Liberia: December Special Senatorial Election Goes Peaceful In All Counties As Citizens Eagerly Await Results
Monrovia – The much anticipated Special Senatorial Elections (SSE) and National Referendum have come and gone but in the coming days voters across the country will be eagerly waiting for the results.
Because votes are counted by hand, and some parts of the country are hard to reach due to the bad road network, final results are expected to delay for about a week.
In the Senatorial elections, over 100 candidates are vying for 15 seats up for grasp, while there are eight propositions of the referendum including the reductions of the term of the President from six to five years; Senator from nine to seven years, Representative from six to five years, and dual citizenship.
These Propositions for amendment seek to affect Articles 45, 46, 47, 48 and 50 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.
Despite reports of irregularities and alleged fraud, the polls were peaceful and the turnout was impressive as all attention now shifts on the National Elections Commission (NEC) for the release of provisional results.
In Montserrado County, the nation’s most populous county, as well as other parts of Liberia, FrontPage Africa observed very long queues at many voting precincts.
There was, however, no health measures put in place at the voting precincts, though some voters were seen wearing masks.
Although the polls were considered peaceful, there were reports of several irregularities, including alleged voter fraud.
The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC), a civil society platform comprising 30 organizations that observes all aspects of electoral processes in Liberia, including the 2020 SSE and Referendum, in its midday election-day press conference reported that polling precinct 30280 polling place #3 at the Messiah School System in Montserrado District #3, a voter who was initially issued two ballots (senatorial and referendum) later attempted to drop an extra senatorial ballot plus the referendum in the ballot box.
When asked where he got the extra senatorial ballots, he accused the ballot paper issuer of giving it to him. However, he was later turned over to the police for further investigation.
At precinct 30057, polling place #1 in Montserrado District #13, the ECC said that a voter attempted to take a picture of his marked ballot when the NEC officials intervened and discarded his ballot paper, something that caused tension at the polling place for about five minutes before the pressure was later quelled down and voting resumed.
Also at Precinct 30484, Polling place 06 in Montserrado District #5, Observer confirmed that ballot paper issuer issued eight referendum ballots to voters that had four of the eight prepositions missing before realizing the error.
When the observer was contacted about the name of the polling place, he confirmed that the venue was an unfinished building.
Another shocking incident also happened in Monrovia when two men, Prince Roberts and Trokon Davies were arrested for being in possession of one hundred voter ID cards in 19th Street Sinkor.
Speaking to FrontPage Africa, Spoon FM Reporter, James Goodday Flomo, who broke the news, explained that he received a phone call from residents of the 19th Street community that there were men in the community distributing Voter ID to people in the community.
According to him, he disguised himself on the advice of the residents and sought the assistance of a police officer. They were taken to the Police headquarters and are currently in the custody of the police.
also in its second press statement on Election Day, the Covid-19 Election Monitoring and Violence Prevention Situation Room (CEMViP-SR), otherwise known as the Situation Room said report from its over 700 field reporters confirmed that polls in some electoral districts such as Tappita and Ganta in Nimba County started lately; and in some areas such as Foya and Quardu-Gboni Districts in Lofa County, Cestos City in River Cess County and Tappita City, Nimba County, the process was marred by poor turnout of eligible voters.
In another incident, the situation Room reported that some youth of Normon-Datono Town in Kongba District seized election ballot boxes upon the instruction of elders.
FrontPage Africa gathered that vast majority of the electorates had little or no idea on the national referendum.
FPA reporters covering the elections in Bomi County spoke with several voters who lamented that no awareness was made on the process and not a single sample paper of the referendum was distributed to eminent citizens, including chiefs, elders and community chairpersons prior to the voting, to educate their people on the referendum.
“My son, we don’t know nothing about the referendum; your will teach us or the people inside there will teach us how to do it,” Hawa Kallon, 45, stated.
Jackson Ballah, 57, states: “I only know about big umbrella, small umbrella-big chair and small chair on the referendum paper. But I don’t even know the meaning of it. If they can’t help or tell us the meaning of it inside there-for me, I will not vote for anything call referendum”.
FPA’s reporters also observed that poll workers were catching hell in educating or providing information to voters on the national referendum.
At the various polling precincts visited, inkers and other poll workers tasked with other responsibilities also busied themselves helping to sensitize the electorates on the referendum.
