Home Editorial Craving Acceptable 2023 Polls -With Focus On NEC & Census

Craving Acceptable 2023 Polls -With Focus On NEC & Census

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Prior to the June 28, 2022, Lofa County Bi-Election, the leader of the opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC), Alexander Benedict Cummings, alias “ABC,” expressed serious concern over the legality of holding the much-anticipated 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections in the absence of conducting the National Population Census.

Mr. Cummings alarmed that the conduct of the 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections without the conduct of the population census that should have been held since 2018 will put the entire electoral process in danger, with the potential of rendering the incumbent Liberian administration illegitimate to preside over the conduct of the pending elections.

Moreover, Article 80 (c, d and e) of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia states that “Every Liberian Citizen shall have the right to be registered in a constituency, and to vote in public elections only in the constituency where registered, either in person or by absentee ballot; provided that such citizen shall have the right to change his voting constituency as may be prescribed by the Legislature.”

Additionally, Article 80 (d) indicates that “Each constituency shall have an approximately equal population of 20,000, or such number of citizens as the Legislature shall prescribe in keeping with population growth and movement as revealed by a national census; provided that the total number of electoral constituencies in the Republic shall not exceed one hundred.”

And Article 80 (e) maintains that “Immediately following a national census and before the next election, the Elections Commission shall reapportion the constituencies in accordance with the new population figures so that every constituency shall have as close to the same population as possible; provided, however, that a constituency must be solely within a county.”

In the face of these major provisions of the Liberian Constitution which is the “organic law” of the land, the ANC Political Leader pointed out that any attempt for the CDC-led government, under the leadership of former international soccer icon, now President, George Manneh Weah, not to conduct the national population census ahead of the 2023 crucial elections would be unlawful and amount to an egregious violation of the Liberian Constitution.

“If we don’t conduct census, the House of Representatives would be unconstitutional. If the House is unconstitutional, the Legislature would be unconstitutional. If the Legislature is unconstitutional, the government would be unconstitutional. We must conduct the census, and we must do it on time,” Mr. Cummings cautioned recently.

He maintained that the conduct of elections without first conducting the census will automatically place a big question mark to the 2023 elections , as it relates to its legitimacy/or legality.
As if the above words of caution were not enough, the ANC First Partisan stressed: “Again, we can’t emphasize this enough, not conducting the census before the elections would risk the constitutional legitimacy of the elections in 2023, and its outcome. This would undermine Liberia’s peace and democracy.”

Howbeit, the National Population Census that should have been conducted since 2018 was initially scheduled to be held from June 19, 2022, but has been postponed to March of 2023 due to what policy makers described as “rainy season.”

Interestingly too, the December 2020 Special Senatorial Elections and National Referendum were marred by political crisis that, among others, brought about the just-ended Lofa County Senatorial Bi-Elections which official outcome, as announced by the National Elections Commission (NEC), seems to be heading for a court of competent jurisdiction to evaluate and decide on the merits or demerits of the poll results, which integrity and credibility are being challenged by one of the political parties that participated.

Crucial electoral issues such as the voters’ registration, cleaning of NEC’s voters roll as previously recommended by the Supreme Court of Liberia, and with the backing of the International Community including the regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), voters education, polling centers and tallying of votes cast among others are critical concerns among politicians and other electoral stakeholders.

For instance, during the 2020 Special Senatorial Elections, the National Referendum that sought to either limit or delimit presidential and legislative tenures, dual citizenship, among other key propositions could not be decided on by voters due generally to what some constitutional experts and analysts call lack of mass public education. A new voters registration was carried out to enable individuals who have reached the age of 18 years, and did not vote in the 2017 Presidential and Legislative Elections that brought President George Manneh Weah to state power to be eligible to register and take part in the December 8, 2020 Special Senatorial Elections.

However, such pronouncement by the NEC, at the time, triggered mixed public reactions.
One group deems it necessary to conduct new registration for eligible voters, while another group contended that it was improper to conduct new voter’s registration for the mid-term elections and that anyone wanting to register to vote should rather wait for the 2023 General and Presidential Elections.

They pointed out that there was no mass public awareness and education relative to said propositions in the referendum that would have affected the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.

Frankly, it requires intense and mass public awareness and education especially when an estimated 85 percent of Liberians cannot read and write and practically had no understanding of the referendum voting process.

