MONROVIA: Three Non-Governmental Organizations comprising the Women NGOs Secretariat of Liberia, (WONGOSOL), Sister AID Liberia, (SALI,) and the Peace Hut Women of Lofa County have applauded all political stakeholders and electorate for participating in the just ended Lofa County by-election held on June 28, 2022.
According to a release issued over the weekend, the women groups said from June 25 to 30, 2022, their joint team monitored the opening and set-up of the polls; voting and counting of ballot papers and votes, as well as closing of voting polls in three representative districts–Voinjama, Salyea and Zorzor.
The release noted that in addition to these crucial points, they observed critical electoral incidents that occurred at polling places as well as in the larger political environment of Lofa County.
According to the three women organizations, based on observations made, they indicated that the voting process was free, fair, and peaceful.
The release said the joint mission team observed a number of concerning issues that require the urgent attention of the relevant political and electoral authorities including development partners.
The Women Non-Governmental Organizations, in the release said opening and closing of the polls were timely carried out but slightly delayed beyond the required time of 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. in isolated cases and polling precincts were seemingly accessible to all, including people living with disabilities and they (set-up) tend to guarantee confidential vote casting.
Speaking on the issue of Security presence, the release said the presence of the Liberia Joint security officers was moderate or nominally low in rural areas but more visible in urban/city areas.
The women asserted that they did not observe any incident of campaigning – directly and indirectly – at the polling centers and voters were seen in an organized, single file queues, usually adhering to the guidance of poll workers and police officers.
On the issue of Voters turn out, the release indicated that turnout of voters at all the polling stations the joint team visited was seemingly low.
“Results from basic inquiry made after the Election Day regarding this revealed that many voters were likely demotivated and tend to feel their votes would have made no difference,” according to the women groups.
Touching on Women’s participation, the release said, “women felt reluctant to vote because they do not have a significant stake in Lofa’s political processes, including holding traditional and political leadership positions to directly advance the interests of women.”
Quoting respondents, the release disclosed that “women who have leadership and political ambitions are rejected by traditional leaders because women ‘cannot talk to the devil’ and they are not allowed to participate in certain traditional fora and rites.” This issue raises serious concerns of women’s political participation and leadership.
On the issue of violation of the rights of women to vote: the release said they learnt about a few cases where the right of women to vote was violated by male counterparts.
The women group referenced the case of a young woman who was prevented from voting by her elder brother because she was reportedly not voting for a candidate of his choice in Zorzor District. “Also other cases we witnessed were related to men demanding their wives to do farm works and businesses instead of going to vote,” the release pointed out.
On the issue of Peace and security concern, the release said unofficial announcements of preliminary results by political actors and journalists in ways that suggest a certain candidate already won was common, as such, this could serve as an undercurrent and potentially erupt into violent tension if the official election result is contrary to pronouncements being made.
“An even graver situation was the case of a candidate giving concession speech and congratulating a candidate ahead of the official result. On the other hand, while there was no situation that threatened the peace and security of women during the voting process, the approach of campaign applied by supporters of the two major contenders (Amb. Joseph Nyemah Boakai of the Unity Party and Hon. Thomas P. Fallah of the Congress for Democratic Change) in market places in Lofa County reportedly interrupted the livelihood activities of poor women who depend on daily wage and profits from petit businesses they operate to survive.”
“Based on observations made, we request political actors to desist from announcing unofficial results, including spurring of mal-information, misinformation, and disinformation ahead of official announcement by the National Elections Commission. Additionally, we recommend to the National Police and NEC that critical incidents such as violation of women’s rights to vote should be addressed to guarantee equal participation of women and men in electoral processes in Liberia.”
“Finally, we implore all political stakeholders, traditional leaders and electorates to support the participation of women in all aspects of political life and to as well continue to support the peace in the completion of the remaining phases of the election.