Home Governance 2023 Elections Head For: Danger…As Crises, Lawlessness Loom Large

2023 Elections Head For: Danger…As Crises, Lawlessness Loom Large

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By Our Staff Writer

MONROVIA: As prolonged internal leadership rivalries and other crises which engulfed some key opposition political parties are being gradually resolved, it seems the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), of incumbent President, George Manneh Weah, is heading for a serious political brouhaha (confusion) as some members of constituent political parties of the Coalition are unhappy with the current state of affairs.

The three-party governing Coalition comprises the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), of President Weah; the former governing National Patriotic Party (NPP), of Chief Jewel Howard Taylor, incumbent Vice President of Liberia, and NPP political leader; and the Liberian People’s Democratic Party (LPDP), of former House Speaker, J. Alex Tyler.

Up to press time yesterday, the Coalition Document for the 2023 Presidential and Legislative elections was still hanging in the balance as two of CDC’s constituent parties-NPP and LPDP’s key executives were reneging to affix their respective signatures to the new agreement.

Apart, during CDC nomination Rally for the President’s second term Presidential bid, there were reports of State security officers seen in CDC regalia, something that angered the opposition community and scores of civil society organizations and international partners.

But, Government of Liberia, in a speedily issued press release says, it has taken due cognizance of concerns coming from local and international quarters as it relates to the donning of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) political paraphernalia (including T-shirts and berets) by some members of Liberian state security institutions, particularly the Executive Protection Service (EPS) during CDC’s “One Million-Man Rally,” aimed at the nomination of President George Manneh Weah to seek a second six-year constitutional term.

The Weah petitioning ceremonies were held concomitantly in at least seven of Liberia’s fifteen counties, with hundreds of thousands of CDCians, “Weahcians,” sympathizers and well-wishers in full attendance.

The first six-year constitutional lifespan of the CDC-led Government of Liberia, headed by Weah, a former United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, will end in October, this year.

According to an Information Ministry press release, issued on Monday, February 6, 2023, the Government described the expressed concerns as legitimate.

The Government, in the release, terms the Executive Protection Service (EPS) Officers’ behavior as “embarrassing.”

However, the Government attributed such behavior by the EPS Officers to “over-exuberance and lack of knowledge of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of the service.”

The Information Ministry release added that the Chairman of the Joint-Security Forces of Liberia, Justice Minister, Cllr. Frank Musah Dean Jr., who is also Attorney General of Liberia, has mandated EPS Director, Trokon Nathaniel Roberts, to ensure that henceforth, such unprofessional display by any member of the EPS does not recur.

According to the Government’s release, in a mandate to the National Security Forces of Liberia, Justice Minister Dean reminded all military, paramilitary, and other related security institutions of their oath to defend and protect all citizens and residents of the country in a manner that demonstrates neutrality, professionalism, and decency.

Moreover, the Government of Liberia reiterated its commitment to the conduct of free, fair, transparent and democratic elections in an environment that is secure and open to all stakeholders and participants regardless of political affiliation.

The government further said, it will not allow the regrettable action which occurred on Saturday, February 4, 2023, on the part of some members of the EPS to put a dent in the enviable record of the Weah-led Administration of successfully conducting several elections in the country, the release, signed by Information Minister, Ledgerhood J. Rennie, concluded.

Meanwhile, following the CDC rally over the weekend, the Standard Bearer of the Rainbow Alliance (RA), Reginald B. Goodridge, Sr., described as “extremely worrisome the display of para-military force throughout the City of Monrovia during the political rally held by the Coalition for Democratic Change, (CDC), on February 4.
Rainbow Alliance is a conglomeration of more than five opposition political parties accredited by the National Elections Commission (NEC).

Mr. Goodridge noted that the military tactics used by the CDC is an attempt to intimidate the opposition community and put fear in ordinary citizens in advance of the 2023 elections. He warned Liberians “not to take this matter lightly.”

Early, during the Weah-petitioning ceremonies, several armed individuals, believed to be officers of the elite Executive Guards, styled: Executive Protection Service (EPS), were seen publicly attired in the ruling CDC’s political paraphernalia (including T-shirts and berets), Rainbow Alliance stated.

Some officers were seen in strategic parts of the city conducting clean-up campaigns, while others were spotted mingling with the surging crowds of CDC petitioners, the RA noted in the strong-worded release.

The Rainbow Alliance (RA) also disclosed that the donning of the ruling CDC’s political paraphernalia (including T-shirts and berets) was intimidation tactics against opposition politicians and other stakeholders.

The RA also described the action by the EPS officers as part of the illegal political campaigning, something which, it said, should attract the attention of the National Elections Commission (NEC), the Embassy of the United States of America near Monrovia, the European Union, ECOWAS and the United Nations Peace Building Office in Liberia.

According to the RA, these early warnings signal possible violence in the 2023 elections, as such, they should not be ignored by the International Community.

