ECC Calls For Timely, Transparent Investigation Into Electoral Disputes

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The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) has cautioned the National Elections Commission (NEC) to treat all electoral disputes equally and investigate them in a timely and transparent manner. Addressing a press conference in Monrovia recently, ECC’s Coordinator, Cllr. Oscar Bloh advanced ten-count recommendations to NEC. Cllr. Bloh pointed out that to foster transparency and increase trust, the NEC should publish the election results by polling place in an analyzable format and in a timely manner to allow election stakeholders to conduct in-depth analysis of the voting results. The ECC Chairman called on political parties should respect the authority of the NEC to announce official election results and refrain from claiming early victory or interfering with the tally process. “If any political party has grievances on the outcome of the electoral results,” he went on “it should follow the laws and procedures outlined in the Constitution and provisions of NEC related to the adjudication of electoral petitions”. The ECC also cautioned the Supreme Court of Liberia to adjudicate all electoral petitions in an expeditious manner in order to reduce tension among political parties’ supporters At the same time, the ECC wants NEC accelerate the results from the November 14 presidential run-off election conducted by the National Elections Commission and reducing tension among the public. Among other things, ECC Chairman Bloh proposed that NEC increases its frequency by announcing results twice a day so as to dispel doubts and the spread of false information. Joint Security must demonstrate neutrality The ECC Chairman is admonishing the joint security demonstrate neutrality and professionalism in dealing with any post-election rally or demonstration that has the potential to lead to violence. He encouraged the security institutions to provide an update to the public on the status of all electoral violence under police investigation. The ECC Chairman is therefore, cautioning the media to refrain from disseminating misinformation and disinformation related to the outcomes of the election results. Counselor Bloh then called on the public to remain calm and peaceful and resist being mobilized by any political actor to get involved in any form of violence or intimidation. The ECC called on all politicians and Liberians to remain calm and await the official results to be announced by the National Elections Commission. In the management of citizens’ expectation, the committee also urged NEC to precede with the timely pronouncement of the election results. According to him, these elections were nationally owned with resources largely provided by the Liberian government, electoral security provided by the Joint Security Taskforce and the entire electoral process managed by the National Elections Commission with minimum technical and logistical support from international development partners. Nonetheless, the elections were conducted without any significant electoral law reform particularly, with the New Elections Law of Liberia. The ECC said this preliminary statement covers the ECC’s observation of the electoral cycle including the runoff which took place on November 14, 2023, and is based on reports received from 1,185 out of 1200 stationary observers deployed to polling places proportionally nationwide to observe.

REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY

 The organized and systematic trucking of voters by politicians undermined the principle of representative democracy. While the election law makes the practice an electoral offense, the NEC and the joint security did not do enough to stop the trucking of voters which is now seen as a normal practice within the country’s emerging democracy.

WOMEN’S POLITICAL REPRESENTATION

The primaries of political parties were peacefully conducted across the country.

Out of 1,026 candidates certificated by the NEC, only 159 were women, constituting 15%, who participated in the October 10 general elections. This runs contrary to the commitment made by political parties to ensure that at least their candidates list contained 30% women. Additionally, only nine women won legislative seats (8 representatives and 1 senator). In the absence of a law that would mandate political parties to increase the number of women candidates on their listing, women’s political representation will continue to decrease.

CANDIDATE NOMINATION

The regulation on nomination and registration of candidates is weak.

Liberia has a representative democracy but the regulation puts a limit on who can challenge the candidacy of a person seeking to represent a county or district. According to the regulation only a candidate, political party, alliance or coalition can challenge the eligibility of a candidate on the provisional list. It is the view of the ECC that citizens should have equal right to challenge the eligibility of any candidate who seeks to be elected.

POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS AND MEDIA OBSERVATION

 Debates are a core element of the democratic process as it pushes the candidates to conduct issues-based campaigning while at the same time they create the opportunity for voters to make informed choices. Debates were organized and none of the two candidates who participated in the runoff attended the debates, thereby making it difficult for post-election accountability.

CAMPAIGN

Except for a series of localized violence in certain parts of the country and the use of inflammatory language, provocative actions, and the destruction of billboards, overall, the campaign was peaceful.

The loss of lives and the destruction of property as well as the injury of citizens have no place in our democracy. Although the campaign finance regulation was not enforced by the NEC, political parties and independent candidates had equal access to state facilities across the country. The ECC further notes the endorsement of political actors by traditional leaders and religious groups, thereby compromising their role as peace brokers in mediating any potential conflict arising from the electoral process. Furthermore, the nomination of government officials on the campaign teams of the CDC was in gross violation of the Code of Conduct for public officials.

ELECTORAL SECURITY

 The ECC notes the professional conduct and high coverage of the police and joint security apparatus during both rounds of the election and commends the Liberian National Police and partners for protecting the process. However, there remains unsolved  investigations of electoral violence and mal-practices carried out during the general elections including the campaign. The outcomes of these investigations need to be made public and the perpetrators held accountable in order to uphold the rule of law and to reduce the culture of impunity.

KEY FINDINGS

The voting on November 14, 2023 was orderly and peaceful.

Only a few isolated incidents of tension were recorded at certain precincts, according to reports from ECC observers stationed at polling places across all 73 electoral districts and counties. ECC commends Liberians for turning out peacefully to vote during the presidential run-off election. Critical Incidents Despite the peaceful turnout of Liberians during the Presidential run-off election, the process occurred in a relatively tense environment, primarily in Montserrado. During the voting, closing and counting processes, ECC observers reported minor disruptions of polling places by supporters of both parties contesting the run-off process. Incidents of observed tension at polling places, for the most part occurred during the counting. For example, at the Esther Yalarta Academy with code 30442, it was alleged by one of the observers that the ballot box was thrown over the fence. This prompted an angry crowd to storm the compound threatening to burn it down with all the other observers including the NEC staff in the building. The tension further extended, which attracted Zogos, disrupting the entire counting process and causing people to run for their life. Nevertheless, the police intervened and the results were posted on the board. At the St. Paul Lutheran School in Margibi with precinct code 24113, an ECC mobile observer reported that the NEC staff did not have a copy of the FRR. The NEC staff then decided to write voter names in a book prior to voting in the absence of the FRR. This resulted in tension and later a riot that lasted more than an hour. The local radio station reported that the situation continued even after the ECC mobile observer had left hours later. Some political party agents and supporters at the Diana E. Davis School precinct in Montserrado district 17 (code 30446) alerted the poll workers of the NEC’s press release denouncing the act of party agents possessing the FRR and validating voters. The voting process was halted for approximately forty minutes due to this information. Subsequently, the police and foreign observers stepped in to defuse the tension. In Nimba electoral district 04 at the Dullay public school with code 30052 in Polling place 03, the ECC observer reported that the Voter Identification Officer was allegedly seen voting multiple times. The UP agent called the security to report the matter. The security then tried to arrest the VIO but the presiding officer intervened and told the security to leave the man because he will resolve the issue. As a result, the UP party agent refused to sign the Record of the Count Form. In future voting processes, the NEC is encouraged to define clearly the roles of polling officials and that of the security and treat all voters the same. By Augustine Octavius, augustineoctavius@gmail.com/newspublictrust.com

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