Liberia: ‘Illegal’ Trucking of Voters Mar Start of Voters Roll Ahead of Senatorial Midterm Elections
Gbarnga – Photojournalist Sando Moore was sitting at home Friday when he got word that loads of buses had begun trucking residents from Monrovia to Bomi County.
Report by Obediah Johnson, [email protected] in Monrovia; Selma Lomax, [email protected] Reporting from Bong County
“When I got the news about the trucking of would-be voters in Bomi this morning, despite the heavy rain, I took off for Bomi,” Moore said. “I chased them trucking people. I saw so many buses and trucks risking the lives of young people for votes. Is this DEMOCRACY?’
The veteran photojournalist’s photograph which has been trending on social media is generating a lot of buzz and the attention of two influential members of the Senate.
Senator Karnga-Lawrence: ‘Shameful & Dishonorable’
Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence(CPP, Grand Bassa) lamented that the trucking of voters to counties outside the place of residents is a bad recipe for trouble. “Bad leaders are elected when you truck and bus people who have no ties to counties in the counties to vote in exchange for cash. This is a violation and dishonorable . We are setting up a task force in Bassa to await those trucks and buses. If your voting right is in Bassa, please pay your way and come update your voting status or register.”
The Senator averred that the case in Bomi is a serious violation and disrespect to the people of the County. “It tells them that their participation and views don’t matter, a stranger can be elected by trucking in people and will not be accountable for any performance in the legislature by that county.”
Senator Abraham Darius Dillon for his part described the act as “shameful and dishonorable. “Trucking people from County to County, District to District for elections is not only a violation, it is also shameful and dishonorable. This is a low-life and greedy attitude that must be discouraged. STOP taking advantage of the poverty and ignorance of the people. Stop it!!!.”
The trucking of voters on the heels of the December 8, 2020 Midterm comes as the National Elections Commission commences its much anticipate Voter Rolls Update exercise and already, residents in not just Bomi but other counties across the country.
“When I got the news about the trucking of would-bevoters in Bomi this morning, despite the heavy rain, I took off for Bomi. I chased them trucking people. I saw so many buses and trucks risking the lives of young people for votes. Is this DEMOCRACY?’– Sando Moore, Photojournalist
The trucking also comes as the Collaborating Political Parties(CPP) officially submitted a complaint to the NEC, expressing unsettling concerns over the electoral body’s decision to launch a Voters Update Exercise with the adoption of a Mobile Process Exercise which will be carried out without any reference to the other parties who are equal competitors in the sacrosanct democratic undertaking, ahead of the December 8 Senatorial Midterm elections.
In a communication addressed to the head of the NEC, Cllr. Davidetta Browne Lansanah, dated Sept. 11, 2020, the CPP accused the elections commission of dangerously treading a path of unilateralism, in collusion with the ruling CDC-led Administration.
From Monrovia to Gbarnga
In Gbarnga, Bong County, Jerry Kamara, a resident of Monrovia, arrived on board a bus belonging to the National Transit Authority to register in Gbarnga on Friday, September 11. But the 39-year-old had to be aided by a motorcyclist in locating the center to register. “This is my first time coming to Gbarnga. I was invited by the Deputy Speaker Prince Moye to register in Gbarnga for the December 8 Special Senatorial election,” he said, saying: “We were many who were from the same community in Monrovia who were asked to come Gbarnga to register for Moye.”
John Forkpah, 28, who is a native of Jorquelleh District in Bong County and had spent three years in Monrovia since his graduation from the William V. S. Tubman Gray High School in Gbarnga, was on board the NTA bus on Friday. He said Moye had invited them in Gbarnga to register to vote for him in December. “We are supporters of the Representative Moye and we decided to come Gbarnga to vote for him. He sponsored our trip to Gbarnga,” he said.
Ezekiel Peabody, a resident of Rehab Community in Monrovia, told FrontPage Africa Friday that he had been a longtime admirer of Moye and decided to join his colleagues on board the NTA bus to come Gbarnga to register to vote. “I am an ardent supporter of Moye. We are neighbors in Monrovia and we decided to come register in Gbarnga to vote for Moye in December,” he said.
Peabody said they were promised US$ 50,00 by the Deputy Speaker to come Gbarnga to register to vote for him. “Rep. Moye promised to give us to US$ 50,00 if we come to register to vote for him in Gbarnga,” he said.
