Liberia: Will You Be Impartial? Elections Nominee Must Answer the Million Dollar Question

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WHEN PRESIDENT GEORGE WEAH nominated Mrs. Davidetta Browne Lansanah as Chairman of the National Elections Commission (NEC) and Cllr. Teplah Reeves as Co-chairman last month, a lot of eyebrows were raised that if confirmed by the Senate, the nominations would create the perception that Liberia may see an impartial body overseeing the upcoming Midterm Senatorial elections, as well as the 2023 General and Presidential elections, owing to the President and his party’s previous association to the two appointees.

IN 2014, Cllr. Reeves contested the senatorial seat in Rivercess County on the ticket of the current ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) ticket, the same election that took now President George Weah to the Senate. In 2017, she served as an election magistrate in the county.

 SECTION 2.5 OF THE FINAL AMENDED Elections Law of Liberia regarding Party Affiliation and Oath states: “No Commissioner, election officer or any employee of the Commission shall be a member, or an affiliate of any political party, or of an association or organization; nor shall any Commissioner, election officer or any employee of the Commission canvass for any elective public office directly or indirectly. Before assuming office, each Commissioner, election officer and every employee of the Commission shall solemnly subscribe to an Oath renouncing allegiance to, and severing all connections, affiliation and relationship with his/her own, or any political party during his/her service or tenure with the Commission.

AT HER CONFIRMATION hearing Thursday, Cllr. Reeves was in the line of fire and bombarded with questions regarding her ability to be impartial in the conduct of elections in Liberia.

REPEATEDLY, SENATOR Abraham Darius Dillon ( Liberty Party, Montserrado County) sought answers from the nominee.

SAID SENATOR DILLON: “When I wanted this seat, I guaranteed the people that I will be transparent, it was not hypothetical. So, I’m asking you. You’re going to a commission that has to do with the peace and stability of this country in terms of our democratic process. I’m not one of those who are going to vote against you because you are a member of a political party. The sole intent of the law is reasoning. Now, the law does not reason illogically that Cllr. Teplah Reeves was not supposed to be politically aligned throughout her life hoping that one day she would be appointed one day. So, the law reasoned that when you are appointed and it requires political neutrality, you should resign from that position. Can you state under oath that you will not allow yourself to be bullied, intimidated from political intrusion? That is all I’m asking, that’s not hypothetical question?

LIBERIANS AND LIBERIA cannot afford to continue going backwards. We must demand more from our leaders and end the circle of impunity and the endless season of lingering mediocrity.

AFTER SEVERAL rounds of going back-and-forth, Cllr. Reeves answered: “So, help me God”.

A FRUSTRATED SENATOR DILLON would later lament: “The woman says I’m asking her hypothetical question, I just want to know if she can guarantee that she will not allow herself to be influenced by any political intrusion from the Executive, it’s not hypothetical.”

THE SENATOR MADE IT CLEAR: “Your personal character to stand up in the face of intrusion, political intrusion, especially from the Executive. What guarantee can you give this body and the public that we should not deny you or anyone similar situated because of political alignment because you can be politically aligned and still hold your character intact.”

IN THIS REGARD, Senator Dillon pressed for guarantees. “What guarantee that you will stand up for this country and not be bullied into submission.

TO WHICH THE nominee replied: “I woke up this morning, not by myself but I woke up because somebody showed me, and somebody gave me breadth again. So, the question, it takes a trend of hypothetical and using the hypothetical thing, I can’t say what is in the future, the future doesn’t lie in my hand. I just will go by what is before me – and what has been presented to me to ensure that your vote will be counted – and I can assure you that your vote will definitely be counted when I get up in the morning.”

THIS IS NOT the answer, someone aspiring to form part of a commission whose vision is to be a credible electoral authority managing public elections in line with the laws of Liberia and international best practices, should be giving.

CLLR. REEVES’ REPONSE was vague to say the least and does not convince skeptics and doubters raising impartiality concerns that she would be anything but.

THE NEC’S MISSION IS CLEAR: “As an independent Electoral Management Body created by the Constitution, the NEC is committed to strengthening democracy and sustainable peace by managing free, fair and transparent elections for the Liberian People.”

THE ELECTORAL BODY must remain independence, must be professional, possess integrity and exhibit consistency.

LIBERIA HAS A HISTORY OF fraudulent and questionable elections. Thus, Senator Dillon is not out of line for demanding a direct response from Cllr. Reeves.

IN 1827, the presidential election result declared a victory for Charles. D.B. King of the True Whig Party(TWP), who was re-elected for a third term after defeating Thomas J. Faulkner of the People’s Party.  The elections made it into the Guinness Book of Records as the most fraudulent election ever reported in history. Despite there being fewer than 15,000 registered voters, King received around 243,000 votes, compared to 9,000 for Faulkner.

SIMILARLY, IN 1985, when Cllr. Emmett Harmon was at the helm of NEC, in the the first elections since the April 12, 1980 military coup, the results were also marred by allegations of fraud. Despite the polling being marred by allegations of widespread fraud and rigging, the final results announced by Cllr. Harmon showed Doe won with 50.9% of the vote, just enough to avoid a runoff.

THE ELECTION results marked the beginning of the end of Doe’s reign as Liberia further plunged into chaos and uncertainty and witnessed an increase in human rights abuses, corruption and ethnic tensions, ultimately leading to the start of the first civil war in 1989 and Doe’s overthrow and murder in 1990.

POLITICIANS ARE RENOWNED for making promises in the heat of campaigns,  when they do not have power. Once they happen to be elected, it becomes a whole different ball game. In fact, Albert Einstein once said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

LIBERIANS HAVE for years trumpeted the idea of change with very little results because we refused to progress along with the changing realities of the rest of the world.

IT DOESN’T take a rocket scientist for anyone to see that a lot of the things Liberia and Liberians have done for 173 years have not been working. If we truly must progress as a nation, it is important that we  try different approaches.

NOT BECAUSE a previous government did it one way makes it right. Perhaps the French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr was right. “The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same.”

LIBERIANS AND LIBERIA cannot afford to continue going backwards. We must demand more from our leaders and end the circle of impunity and the endless season of lingering mediocrity.

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