Monrovia – As Liberia moves toward its third post-conflict election and a historic transfer of power, the Carter Center’s international election observation mission Tuesday released a statement on the process to date, which includes recommendations to ensurea peaceful, credible election.
For the first time, Liberia’s National Elections Commission is managing the election process independent of large-scale international assistance.
After acknowledging some technical difficulties in the compilation of the voter lists, the NEC continues to work on finalizing the voter roll. Although the NEC is still in compliance with legal deadlines for its finalization, presidential candidates and political party officials have expressed concerns to The Carter Center about its status.
Following President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s tenure as the first elected female head of state in Africa, hopes were high for the participation of women in Liberian politics.
Unfortunately, women’s participation in this election is limited.
Only two parties successfully ensured that 30 percent of their candidates were women.
Overall, political parties expressed measured confidence in the impartiality of the NEC. In an effort to bolster transparency, the NEC has convened regular meetings with the political parties at the national level through the Inter-Party Consultative Committee.
This practice does not seem to be consistently replicated in the counties, where it could offer a valuable channel of communication and dispute resolution.
Presidential candidates and political party officials have also raised concerns regarding the perception of bias in the media and the need to pay for coverage.
Although the Center is not engaged in systematic media monitoring, it has noted a lack of a regulatory framework to provide electoral contestants with equitable access to the media.
Official campaigning has only just begun, with a few major rallies in the capital and minimal activity observed in the counties.
Despite the limited extent of campaign activity so far, the Center is encouraged by its peaceful and positive character, as well as by the commitment to a peaceful election professed by all the candidates with whom the mission has met.
The Carter Center notes with concern that allegations of the misuse of state resources in the campaign are widespread, and will be closely observing this throughout the process.
“This election is an important stage in the consolidation of Liberia’s democracy,” said Jordan Ryan, vice president of the Carter Center’s peace programs.
“The Center is encouraged by the NEC’s progress and by the peaceful conduct of the campaign to date. We urge the NEC to communicate clearly with the parties, and we encourage the parties to continue their cooperation with the NEC and maintain their commitment to peace.”
The pre-election statement is based on the work of the Center’s core team and six long term observers, who have been in the country since early August and have now visited 13 of the country’s 15 counties.
Shortly before election day, more than 30 short-term observers will join the team in Liberia and deploy across the country to assess the voting, counting, and tabulation processes.
In the spirit of support and cooperation, the statement offers a number of recommendations, including:
To increase transparency and election stakeholders’ confidence in the integrity of the voter lists, the NEC should provide further information on what has been done to address deficiencies in the provisional list and provide political parties copies of the final lists without delay.
In furtherance of its goal to have women participate in the administration of the election, the NEC should prioritize the recruitment of women at all levels.
To ensure a level playing field for all contestants, the NEC and other relevant authorities should thoroughly investigate all allegations of the misuse of administrative resources and use existing remedies to hold perpetrators accountable.
To increase voters’ awareness of candidates and political party platforms and to allow for equal opportunities, Liberian authorities should consider providing free airtime on the state broadcaster to political parties and presidential candidates on an equal basis.
To facilitate broad sharing of key electoral information, the NEC should consider replicating the IPCC structure at the county level.
Further, the national-level IPCC should become a weekly event. This could ensure more effective outreach to election stakeholders and build confidence by keeping stakeholders informed of key NEC decisions and issues that may impact their participation.
Most importantly, in promotion of a smooth transition, candidates and political party leaders should reiterate their commitment to running a peaceful campaign and call on all supporters to act accordingly.