Two of the main contenders in the December 8 Special Senatorial race in Bong County – Deputy Speaker Prince Moye and incumbent senator Henry Yallah – have been accused of trucking people in Bong County, mainly first time voters to vote for them in the December Senate election. Moye and Yallah have been accused of sponsoring the trucking of people in Gbarnga in return of cash. Elizabeth Collins, 20, a resident of Soul Clinic community in Monrovia admitted being trucked to Gbarnga to vote for Senator Henry for US$ 30,00. “I was asked by Senator Henry Yallah to come and register in Gbarnga to vote for him. In fact, he sent one of his office staffers to show us where to vote in Gbarnga,” he said.
Collins said she arrived in Gbarnga on Thursday and was accommodated by the senator. “Before we arrived in Gbarnga Senator Yallah had already booked a guest house for us to pass the night. He gave us US$ 30.00 after we showed our voters card to him,” he said.
Aaron Flomo, who says he is a supporter of Senator Yallah, claimed that the senator had arranged with them three days before coming to Gbarnga to register to vote for him. He claimed Senator Yallah lured them over with US$ 30,00 to come to Gbarnga to register for him. “He promised to give us US$30,00 before Gbarnga and true to his words he did what he promised us,” he said.
Both Yallah and Moye have denied trucking people to Bong County to register in their favor. Moye couldn’t be reached for clarity but Yallah speaking to FrontPage Africa said: “Why should I truck people in Bong County? I have no history of trucking people in Bong County to win election. In 2011 senatorial election, the people of Bong County voted me overwhelmingly without trucking anyone and I still enjoy that support from the people. I don’t need to truck people to win re-election.”
The trucking of voters has become rampant during election period in Liberia, especially by people vying for elected positions. During the 2017 presidential elections, several people, including men, women and young people were reportedly arrested in Bentol City, Monsterrado County by the Liberia National Police following a tip-off for allegedly trucking voters.
But in Bong County, no arrests have been made by police despite the trucking of voters in the county.
Upper Bong County national Elections Commission Magistrate Daniel Newland told FrontPage Africa Saturday that he has received several complaints of the trucking of people to Gbarnga by senatorial aspirants but those allegations have not been verified. “People have told us that senatorial aspirants have begun trucking people in Bong County to register for them. We are informed our workers to screen people asking for transfer of registration centers before issuing them new voters identification card,” he said.
Besides Bomi and Bong counties, incidents of trucking have also been reported from Monrovia to Gbarpolu and Sinoe, all coming immediately after the launched of the voter roll exercise.
The truckers, regarded as “commercial voters”, were spotted under the heavy downpour of rain last Friday, boarding buses, pickups and other vehicles chartered by potential aspirants to ferry them to Bomi, Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu counties respectively.
Others perceived to be “first-time voters” also trooped in to be a part of the “trucking” exercise.
In flagrant disregard for the health protocols, particularly social distancing to combat the Coronavirus pandemic in Liberia, the “commercial voters” were seen in a jubilant mood clustered in various vehicles.
Carrying less about their safety as a result of the cluster manner and form in which they were jammed packed in vehicles, the “commercial voters” chanted political slogans and battle cries, while making their way to their various destinations.
“We are marching to Zion, the beautiful, beautiful Zion, we are marching all the way to Zionnnn….the beautiful city of gold”, they sang while clustered at the back of a pick-up.
Citizens leaving their respective districts in Montserrado to register and cast their votes in the western region claimed abandonment by their lawmakers, lack of love for those contesting, high rate of poverty, amongst others as factors responsible for their decision taken.
They noted that the trading of their votes is better than giving power to people who do not have their districts or the country at heart.
“For me; as soon I heard the news that people will be paid 20USD for us to go and register, I was the first person on the road this morning. I done care whether the person who will give us the money will win or not; it’s not my business. I just want my mah (money) and I will give you my card to leave from there”, Mohammed Massaley, a resident of district # 16 stated.
Mr. Massaley continued: “We continue to vote for people free; we stood in the rain and sun to vote for them, but we can’t see any improvement. It is better for me to sell my voting card than to vote for someone free who will not do anything for me. At least my heart will not be burning when you are not doing anything because I didn’t vote for you”.