“A strong warning must be sent to the leadership of the CDC, including the imposition of additional sanctions to ensure that investments made by the International Community in the peace and security of Liberia over the past two decades are not wasted.

Another opposition bloc, the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), has alarmed over the situation, and called the attention of the international community to what its described as “the lawlessness and dangerous display, and brandishing of assault rifles by suspected CDC militias and state securities who wore the party’s paraphernalia during its so-called petition ceremony of President George Weah in Monrovia.”

CPP, in a statement issued, late Monday, February 6, 2023, stated that “These gangster-looking individuals wore CDC insignias and political paraphernalia including T-Shirts which made them indistinguishable from CDC militias and state security.”

CPP said, it is deeply disturbed by these developments, which amount to signs of dangerous things to come.

“If these rifles-carrying individuals were CDC militias, the CPP demands an explanation and independent investigation on how they got such weaponry in a political gathering, and why were they allowed to exhibit assault rifles in such threatening public manner,” CPP emphasized.

“The CDC cannot, and will not permit any acts of intimidation and threats of peaceful Liberian citizens in such belligerent and hostile manner.

Party militias must never be permitted to act this way with the authority of state securities,” the statement cautioned.

CPP said, however, if the rifles-toting persons are state security personnel, there must be immediate suspension, investigation, and prosecution, as state security personnel should not be allowed to wear political attires while carrying out their national security duties.

“It is totally unacceptable to turn state security into personal militias to the President, City Mayor, or the ruling party,” the statement pointed out.

The Collaborating Political Parties noted that over the past five years of President Weah’s failed administration, Liberia continues to see breakdown of law and order, and public display of false impressions that the President and his officials are above the law.

The CPP contends that public officials’ refusal to obey the law, as well as the breakdown of professionalism in, and public trust of state security institutions, as was the case, when the carriers of state weapons are encouraged to wear partisan t-shirts. It indicated that such individuals undermined the neutrality of state security forces in political competition and discourses.

CPP said these acts of blatant disregard of the law endangers and undermines the nation’s peace, security, and democracy.

“For six years, state security forces have morphed into a hostile partisan force against peaceful citizens and critics of the government,” the opposition group stated.

CPP disclosed that it is deeply concerned that the lawless display on Saturday, February 4, at the CDC petitioning charade appears to have been sanctioned by the President.

More than that, the Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC), an election observatory civil society organization, has observed that the petitioning ceremony, organized by the governing CDC to petition incumbent President Weah, for his re-election was held in a “category of campaign activity.”

The ECC said, such action is a flagrant violation of Section 12 of the National Elections Commission’s (NEC) Regulation on the conduct of political parties and coalitions.

“The CDC’s rally was characterized by wearing T-Shirts and printed banners, depicting the picture of the President when the official campaign period outlined in the election timeline by the National Elections Commission (NEC), has not started.

“This violation undercuts the principle of a level playing field required for the conduct of free, fair and credible elections,” ECC said, in a press statement, dated Monday, February 6, 2023.

The ECC further observed that days leading to the rally, the CDC erected billboards that displayed the picture of the President in various parts of Monrovia, and NEC, has miserably failed to take any action in keeping with Section 12 of its Regulation.

The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) is believed to be Liberia’s largest domestic election observation network with diverse competencies, experiences, and expertise in democracy, elections and governance. It was established in 2010.

ECC’s member institutions include Center for Democratic Governance (CDG), Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP), Center for Conflict Prevention and Peace-building (CECPAP).

Others are Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD); NAYMOTE Partners for Democratic Development (NAYMOTE-PADD); West Africa Network for Peace Building (WANEP), and the Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL).

ECC works in partnership with Democracy International with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

ECC also highlighted that the failure of the National Elections Commission (NEC), to enforce its own Regulation sets a dangerous precedence and undermines its neutrality as an independent Election Management Body (EMB) of the country.

In another development, ECC said, it is deeply concerned with the statement made by Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, describing most of NEC’s Election Magistrates as “corrupt.”

ECC therefore calls on Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor to provide evidence to substantiate her assertions against the NEC Election Magistrates.

The Vice President further stated that the Magistrates needed to be rotated or changed.

Howbeit, ECC, in its statement, maintains that Vice President Taylor has no authority to call on the NEC to rotate or change Election Magistrates.

According to the ECC, the Vice President’s statement is an attempt to interfere with the operations of NEC and undermine its independence.

“We call on the NEC to resist any form of external control and influence from political parties or those holding public offices. The pre-campaign activities and attempts to influence the NEC are early warning indicators of challenges ahead of the October 2023 elections.

At the moment, according to our Roving Reporters, who have been visiting several parts of Monrovia and its environs, scores of gigantic billboards, depicting the photographs of CDC’s Standard Bearer, and incumbent President Weah, with various inscriptions such as “Weah 23,” “I Support Weah 2023” “Our Leader,” among others are visible along the principal streets of Monrovia, Liberia’s Capital, and its environs.