In fact, many political parties including the newly established Rainbow Alliance, prior its conduct during the Special Senatorial Elections accused President Weah of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), of violating the Liberian Constitution and the elections laws of the country, by campaigning ahead of the stipulated referendum date then set by the NEC. In the face of the half-backed processes, the referendum failed to reach the targeted 50plus one.

Interestingly, that elections were marred by allegation of fraud when some unscrupulous politicians manipulated the process by trucking groups of individuals from one county to the other to vote for their sponsored candidates in gross violation of NEC’s guidelines, rules and regulations.
Such allegations of fraud were reported in Montserrado, Bomi, Grand Gedeh and Grand Bassa Counties which participated in the 2020 Special Senatorial Elections during which the opposition and the ruling parties were anxiously seeking votes to occupy vacant seats in the Legislature-Senate at the time.

This is why, we, at THE INDEPENDENT, think that the conduct of the much-awaited National Population Census should be prioritized and held before the 2023 Presidential and Legislative elections.

We are also challenging the National Elections Commission (NEC), to be proactive in putting into place proper mechanisms aimed at preventing any manipulations of the pending electoral process, and take the necessary measures to curtail mounting reports of some politicians or candidates’ broad-day involvement in the trucking of potential voters.

Perhaps we need to recall how the opposition community called for the cleaning up of NEC’s controversial Final Voters’ Roll in 2017 that nearly plunged the Liberian nation into bitter electoral conflict when the Liberty Party, then headed by astute Constitutional Lawyer, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine (may his Soul RIP), protested against the NEC’s FVR.

Although the National Elections Commission claims that it has carried out a cleanup of the FVR in collaboration with other stakeholders, but it seems many political parties are questioning the process, NEC needs to do it transparently.

Again another elections has been held in Lofa County emanating from the December 2020 Special Senatorial elections dispute.
The just-ended Lofa bi-elections is boiling with conflict as well as the former ruling Unity Party of former Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai is contending that the NEC results from the Lofa polls not credible.

UP is now asking the NEC to produce results per voting center and in not bulk.
Although NEC is yet to address itself to the UP’s concerns, many observers are of the view that were the nation’s electoral body had putting into place all necessary mechanisms, characterized by intense and mass public awareness, the alleged electoral irregularities in Lofa, if confirmed, would have been minimized.

Many political analysts are also of the conviction that NEC itself lacks the necessary technical capacity to conduct nation-wide elections and as such it would be prudent for international electoral experts to assist in the 2023 Presidential and Legislative polls as some of its current Commissioners seem to be faced with the problem of character deficit raging from the criminal indictment of the Commission’s current Chairperson to another Commissioner who is said to be of questionable integrity.

Therefore, we think it is time for the Liberian nation to see reason to either restructure the NEC or invite the United States, European Union, African Union, ECOWAS and other international electoral institutions including IFEES to immediately salvage the situation at NEC before it gets too late.

We at the INDEPENDENT also believe that Liberians have withstood too much of hardship and suffering to maintain their emerging democracy for the last 15 years up to present, and as such, no molecule of negligence, action or inaction must revert this country to the ugly past of bitter civil conflict that often originate from electoral slip-ups at the behest of power greedy individuals and their foot soldiers at the detriment of the vast majority of the citizens.

We are fully aware that the 15 years of the Liberian civil conflict/war actually emanated from, among others, the 1985 ragged elections by President Samuel Kanyon Doe and his erstwhile dictatorial and tyrannical regime.

Apart, the 1998 LURD attack from Guinean came as the result of former President Charles Taylor’s alleged political manipulations of the governance system including but not limited to the control of the nation’s electoral body, fearful and brutal security apparatus, wanton killing of civilians on makeup charges, mostly women and girls, benevolent-dictatorship and corruption among several other vices.

Therefore, we pleading with President George Manneh Weah who is also a former UNICEF’s Goodwill and Peace Ambassador to do all in his power to not allow this country to slip into another civil conflict that may be the outcome of electoral disagreement.

While we acknowledge the constitutional right of President Weah to seek a second term, we want to use this medium to particularly caution the Liberian leader to ensure that the 2023 presidential and legislative elections are conducted in an atmosphere of transparency, credibility, integrity and for the process to meet internationally acceptable democratic standards in the best interest of the Liberian nation.

A hint to the wise is sufficient.

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