Some poll workers are imploring additional means or options to ensure that the voters partake in the national referendum.
“My brother, it is not easy. Everybody coming is asking questions on the referendum. We are doing multiple jobs at the same time we are educating them, but if you do not still understand-we allow you to bring someone you trust-either your daughter, son, brother or sister-to explain to you before you go to cast your vote”, a Presiding Officer at one of the precincts who spoke on condition of anonymity said.
He continued: “Majority of the people who are coming here say, they do not understand the process”.
The poll workers disclosed that though, voters have massively turnout to exercise their political franchise, the voting process was “a little bit slow” due to constraints they (poll workers) were faced with to educate “almost all of the voters” before they can cast their ballots.
“Even though they are turning out to vote and the placement of voters’ names in alphabetical order is making it easier for us to find their names, the process is consuming more time because, they keep asking questions about the referendum and we too we have to say something to them”, a female poll worker explained.
At one of the centers, an elderly voter angrily walked out of the precinct on grounds that, he has no understanding of the referendum.
“As for me, the same way they gave me their referendum paper, that’s the same way I left it and just throw it in the (ballot) box. The woman just explaining all kinds of things to me, but I can’t understand anything; what should I give myself hard time for”, the aggrieved voter stated.
Heavy deluge of rain in some parts of the country including Montserrado and Bong Counties slowed down election activities with voters abandoning the queues as the rain tumbles down.
At some precincts, polling staff were seen relocating voting materials including ballot boxes from tents put together with tarpaulins and sticks, as political parties and independent election observers keenly looked on.
“We can’t stay here with all these materials as you can see the rain is already coming down. All we can do is to find a place to carry to protect them from getting wet,” a polling staff, asking for anonymity told FrontPage Africa.
“This morning the weather was fine. And beside this is where we always erect these temporary shelters to carry out the process. But we were caught off guard. So, we have no choice but to leave.”
At the Baptist Field precinct in Duport Road, Paynesville, polling staff, election observers and voters all cramped in a small building while voting was ongoing.
An election worker, hurriedly carrying ballot boxes to safety was seen venting anger at a FrontPage Africa reporter for being photographed.
In a brief exchange with the reporter, the polling staff questioned why he was photographed without his consent, but the reporter responded that he was simply doing his job.
A first time voter, Abraham Sackie, expressed frustration over the disruption caused by the rain but said he was determined to stay until he casts his ballot.
“I am not happy with the delay that is being caused by the rain, but I will stay here until I vote, even when it gets dark” Sackie said.
In Belefania, Bong County, several polling stations were seen deserted due to heavy downpour of rain.
“The rain is trying to spoil our day. I hope it stops, otherwise they will have to extend the voting hours,” said Joshua Fahnbulleh, one of the few voters who had turned up at a polling station in the area told reporters.
Overall Process Peaceful
Despite series of pre-election violence that saw the stoning of rival candidates’ supporters and setting of vehicles ablaze, the elections and referendum were void of violence.
In its election night press conference on Tuesday, the Situation Room commended all participants in the electoral process for the largely peaceful nature that marked the day.
“In the opinion of the Situation Room, the general peaceful atmosphere of today’s exercise has sent a clear picture of the orderly character of Liberian voters,” said Dr. William R. Tolbert III, Liberia’s Peace Ambassador, and Chairman of Eminent Persons of the Situation Room.
In the statement, the Situation Room expressed gratitude for the presence of local and international observers, civil society institutions and organizations and the local media for their respective roles played during the conduct of the elections.
The Wait Continues
Meanwhile, following the closure of the polls, voters across the country have begun staying glue to their radios to listen catch the preliminary results.
In Montserrado County, preliminary results are indicating that the race for the senate is between two heavy weights- incumbent Senator Darius Dillon of the opposition CPP and Representative Thomas Fallah of the ruling CDC.
The ruling CDC is backing 15 candidates across the country. Political observers say the results are crucial for the ruling party as a win for their candidates, especially Rep. Fallah in it once stronghold of Montserrado will signal that majority of the voters are happy with its performance; while a defeat will prove the opposite.
For now, the hours of waiting continue as the NEC embarks on announcement of partial results.
Lennart Dodoo, Selma Lomax, Obadiah Johnson and Webster Clayeh contributed to this story.