Is All Really Set for Montserrado County By-election on July 29?
By the announcement from the National Elections Commission (NEC) that the Montserrado County by-election is slated for Monday, July 29, it seems all is now set to finally hold these elections, which have been pushed ahead not once but twice.
A source at the Elections Commission had informed this newspaper that NEC reached the decision on the new date on Friday, July 28, during a board meeting. The materials had arrived in the country onboard a Kenya Airways flight on Thursday of last week.
NEC had earlier announced that a full consignment of 1,046,100 ballot papers is currently in the country. The ballot papers, including tactile ballot guides, forms, and record of the counts had been in the country for weeks at a secure location under the maximum protection of the Liberia National Police (LNP).
Of the total ballot papers, 993,850 will be used for the senatorial by-election, while 52,250 will be used for the representative by-election.
With this new election date and announcement of the election materials now on the ground, campaign activities, which are now ongoing, are expected to end at midnight on Saturday, July 27.
Prior to the announcement of July 29th, the date was set for July 8th, which was postponed. But prior to this date, the by-elections were set for July 2. However, the NEC Chairman, Cllr. Jerome Korkoya in a press conference informed the public that holding the July 2 would have been possible as they were expecting the pre-packed kits by June 30. That did not materialize.
The second postponement led some opposition figures, especially those in the four collaborating political parties to raise alarms that something sinister was in the making by the ruling party.
The Political Leader of the Alternative National Congress (ANC), Mr. Alexander Cummings, expressed concern over, and described as “unacceptable”, the second postponement of the by-elections. Mr. Cummings feared that the delay exposes the by-elections to manipulation and creates further risks for the by-elections to be rigged by the ruling party.
“This is a clever ploy by the ruling party to avoid imminent defeat on the eve of irreversible opposition victory and it is sad that the National Elections Commissions (NEC) has allowed itself to be used in these games by a dying ruling party,” Cummings said Thursday, July 4, following announcement from the NEC that it was again postponing the by-elections.
He cautioned that if the motive behind the delay is left unchecked and not averted, it could pose a threat to future elections in 2020 and 2023 and could hijack the sovereign will of the Liberian people to freely elect a leader of their choice.
However, the Elections Commission has rejected all the allegations leveled against it by opposition figures and others citing other reasons, including elections materials not arriving in time for the conduct of the elections.
Presently, all the candidates vying for the Senatorial seat for the Montserrado by-election, including Mr. Abraham Darius Dillon, Mr. Kimmie Weeks, Ms. MacDella Cooper and Ms. Pauletta Wie, are now wooing potential voters in the county to cast their ballot for them.
Also, on the Election Day, resident voters of District #15 will be doubly casting their ballots for their senator and for their representative. At the moment, there are two frontrunners — Mr. Abu B. Kamara, running on the ticket of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and Ms. Telia Urey, who is challenging on the ticket of the four collaborating opposition political party. There are other contestants, too, who are trying to get the pledge from voters in the district.
However, with the latest development about the date, there might be one potential issue, which, probably if not addressed this week, the elections might just be postponed again for the third time.
On Friday, when the Board reached the decision to hold the by-elections on Monday, July 29, they flagged out one very important lubricant for icing the cake.
They raised concern over the failure of authorities at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning for yet not disbursing the remainder US$1 million, which the Commission is needed “for the smooth conduct of the by-elections.”
This money, according to NEC insiders, is urgently needed to pay the overhead costs of debts, including media debts that the Commission has incurred. NEC has had to do a lot of advertisements in the media and so needs to settle its financial obligations with those media houses.
It will also need to pay the stipends of the nearly 10,000 poll workers, who have been hired to work at all the polling centers in all 17 districts in the county. These workers include Presiding Officers, Election Supervisors, Voters Identification Officers, etc.
NEC had reportedLY sent a budget of US$2.5 million to the Minister of Finance and Development Planning to finance the two by-elections in the county. The government has been very slow in making this amount available in slump sum but has been doing so in piecemeal.
With the new date now set and with the government’s continued song of “no money,” which has really delayed these by-elections, it is left to be seen if the Montserrado County by-election scheduled for early next week will be successful or might be postponed again.