Liberia Elections 2017: Our Test of Inclusion of All Stakeholders
With only six months to the 2017 elections, it is very important that all necessary preparations are done with utmost professional spirit.
The only way of ensuring that the electoral procedure is transparent, is to collectively ensure that the entire process centers on inclusion of all stakeholders, thus satisfying party candidates, agents, officials, and the general public and avoiding volatile situations which exclusion brings.
Liberians will once again go to the polls on October 10 of this year to elect persons who will hold the positions of President, Vice President and Member of Parliament for the next six years to steer the affairs of the state. With the elections slated to take place on 10th October, 2017, it is only six months to go before the citizens of Liberia who qualify to vote, “do so”.
Political parties are stepping up their gears to ensure that, come October 2017, they should amass as many seats as possible in the parliamentary as well as win the hot seat in the presidential elections.
If one would look at elections as a game of football, political parties would be players in that game. Just as football has its own rules, elections too have their own rules that govern them. In elections, the electoral commission plays the role of the first referee. To make the elections free, fair, and violence-free many more are involved in the process.
One essential characteristic of the officiating personnel of the electoral process is to be impartial. To be or to appear to be biased towards one team or against another, may cause violence, force the players to abandon the game or refuse to accept the final results. That is why the elections bodies ought to act in a nonpartisan and transparent manner.
Elections in emergent democracies do raise high emotions and political violence is the unfortunate consequence. It is therefore disheartening to note that the national elections commission (NEC) and civil society are yet to reached an agreement on tangible strategies for carrying out fundamental voter-awareness programs.
Time continues to slip from the hands of civil society organizations to embark on significant charge of promoting voter education and enhancing the understanding of the information-starved rural populace in Liberia. The lack of electoral education and the consequential misunderstanding will add to a potential polling catastrophe.
Official results will be challenged amid accusations of irregularities that will lead to rounds of protests and demonstrations, which may pilot the nation into a cycle of political violence.
The single opportunity for such a state of affairs to be brought to fulfillment will be to guarantee that skilled and dependable independent monitors observe the impending elections. Therefore, civil society requires willing volunteers, two per polling station, so that there is one in attendance at all times.
If there is no persistent inspection, even a break of a few minutes would generate much scope for distrust, and then the closing result could be brought into question. With full inspection and the skill of parallel vote counting everyone should acknowledge the electorate’s decision.
Parallel vote counting involves stakeholders observers’ tally of voters casting their ballots before their eyes being matched with the official results posted immediately after the polls.
Inclusive observation is for that reason the only approach to promote absolute confidence in the electoral process. As profound way of ensuring that the elections are inclusive, accessible and democratic, the people of Liberia would like key donors to adequately fund grassroots activities that focus on voter education.
The amount of donor funding to local civil society organizations is pathetic to say the least. Civil society is beginning to wonder just how many organizations benefit from the amount allocated for civil society, community organizing and democracy consolidation efforts. Civil society has become weary of arrogant donor attitudes.
We are beginning to feel that donors simply ride on the backs of poor Liberians, with the aim of building their own empires. We want donor accountability to become part of the inclusive process.
These elections will present added complexities, because by their very nature they are bound to be somewhat more demanding in that they will be Liberia’s first-ever democratically peaceful transfer of power. All stakeholders warily anticipate that the obligatory environment and resources will be put in place in sufficient time.
The responsibility for free and fair elections is the combined responsibility of those who fund the elections, the National Elections Commission (NEC), political parties, international observers, local monitors and the electorate.
Therefore, the international community must arbitrate in some way by setting down conditions of ensuring free and fair elections and increasing the number of foreign observers. While international observers are indispensable for international credibility and reinforcing the role of domestic observers, they can never compete without local knowledge. Domestic observers are drawn from the communities in which they live.
Furthermore, a free and fair election confers legitimacy upon a government. After closely analyzing the present political state of affairs, it is correct for one to conclude that the process is failing to meet most of these basic requirements for a free and fair electoral process.
Meanwhile, many of the electoral problems in Liberia have their roots in poverty, which presents a breeding ground for trucking of eligible voters. Poverty presents one of the most significant long-term treats to the full implementation of electoral rules and regulations. Politicians continue to hang on to power with the view of enjoying their ill-gotten wealth, and the idea of free and fair elections in such a scenario is ludicrous.
Entranced poverty in Liberia continues to test the need for the consolidation of democracy. In order to oppose this challenge, the principal objective of donor organizations must be to encourage voter awareness and effective respect of political and socio-economic rights as reflected in the constitution of Liberia.
Hence, donors must release funding to grassroots institutions, knowing fully well it will have positive bearing on the actual electoral process. This is also a primary indication that the much-anticipated elections will be anything but open, fair, transparent, credible and peaceful.
Among the important actors that participate in ensuring free, fair, and violence-free elections are the Police. Present-day experience of a partisan Police force is not promising much. The Liberia National Police (LNP) has a very significant role to play to ensure that elections in this country are run in a manner that will produce credible and trustworthy results that will be accepted by all stakeholders nationally and internationally.
For elections to be declared free and fair, four moments are very important: the pre-election period, that is, the campaign period; the actual day of the casting of votes; the counting of the votes casted; the computing and announcing of the results. The whole process needs to be done with the minimal error margin possible.
A Police that is partisan in the execution of its duties during elections only succeeds in fueling violence and discrediting the electoral process. It is therefore expected the Police will exercise their duties in a non-partisan manner when it comes to serving the different political parties that intend to compete in the 2017 elections.
The Police are expected to act with the same speed when apprehending those who find themselves on the wrong side of the electoral law, regardless the party they belong to. When the Police start to act at supersonic speed when apprehending lawbreakers from the opposition side and act with the slowest speed possible or do nothing at all when the law breaker is from the governance-actors side, and then people start wondering about the non-partisan of the Police service.
When the Police start to arrest everyone who, using any form of communication, opposes the views of the government then people start questioning whether the Police are doing their job professionally. When the government engages the Police to disrupt peaceful demonstration by the opposition then people begin to ask whether the Police are being abused to further the interests of the ruling party.
When the Police search the home of everyone who appears to hold opposing views from those of the government or the ruling party, people begin to wonder whether that is not promoting the interests of the government.
One of the most striking features of this election is the use of the public media specifically the Liberia Broadcasting Corporation (LBS), as a 24-hour propaganda machine for the Government.
The demonstration of the opposition and civic voices, which are seen as anti-ruling party, continues to be a key feature of the propaganda campaign. The only means of communication on an average for the opposition and civil society is through the private media.
The central task of the public broadcasting authority is thus to define the legitimate national community according to party, political affiliation, and to place all dissenting voices outside of the official national discourse.
In any democratic system, the right to informed opinion is a prerequisite for meaningful discussion and the creation of a tolerant public sphere. Hence, opposition political parties should be challenged and encouraged by public broadcasting authority to create a more open, diverse environment for discussion and dialogue.
To conclude, the beauty of any democratic system is in the fully representative government it offers. Liberian, through proper education and activism, can effectively minimize or completely eradicate rigging.
Such education and activism must come from individuals, media groups, local civil society organizations, cooperative organizations, youth movements, election watchdogs and observers, law enforcement agencies, political parties, National Elections Commission, etc. I, therefore, challenge Liberians to do all things peacefully necessary to ensure free and fair elections: expose plans to rig elections or stop a rigging process.
I also challenge the Liberia National Police force to seize this opportunity and redeem its image by promising and ensuring security and orderliness during the election 2017 period.
Tom Nimely Chie, Contributing Writer