .
As he made his case, he went to say, “Honarable Members of the 53rd Legislature, having carefully analyzed the draft budget of the LNP from the MFDP, it will interest you to know that this budget has a funding gap of US 11, 251,402. 45 which accounts for 38.5% of LNP proposed budget of FY 17/18 US$ 29, 240,214 .45.
Against this backdrop we will like to use this platform to crave on your indulgence that you kindly consider this budget gap to be appropriated for this fiscal period of FY 17/18”.
The Inspector General informed the legislature of the Police willingness to do more but the issue of low budget support was impeding the functions of the Police in providing the needed services as required by the people of Liberia.
The faith of the LNP and the entire country is now in the hands of the legislature as they hold hearings on the draft budget.
The LNP, in my mind is looking forward to the legislature considering the many calls for increase budgetary support for the LNP especially in an elections year with the drawdown of the peacekeepers from Liberia.
From all indication Coleman is seen to be confident that the legislature will do its part of the job by providing the necessary adjustments and leave the rest left with the Police to perform its share of the barging.
The national Police must be funded to perform as required by law; our ears are on Capitol Hill as we await the passage of the draft budget.
DCP Sam Kingsford Collins, Contributing Writer