Liberia: Increasing Voters’ Apathy, Looming Lawsuit May Thwart Conduct of By-Elections


Monrovia – From the very beginning, the pending senatorial by-elections had all the makings of becoming a flop. And now, voters’ apathy and a potential lawsuit would likely overshadow the impending polls.

Report by Alpha Daffae Senkpeni, [email protected]

Political campaigns are pretty lukewarm even though it was declared open more than a week ago by the National Elections Commission (NEC). Everything appears to be falling short of providing any semblance of a political spectacle. All the unfolding leading to this period of the elections have been abysmal.

First, there was a war-of-words between the Minister of Finance and the head of the Elections Commission over the availability of funds to conduct the polls.

Second, arguments ensued over alleged ‘blatant’ violations of the Constitution. Civil society groups flagged that rescheduling the elections was a constitutional breach, and some termed a Resolution signed by the Legislature calling for the holding of the elections on July 31, 2018 as unconstitutional.

Injunction Looms

There are also concerns that independent observers are abandoning the process; some are still adamant that the process is “unconstitutional”.

Local elections observatory body, Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC), is the latest to disclose that it will stay away from these by-elections.

Malcolm Joseph, an Executive of the ECC, told FPA on Wednesday that the body will not observe the campaign due to what it terms as using an “unconstitutional means to address a constitutional issue.”

“We have violated the Constitution by missing the stipulated date for elections, now to go and seek a joint resolution from the Legislature to undo which is an unconstitutional action, we say no and can’t be a party to help violate the constitution,” Joseph said.

He hinted at a possible legal action against the election process when he told FPA that “there might be other legal actions that might come up from the ECC and other actors in the election process.”

“There are remedial actions that the ECC might be taking in the next couple of days,” he said.

The ECC executive is not emphatic about the body’s plans to seek legal action against the holding of the two by-elections, but observers weighing in on the situation say any injunction would stall the July 31 polls as was in the case of the 2017 presidential election which was later overshadowed by a lawsuit filed against conduct of a runoff.

Earlier this month, the ECC had threatened to challenge the legality of the Legislative Resolution at the Supreme Court if the election was pushed to a new date.

Oscar Bloh, chairman of the ECC steering committee, said at a news conference in June: “To use a joint Resolution to conduct the By-elections will mean an amendment to Article 37 and therefore a breach of the law because an amendment to the Constitution can only be done through a national referendum (Article 91).”

Article 37 of the Constitution mandates the NEC to conduct the election to fill any vacancy in the Legislature not later than 90 days after the Presiding officer of the Legislature shall have notified the NEC.

The vacancies were created after then Senators George Mannah Weah and Jewel Howard-Taylor were elected President and Vice President respectively during the 2017 election.

Hardship Increases Voters’ Apathy 

For now, voters’ apathy is increasing and this might eventually injure the legitimacy of the results should the polls go ahead as planned.

Observers are claiming that the prevailing economic situation in the country is creating the apathy amongst voters. Even political parties are concern and are recalibrating their strategies to lure voters.

Unity Party, the former ruling party which is fielding a female candidate in Montserrado County, says it is approaching the “campaign differently” this time around.

Mo Alli, the party’s Secretary General, says they have adopted “Jehovah witness styled campaign as the first approach; will stage rallies and conclude with series of engagements with the media”.

“We are mobilizing to start engaging communities – and we will visit all the 17 districts and then line up media activities to spread our campaign messages,” Alli said, admitting that many voters are expressing disenchantment.

Regardless the campaign strategy employ by any one of the 12 candidates – in the Bong and Montserrado race – luring disenchanted voters to the ballot box would be a herculean task.

Some Liberians are vowing to abstain from the process.

“I don’t even care about this so-called by-election,” says David Garway, a resident of Paynesville City, who describes the impending polls as “insignificant to his life.”

“We have just voted, a year has not even passed but see how the economy is becoming bad and things are hard on us the ordinary Liberians. Why should I vote for again?”

“It doesn’t make sense for people to stand in line and vote for a government that doesn’t seek the interest of the people that they represent,” adds Sam Konway of the ELWA community.

Jiba M. Kromah, a student of the University of Liberia, blames the change in the stipulated date and the economic hardship for the low interest shown by Liberians.

“Times are difficult and the Liberian people are not patient. Some of them have made statement that they already know who they are going to vote for, they just waiting the day but many of them are not willing to vote,” he said.

“We observed that the process will be very poor indeed because the masses are crying every day because of the economic constraint in the country,” says Albert T. Ninneh, a resident of downtown Monrovia, who also predicts a “very low turnout” on Election Day.

Apparently, the politicians are aware that the consistent lack of delivery by elected officials is injuring the country’s democratic process.

For a party like UP that has existed through years of criticisms for failing to impact voters, it says “consistent increase in hardship might discourage people from turning out on July 31” and Alli says “Decreasing voters’ apathy is part of our strategy for this by-elections.”

Several attempts to speak to other candidates and political parties about their challenges on the campaign trail proved futile. The ruling Coalition for Democratic Change Chairman, Mulbah Morlu, promised to speak to FPA but later declined.

Lacklustre NEC

At the same time, NEC appears to be lacklustre in its voter civic education, probably due to earlier concerns expressed about limited funding.

NEC Chairman, Jerome Korkoya, recently disclosed that the government provided US$2,200,464 while support from foreign partners amounted to US$577,465.45 for the conduct of the two elections.

Henry Flomo, NEC Communication Director, could not tell FrontPage Africa more about the status of the voters’ roll update, although he said there were replacements of voter cards in the second week of June.

Meanwhile, there are concerns that “poor awareness” by the commission is having nominal impact on the process and would leave many potential voters unaware about the process with less than 20 days to go.

Romeo Famuleh, another student of UL, says “NEC should be telling the people that we are going to election.”

“People are still confused about the election date. Because the actual date that was set was cancel. There are few people who are in the know of the election process,” he added.

However, the commission has announced that 80% of pre-packed materials arrived in the country on July 1 and the remaining 20% was expected to arrive on or before July 7, 2018.