“I am going to either Cape Mount or Bomi to register there. Whether I get someone there or not, I am going to register there. I heard that they gave people L$1500 (less than US$10); and some people giving US$20. I will go register to the person who will give the highest money because I want to buy a bag of rice for my children to eat” an elderly woman stated while boarding a bus to the western part of Liberia.
“Trucking people from County to County, District to District for elections is not only a violation, it is also shameful and dishonourable. This is a low-life and greedy attitude that must be discouraged. STOP taking advantage of the poverty and ignorance of the people. Stop it!!!.”– Senator Abraham Darius Dillon
For Sale: ‘Commercial Voters’
The “trucking of commercial voters” is now becoming a new phenomenon in the political dispensation of Liberia due to the failure of the National Elections Commission (NEC) to take concrete actions, or give a definite position on the issue of “voters’ trucking”
Many politicians and potential electorates at times rely on the weakness or the spectator role being played by the NEC to engage in the act.
Politicians, particularly incumbent lawmakers who fear defeat as payback for their failure or inability to help improve the living conditions of their constituents are the ones mostly involved. But the financial inducement of electorates does not necessarily guarantee the chances of a candidate winning in an election as evidenced by the defeat of scores of incumbent lawmakers, including Representatives and Senators during the conduct of the 2017 elections.
“The way power sweet, that’s the same way their money sweet too. We will eat their money and during election time, we will not go there,” one Samuel Williams who claimed to be on his way Gbarpolu County stated.
NEC’s Response: “Trucking Against the Law’
Speaking in an interview with FPA via telephone, the Director of Communications at the NEC, Mr. Henry Flomo, disclosed that the trucking of financially induced voters is against the electoral laws of Liberia.
When quizzed whether the commission is aware or has received an official complaint of “commercial voters” being trucked into western Liberia, Mr. Flomo said: “nothing of such has been brought to my attention”.
He added that the commission “does not go out looking for cases”, and as such, it remains the sole prerogative of citizens to allow or reject the trucking of commercial voters into their respective districts or counties.
“Trucking is against the law, but what we can come out to say is-the people out there are the first to either allow or stop trucking. You have a right if you see someone at your polling precinct or registration center to report the matter to the Registrar”.
“You may not know every community member, but you have the right to protest; and that person can be stopped right there. If that person feels uncomfortable, then we have a case right there. The law is there but the citizens are the first line of defense when it comes to that law”.
Mr. Flomo pointed out that citizens can also challenge the eligibility of a person suspicious of being trucked and have already obtained a voter registration card during the exhibition period.
Ahead of the 2017 general and presidential elections, when the NEC, headed by Cllr. Jerome Korkoya sought to introduce measures to curb the rampant trucking of voters to various parts of Liberia by candidates looking to win senatorial and legislative elections, members of both houses of the National Legislature balked at the idea of addressing a nagging issue that comes around every election circle.
Undermining ‘Free & Fair’ Process
The trucking of “commercial voters” appears to be undermining the fundamental purpose of free and fair elections and frustrates Liberia’s democratic growth.
The move also robs the electorates of their constitutional right and duty to choose their leaders in keeping with Article 1 of the 1986 Liberian constitution.
The constitution is regarded as the organic law of the land.
Article 1 of the 1986 Liberian constitution states that: “All power is inherent in the people. All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness so require. In order to ensure a democratic government which responds to the wishes of the governed, the people shall have the right at such period and in such manner as provided for under this Constitution, to cause their public servants to leave the office and to fill vacancies by regular elections and appointments”.
Recently, Dr. Zobong Norman, a senatorial aspirant in Bomi County, stated that the imposition of leadership on a constituency by trucked voters most often makes that leadership “unresponsive and unaccountable to the people”.
“Voter trucking is a scheme designed by politicians to buy the votes of usually poor electorates and truck them to register and vote in electoral districts where these voters have no right to do so. Voter trucking is illegal and getting bigger and bigger every electoral season. Voter trucking is attractive to politicians who have less confidence in themselves and have acquired a lot of ill-gotten public money”.
“It’s fashionable today to hear elected politicians say “I bought my votes.” This state of affairs does not encourage good governance. This state of affairs seems to me–sooner or later–to be a recipe for social frustration and turmoil”.
He added that the trucking of voters also waste “scarce local and donor funding, as the purpose of elections funding is ultimately to ensure credible elections and results”.