Liberia: Senatorial Candidate Edith Gongloe-Weh Brands ‘Fraud, Violence’ against Female Candidates in Nimba, Gbarpolu Counties as Calculated Attempts to Stop Women’s Participation
Monrovia – One of Liberia’s top female politicians, Edith Gongloe-Weh says unfavorable events against women candidates in Gbarpolu and Nimba Counties in the just ended special senatorial elections are calculated attempts to silence women in Liberian politics.
Madam Gongloe-Weh, similar to Madam Botoe Kanneh of Gbarpolu who was attacked by the Country Devil and later rescued by a group of women, was the lone female candidate among seven contestants vying for one of Nimba County’s senatorial seats on the ticket of the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP).
“For us, what happened in Nimba and Gbarpolu are not isolated events. They are calculated attempts to silence the voices of women in politics and squash the hard-earned legacy of Madam Sirleaf, even while she is alive. What an affront!” she charged.
“They have always charged that women do not support women. That story was challenged in the just-ended mid-term election in some counties. The women of Nimba and Gbarpolu Counties stood up. They voted! Their votes have been manipulated and we, on their behalf, want answers.”
Following the announcement of the results by the National Elections Commission (NEC), declaring her closest rival, Rep. Jeremiah Koung of the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR) as Winner of the polls in Nimba, Madam Gongloe-Weh and the CPP filed complaints of irregularities and fraud with the Election Magistrate of Upper Nimba County. The case was transferred to Monrovia after the first hearing in Sanniquellie on the request of Madam Gongloe-Weh and lawyers, citing security reasons. However, more than a month later, investigation has not completed.
Explaining her ordeal she said: “Those threats were detected when we observed that we were being followed by an unmarked vehicle over the course of several days just before and immediately after the December 8, 2020 election. Our intelligence sources warned us to be careful. Based on their advice, we fled Ganta and sought refuge outside of Nimba County. It was due to our expressed fear that our lawyers requested the change of venue, which was granted by the hearing officer in Sanniquellie.”
Addressing a press conference on Thursday, alongside the coalition of Liberian women to give status on the case, Madam Gongloe-Weh said the elections in Nimba was marred by allegations of fraud and irregularities, and throughout the electioneering period, she suffered intimidations and verbal abuses by some of her male opponents, particularly Rep. Jeremiah Koung and his CDC-backed MDR Party.
“… Some of the male candidates, particularly the MDR/CDC candidate and his party’s political leader took turns to insult us every step of the way during the campaign and after the election,” she alleged.
“But their insults did not deter us from fighting for our rights in the senatorial election. I am sure you remember what happened to Botoe Kanneh, Gbarpolu’s lone female candidate in a field of eight men. Like Madam Kanneh, we were similarly the only female candidate in the field of seven candidates. We were already following the Gbarpolu case where Madam Botoe was threatened with the country devil, beaten and one of her female supporters reportedly sexually abused. Anyone would understand why we had to flee Nimba County, following the information we received about the surveillance of our whereabouts.”
In response, Rep. Koung denied the allegations, and said Madam Gonglo-Weh was seeking sympathy from the women coalition and the international community because she has no evidence to substantiate her claims.
“The election in Nimba was free and fair. We were seven candidates, and we all made our case to the Nimba people. Fortunately for me, I won. They listen to my case, they bought my message and they voted for me,” he said.
“Unfortunately, Madam Gongloe-weh who felt that she was cheated filed the complaints before NEC on the 13th of December. From the 13th until today, she has not been able to prove any sign of fraud. All the witnesses she brought are all about heresy. People don’t win election by heresy.”
The lone female candidate also accused Rep. Koung of taking to his social mediate page to rain denigrating statements against her. “When our competitor took to the social media and stated that election is not a beauty pageant, he was implying that women are only fit to participate in beauty pageants. He went further to say that ‘If it were a beauty pageant, I would not have participated because I am a man.”
But in clarifying his comments, he stated: “I said the last time, there are king contest and queen contest. In a king contest only men participate, and in a queen contest only women. National election is all about men and women going into the process to make their case, and any of them can be preferred by the people. In this case, I was preferred. And so for her to be crying all around the place as if someone cheated her, I think it is wrong. She has taken the case to NEC, let see how it goes. We have the Supreme Court here. The Supreme Court is the final decision making body in our country.”
Allegations of Fraud
In her statement, Madame Gongloe-Weh explained thatOn December 7, 2020, her poll watchers for Districts Four and Five were chased by unknown local persons in several of the precincts; thus denying her of observers in the areas. Due to lack of communication, she noted that her team did not get the information until a day after the election. Owing to the situation, she said when the tallying was going on in Upper and Lower Nimba Tally centers, she requested for the votes in those two districts to be physically counted, but her request was turned down.
She also alleged that on polling day, On December 8, 2020, ballots were cast in open cartoons (paper boxes) at two polling centers in Ganta, instead of the regularly certified and protected ballot boxes. And when her team questioned the electoral supervisor for those centers, they were told that the ballot boxes were missing, adding that the election supervisor admitted during the ongoing hearing at the NEC national headquarters in Monrovia.
According to her, the supervisor testified that the Ganta Police had refused to take charge of the boxes and other sensitive election materials on the eve of the polls, and as a result of the police refusal, the boxes and sensitive materials were kept at the J.W Pearson High School without security and some of the boxes went missing the following morning.
“That was the justification provided for voting in open cartoons! Some electorate refused to vote in open cartoon, so they left without voting,” she said.
Further in her explanation, she alleged that her team observed during the tally in Sanniquellie that her votes were reduced at two polling centers, and when she complained, the magistrate ordered that they taken down the computer printout containing results off the wall. The Magistrate, she claimed, refused to post the computer print on the wall thereafter and denied her observers to get copies of the tally sheet sent to Monrovia, adding, “We filed our complaint to the very magistrate who gave us the complaint form based on our verbal complaint.”
In another scenario, she explained that a few days into the counting, ballot boxes with broken seals arrived in Sanniquellie without any security, when her team raised the alarm, the magistrate stated that the boxes were of no significance because the TEES (Temper Evidence Envelopes) were available in his possession.
She said: “Our observer took note and continued with the tallying. Later, the TEES for those very unaccompanied boxes that had broken seals, were missing. The TEES could not be found for 8 precincts. At that point, we compiled our combined complaints and presented it to the magistrate, who had become so defensive towards our observers at that point.”
Call for Rerun
Although the investigation is still ongoing, Madam Edith Gongloe-Weh has called for a rerun in selected areas that were marred by ‘irregularities, challenging her opponent to accept her request.
The right thing to do in Nimba, is a rerun in select localities where irregularities occurred. It is simple! If our opponent claim that he won fair and square, he should not shy away from a rerun anywhere,” she noted.