Some of the multiple billboards, according to community residents, were planted prior to Weah’s petitioning ceremonies which took place recently at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium on UN Drive in Monrovia.

The Weah Petitioning ceremonies were also graced by scores of presidential appointees in Government and other public officials such as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Dee Maxwell Saah Kemayah, who is also the Doyen of the Liberian Cabinet; Internal Affairs Minister, Varney Sirleaf, among others.

Interestingly too, NEC has been coming under intense criticisms from another political opposition bloc as well as other civil society groupings, as it relates to its apparent failure to effectively checkmate the processes that may lead to the conduct of the 2023 elections in an atmosphere of transparency and credibility.

Recently, Vice President Howard-Taylor who is a former Senator of Bong County for two consecutive nine-year terms and now, running mate to incumbent President Weah, on the ticket of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), disclosed that most of NEC’s Election Magistrates are “corrupt.”

Addressing the Catholic Archbishop, Michael Kpakala Francis Intellectual forum in Monrovia recently, Vice President Taylor, who is also political leader of the NPP, now a constituent party of the ruling CDC, pointed out that “Some of the NEC Magistrates have been in such positions for so long, since 2005.

“I can tell you for free, most of the electoral magistrates are corrupt. They will tell you upfront that I am the system in whatever county; you are not going to win if you don’t deal with me,” she told the forum.

Madam Vice President added that in Liberia, people lost elections not because they don’t win, but electoral processes of the country are always “in jeopardy from the beginning.”

She emphasized that many of the NEC Magistrates who have overstayed are noted for receiving bribes and other inducements from politicians in advance.

Among other things, VP Taylor called for the immediate rotation of all NEC Magistrates in order to preserve the integrity and credibility of the October 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections.

She stressed the urgent need for the Magistrates to be rotated in order to have a safe environment for the elections.

“They need to be rotated, they need to be changed, whatever the NEC needs to do that will provide an enabling environment for people to feel safe to participate in the elections,” VP Taylor added.

Madam Taylor highlighted that the country’s current electoral process is in jeopardy (danger).

The Vice President’s disclosure comes on the heels of the crucial 2023 Elections in Liberia.

She maintained that it is necessary to change the current NEC Magistrates as Liberians go to the polls later this year.

Ahead of the polls, the VP is also concerned that issues arising from electoral disputes that end up at the Supreme Court of Liberia could plunge the country into constitutional crisis.

“Any process that takes longer than necessary or borders down with so many issues and ends up in the Supreme Court, we may have a constitutional crisis,” stressed VP Taylor.

Recently, the 54th National Legislature, through the Senate, (the Upper House) of the country’s bicameral Legislature, enacted an Act that calls for the removal of all election magistrates.

The Senate version of said Act is currently before the House of Representatives (Lower House), for its concurrence and onward submission to President Weah for signature.

Section 2.24(a) of the amended Act states that “90-days after the passage of this Act, all Elections Magistrates in the 15-Counties must be removed and positions considered vacant. This section also gives the right to those removed Magistrates to re-apply.”

However, reacting to VP Taylor’s assertions against the NEC Magistrates, the Commission’s Communication Director, Henry Flomo said, he does not respond to politicians, whether big or small.

Mr. Flomo was quick to add that the NEC, headed by Madam Davidetta Brown-Lansanah, as Chairperson, has explicit confidence in its entire staff including Election Magistrates across the country.

He categorically refuted claims that NEC Magistrates are susceptible to acts of corruption including receiving of bribes and other kickbacks to award undue election victories to undeserved winners.

At the same time, several opposition political parties and their leaders including Grand Bassa County’s incumbent Senator, Nyongblee Karnga-Lawrence, who is also Political Leader of the Liberty Party (LP); Ambassador Joseph Nyuma Boakai, Standard Bearer of the former ruling Unity Party (UP), among others, have already expressed their total lack of confidence and trust in the current set of Commissioners of the National Elections Commission (NEC).

They questioned the integrity and credibility of the NEC, now headed by Madam Brown-Lansanah, as Chairperson, to conduct free, fair, transparent and credible presidential and legislative elections in October.
Interestingly, the NEC has consistently expressed its unwavering commitment to conduct credible elections in Liberia come October this year, citing a series of elections the current Commission conducted with both opposition political parties and ruling Coalition candidates winning victories.

Despite NEC’s expressed efforts to conduct free, fair and credible elections, nearly half of the 2020 Special Senatorial elections outcomes ended in courts which resolutions took protracted periods.

Independent political analysts are of the views that the growing tension between constituent members of the Coalition including ‘war of words’ involving Nimba County Senator Prince Yormie Johnson and President Weah on one hand, via their respective church sermons, and the other two members-NPP and LPDP are very troubling signs with security leanings for the entire nation.

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