Liberia: Civil Society Organizations, Political Parties, Other Highlight Electoral Reforms Ahead of Future National Elections

Participants of the one-day National Electoral Reform Conference

Monrovia – Civil society organizations (CSOs), political parties and others have made a number of recommendations that they want enacted into law by the Legislature ahead of any future national elections.

Report by Alaskai Moore Johnson, [email protected]

Representatives of various groupings, including CSOs, political parties, media, traditional leaders, women and youth groups from across the country, meeting in a one-day Electoral Reform Conference in Monrovia, organized by the Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC), said they are suggesting those reforms being mindful of the important role elections play in the consolidation of peace and democracy.

In their joint statement, they said they are cognizant of the need for electoral reform that reflects cotemporary realities and the need to address electoral challenges that have occasioned previous elections.

Among the recommendations they are suggesting that there be a body outside of the National Elections Commission (NEC) to be responsible for civic education in Liberia; “that civic education be included in the national curriculum for schools; that Article 83 (a) of the 1986 Constitution be removed and a new timeline for election be prescribed in the New Elections Law.”

Article 83 (a) states: “Voting for the President, Vice-President, members of the Senate and members of the House of Representatives shall be conducted throughout the Republic on the second Tuesday in October of each election year.”

Around this time of the year in Liberia, the rains are still falling heavily and most of the interior roads are virtually impassable.

They further recommended that the government and its international partners invest in the biometric voter registration process leveraging on the National Identification Registry currently ongoing across the country.

Deputy House Speaker Prince Moye

“That the Government of Liberia makes financial resources available ahead of time to enable the National Elections Commission prioritizes early planning and procurement of election materials and logistics; that the formulation of Political Party Act be prioritized by the national legislature; that Sections 5.1 and 5.2 of the Code of Conduct on political participation be repealed; and that Article 83 (c) be amended to allow the establishment of an independent electoral tribunal.

Article 83 (c) states: “The returns of the elections shall be declared by the Elections Commission not later than fifteen days after the casting of ballots. Any party or candidate who complains about the manner in which the elections were conducted or who challenges the results thereof shall have the right to file a complaint with the Elections Commission. Such complaint must be filed not later than seven days after the announcement of the results of the elections. The Elections Commission shall, within thirty days of receipt of the complaint, conduct an impartial investigation and render a decision which may involve a dismissal of the complaint or a nullification of the election of a candidate. Any political party or independent candidate affected by such decision shall not later than seven days appeal against it to the Supreme Court.”

Before these civil society actors had made the above suggestions, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, who formally declared the electoral reform conference open, said since holding elections in 2005 in Liberia, electoral reform has become an acceptable part of the entire process.

According to Deputy Speaker Prince Moye, electoral reform provides the opportunity for the conduct of genuine and credible elections; adding: “It also set out the chance for the country, through election stakeholders, to assess the overall election process and make recommendations that will significantly impact the credibility of the election process.

“The electoral reform process identified specific problems with the conduct of previous election. It also identified problems with the democratic process more generally. Through the formulation of recommendations from an electoral reform process, the Legislature plays the role to improve the process, in line with its duties and responsibilities as the law making body of the country.”

Cllr. Boakai Kanneh, Law Reform Commission Chairman and Atty. Oscar Bloh

He assured everyone that the House Committee on Elections and Inaugurations, as the technical working arm of the House of Representatives, will work with civil society organizations, in partnership with the ECC, to focus on the actions to be taken to address the issues, as had been outlined in the suggested reform priorities the conferees made.

Mr. Moye, who represents Bong County in the House, further stated that electoral reforms are part of the broader democratic reform efforts to make the Liberian government more credible in the eyes of the public; adding: “The House of Representatives of the 54 Legislature pledges its commitment to the passage of reforms that will improve the conduct of future elections.”

Also speaking earlier, Cllr. Boakai Kanneh, Chair, Law Reform Commission (LRC) stated that history continues to prove that sustaining the peace and tranquility of democratic nations is often hinged on the outcome of elections.

Cllr. Kanneh, who is a law professor at the University of Liberia’s Lewis Arthur Grimes School of Law, further stated that the need for a credible and Independent Elections Commission is a sine-qua-non to Liberia’s democracy and cannot be overemphasized.

Touching on the reform of the Electoral Law, he stated, “From the statutory standpoint, the makeup of the Board of Commissioners of the NEC in terms of inclusion of major stakeholders is an outstanding issue, and seems to be one of the most contending issues repeatedly raised by political parties and the civil society. Further to the inclusion issue, it is no doubt that political parties and the civil society are an integral part of our electoral process. As a matter of fact, these two groups combined represent the interest of nearly all of the electorates, if not all. History has shown that the people are more likely to act, whether positively or negatively on the advice of their leaders from these two groups.”

Also speaking, Atty. Oscar Bloh, Chair, ECC, said that elections do not guarantee democracy but they are at the same time, a fundamental requirement to give legitimacy to any democratic government. “While it is true that elections are grounded in laws, they are equally about perception. That is why it is important at all times that electoral processes are perceived by voters to be impartial, inclusive, transparent, and marked by integrity. “Given human errors, inadequate laws and infrastructural challenges, it is difficult to organize and conduct perfect elections in Africa. Every election creates the opportunity for electoral stakeholders to reflect on the electoral process and to review the laws in order to identify challenges and take the appropriate measures to address them. Since the end of the civil war, we have had three national elections but we have not done enough in terms of developing a comprehensive package for electoral reforms. The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) commends the National Elections Commission (NEC) for steps taken to conduct post-election performance audit and to use the outcomes in addition to recommendations from national, regional and international observation groups to push for electoral reforms.”