European Union Electoral Observation Mission Cautions Liberia to Implement Its 2017 Recommendations; Stop Wasting EU Taxpayers’ Money

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MONROVIA – The Electoral Observation Mission (EOM) of the European Union during the conduct of the 2017 general and presidential elections in Liberia has called on the Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC) led government of President George MannehWeah to intensify efforts towards the attainment of electoral reforms before the conduct of the 2023 elections in the country.

It can be recalled that in March 2018, the EOM of the EU finalized and submitted to the Liberian government23 recommendations intended to ensure electoral reforms and help sustain the country’s democracy.

Paramount among the recommendations submitted include: Initiation of a constitutional referendum process for the successful removal of the ethnic definition of Liberian citizenship by the National Legislature, Review of Article 83 of the constitution in light of the Supreme Court ruling of November 6, 2017, and Progressing towards a passive voter registration system based on a reliable civil register thus enhancing participation in elections and addressing uncertainties inherent to achieve voter registration.

Others are: Opportunity to vote for all qualified citizens, including persons turning 18 between registration and Election Day, as well as detainees and the hospitalized, should be granted, Modify legislation (consider enacting the Affirmative Action Bill) and NEC Candidate Nomination Regulations for enforceable affirmative action for women participation, Consider the extension of domestic observation groups to the whole electoral cycle to reinforce the role and participation of civil society in monitoring and reform of the electoral process.

The EOM of the EU was in the country on a follow-up mission aimed at assessing the degree to which the EU recommendations for improving the Liberian election framework from 2017 have been implemented in the meantime, as well as to discuss ways to achieve further progress on electoral reform.

While in the country, the group met with President George Manneh Weah, Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor, authorities of the National Elections Commission (NEC), the leadership of the National Legislature, Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, and headsof several ministries, political parties, civil society organizations, the media and the international community.  

Addressing a news conference in Monrovia at the climax of the follow up mission over the week end, the former Chief Observer of the Electoral Observation Mission of the EU to Liberia, Madam Maria Arena, disclosed that the recommendations proffered by the body would be meaningless if the Liberian government, through its relevant actors fails to take actions.

Madam Arena is also a member of the European Parliament.

She noted that the decision taken by the Mission to follow up on recommendations submitted to the Liberian government is intended to ensure that citizens benefit from electoral reforms and a sustained and vibrant democracy.

Madam Arena added that all around the world electoral processes are marred with challenges, but the necessary reforms are required to improve democracy in those areas.

“In 2017 the Liberian authorities asked Europe to be there; and we decided to be there. We made these recommendations-it is not for Europe. It is because Liberia asked us to do so. But if we do recommendations without implementation-It’s no use”.

“We know that when changes are needed, it takes time for democracy to change-be it the judiciary system, legislative, or civic education system. And so, it is necessary to initiate something before it is too late.2021 is not too late, but 2023 is too late. We have to do it as soon as possible”.

She disclosed that out of the 23 germane recommendations proffered to the Liberian government by the EU, few others remain top priorities for the Liberian people.

Women’s inclusion

She observed that women constitute about 50% of the country’s population and as such, they must be included in the democratic system of Liberia.

Madam Arena added that Liberia remains a signatory to multiple international conventions which are legal frameworks that compel the West African nation to ensure women inclusion into democratic processes, including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, among others.

“You also have your constitution. Your constitution says you have to promote these gender balance situations in your country. The Liberian constitution is not against women, but it’s for women. So, the Liberian authorities must use this constitution to have more women in the democratic system”.

She stressed that government should also find ways to make it mandatory for the inclusion of more women in the democratic system of the nation, especially by requesting political parties to have a fixed number of women in their structure or on their party’s tickets.

Voters’ registration

Madam Arena indicated that for an electoral process to be supported by the citizens, the entire process has to be transparent beginning with the voters’ registration exercise.

She noted that it is important that stakeholders are cognizant of the VR process and Liberians also feel “really respected” during the exercise.

She added that most often people, particularlyLiberians have “mistrust” in the voter registration process, and as such, the Liberian authorities should give transparency to the VR process prior to the conduct of future elections.

Safeguard future inaugurations

Madam Arena further observed that the filing of complaint arising from electoral matters has the proclivity of delaying future inaugurations and creating tension in Liberia.

The Mission is calling for the National Legislature to undertake the review of Article 83 of the 1986 Liberian constitution in a bid to help remove “uncertainty on the span of appeals timelines to safeguard future inaugurations against potential conflicts with compliant timelines”.

According to her, a complaint system that is feasible must be implored by the Liberian government to avoid conflict between the National Elections Commission (NEC) and the Supreme Court relative to inconsistency in the timing of the complaints filed.

She pointed out that more problems would arise from the 2023 general elections and Liberia’s democratic system would be “blocked” if these issues are not tackled by the relevant authorities by ensuring a clear complaint system for the benefit of all actors.

Civic education

Speaking further, Madam Arena stressed the need for the relevant electoral actors to ensure the conduct of a Civic Voters’ Education (CVE) campaign “as soon as possible” before the conduct of an election.

She added that Liberia remains faced with the lack of adequate road connectivity which makes it difficult to reach citizens in the leeward areas, and as such, efforts must be applied to accord citizens the opportunity to participate in electoral processes in a timely manner.

She also called for the full inclusion of the Liberianmedia in CVE activities.

Madam Arena indicated that such a move will build trust and confidence in the democratic process of the nation.

Be careful

She emphasized that though the recommendations submitted to the Liberian government by the EU Electoral Observation Mission have not been fully implemented, the Mission is sending out a clear message to the Liberian government to “be carefulbefore 2023 because some improvements are needed in the country”.

She noted that Liberians remain concerned about electoral reforms, and as such, government should work towards the implementation of the recommendations for the sustenance of the country’s democracy.

Madam Arena noted that though EU remains supportive of Liberia’s democratic process, the guarantee of an effective democratic system in the country rest on the shoulders of Liberian authorities and the citizens.

“Our mandate is to recommend reforms in the electoral process to have a more effective democratic system. We have seen some shortages and we’ve recommended that these shortages be changed for the future elections. We think elections should be the responsibility of the Liberian people”.

For his part, the Head of the EU Delegation to Liberia, Ambassador Laurent Delahousse, disclosed that the EU’s support to Liberia is solely funded by tax payers from European countries.

According to him, the EU would not “waste money” in Liberia without any trend of transformation.

“European financial support to Liberia or to any other country is made of money that comes out of the tax payers’ pockets. So, we try not to waste money- and where we bring money to support a program, we do so-if possible in a transformative way that that money will have an impact and obviously that we are targeting a success”. 

Ambassador Delahousse noted that EU remains willing and commitment to support and work with partners that are cooperative, including Liberia ahead of the 2023 general and presidential elections.

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