MONROVIA – Liberty Party Representative Aspirant Emmanuel K. Barnes has threatened to file a writ of prohibition against the ensuing Voter Registration exercise as a result of the decision taken by authorities of the National Elections Commission (NEC) to select the properties of incumbent Representative Abraham Vamuyah Corneh for the conduct of the process.
Liberians are expected to go to the polls on October 10 this year to elect their new leaders, according to a timetable released by the NEC.
Recently, the commission released voter registration centers for the conduct of the elections.
FrontPage Africa has reliably gathered that out of a total of 29 centers allocated for district # 14, two centers are the private properties of Representative Corneh.
They include: the Savaco Community School with precinct code 30139 and the Vai Town Market Block Factory (Code 30337), located in the commercial compound of the lawmaker in Vai Town.
The both precincts were used for the VR and polling processes of the 2017 and 2020 general and senatorial elections respectively. The Vai Town Market Block factory had seven (7) polling places and three thousand two hundred and thirty-eight (3238) registered voters, while the Savaco Community School had about eight (8) polling places with three thousand six hundred and eleven (3611) registered voters.
But speaking in an exclusive interview with FrontPage Africa via telephone on Wednesday, March 8, Mr. Barnes said the move made by the NEC to downplay the availability of hundreds of other public and private properties in the district and consistently select the properties of Representative Corneh, is a calculated ploy to rig the votes in favor of the incumbent this year.
He claimed that these two precincts have been allegedly used by Representative Corneh to manipulate the outcome of the election results in his favor.
He said eligible voters are trucked there, while marketers are compelled to register and vote in favor of the incumbent, even though they do not reside in the district, as a bargaining arrangement to reduce their rental fees.
He stressed that the process will not be free, fair and transparent if these precincts are hosted in the properties of the lawmaker.
“These two precincts, the Savaco School and the Vai Town market that are housed in the Vamuco market have been used by the sitting lawmaker (Abraham Vamunyah Corneh as a medium to carry on voters’ manipulation, the trucking of people to deny other candidates or participants to freely canvass in those areas.”
Mr. Barnes maintained that in keeping with the New Elections Law of the country, candidates must have equal access to campaign in various communities, but he and other candidates would not be allowed to campaign at the areas and properties of Representative Corneh that have been selected by the NEC .
“The reason why NEC uses a market place, for example the Red Light and Duala markets, is because these places are public buildings and they are open to everyone-unlike the Vamuco market which is the private property of the sitting lawmaker.”
Destroying opposition campaign materials
Mr. Barnes recalled that during the campaign period of the 2017 elections, the posters and banners of other candidates posted on the “walls of the Vamuco market and Savaco School were torn up on grounds that they are Mr. Corneh’s private properties.”
He stressed that candidates were also deny access to campaign in those facilities.
He pointed out that despite his efforts applied to call the attention of the commission to the issue in a communication dated September 13 last year, authorities of the NEC went ahead and selected the properties of Representative Corneh for the VR process.
At the time, the VR process was scheduled for December 2022. But the selection of a company to carry out the biometric VR process delayed the early start of the exercise. The VR exercise is expected to commence on March 20.
Mr. Barnes maintained that his unbending quest for a change of the two precincts is to create a level playing field for all those contesting, including the sitting lawmaker.
“We cannot be going into 2023 where this lawmaker who has failed our people will want to hide under election manipulation or malpractices to get re-elected. If anyone will be elected in district # 14, it should be based on the free will and decision of the people-not through coercion or manipulation.”
Compromised NEC workers
The Liberty Party Representative Aspirant further pointed out that majority of his poll watchers assigned at the Savaco Community School and Vai Town Block Factory in 2017 did not sign the results released by the NEC.
He added that though he came second to the incumbent at these precincts, his representatives at the polls observed that the entire voting process was characterized by flaws in favor of the incumbent.
“The NEC workers at those precincts were compromised and they refused to count the ballot papers before the commencement of voting; and there were many other suspected fraudulent activities going on there. When my poll watchers there protested, they were chased out of that place. They didn’t sign the tally sheets.”
The situation was calmed following the intervention of officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP).
Mr. Barnes vowed to ensure that the situation does not reoccur during the elections this year.
NEC written again
In his latest communication addressed to authorities of the NEC on March 7, Mr. Barnes called for the relocation of the two precincts to ensure all candidates have equal access and are free to canvass.
“A facility that will barred other participants from freely reaching out to voters should not be used in an election that should seeing as free, fair and transparent. This is of interest to us because we are once more participating in the process and will not tolerate any form of access denial in any part of the district. In the face of my readiness to resist any restriction, it is obvious that maintaining these precincts will present a possible medium for election violence were we to be confronted in said manner.”
He maintained that “for the sake of a peaceful election in District #14, we are again seeking relocation of the above-mentioned precincts from the very start of the voters registration process.”
“We have written the NEC again and if we do not get redress between now and the end of this week, our lawyers are already looking at the legality of this matter and we will head to the Supreme Court to seek for a writ of prohibition on the usage of those two polling precincts,” Mr. Barnes stated.
Mr. Barnes pointed out that his decision to raise a red flag over a creeping voters manipulation in the ensuing elections is to help prevent the rigging of the votes in favor of Representative Corneh.
“Election rigging does not happen on election or voting day. The processes leading to the elections are the ones that formulate the entire process of rigging. If we allow this failed lawmaker of ours to have voting precincts at his private properties, I do not fear anything-but we are challenging the processes leading to elections because, we do not want to challenge the outcome of the elections which will not have sufficient evidence to overturn the outcome of the voting.”
He said authorities of the NEC are not showing any semblance of neutrality in executing their assigned tasks and responsibilities as evidenced by their action to maintain the two precincts at Representative Corneh’s properties even though they have been requested to relocate these centers in keeping with the New Election Law of Liberia.
He stated that the Commissioners continue to play deaf ears to his call as a participant in the electoral processes of the country.
“They (Commissioners) kept quiet on my concerns. They went ahead and use similar centers that dwellers and other participants are protesting. This sends a message that even before the conduct of the elections, the NEC is compromised.”
Mr. Barnes contested the Representative elections and came third to the incumbent.
It remains unclear why the NEC continues to select the properties of Representative Corneh for the voter registration process in district # 14.
The move remains questionable since in fact, Representative Corneh is seeking re-election.
Other candidates may be denied access to campaign in the densely populated areas for fear of being attacked or denied by supporters of the incumbent.
Electoral violence and other malpractices that would lead to chaos and the loss of lives and properties are eminent if steps are not taken by international partners and electoral stakeholders to compel the commission to provide a level playing field for all candidates ahead of the much-anticipated elections in October 2023.