With the level of vigilance, vigor and immense interest and resources already lavished mainly by the ruling establishment in this impending senatorial by-election; and with keen emphasis on seizing the Montserrado County’s seat, the National Elections Commission (NEC) has been strongly warned not to stop at condemnation of election’s law violators, but must vigorously enforce with action driven by punishment in keeping with the law.
Considering disturbing reports of massive trucking of people from place to place for the nationwide Voter Roll Update (VRU) which, according to pundits, appeared to have fallen on deaf ear, is a dangerous signal for 2023 if not check, corrected with stringent punitive actions meted out against violators; then the general and presidential elections for 2023 will be too hot, vicious and difficult to handle.
Imagine, the pundits pointed out, just the VRU exercise alone, see how fearless those with vested interests in the process are conducting themselves in gross violation of the election’s law governing trucking of people and knowingly unconcerned about the existence of such law; while NEC remains completely complacent with just verbal warning and no appropriate action to deter stoned violators of the law.
They sternly argued that if the Chairman Davidetta Browne Lasananah can present herself so timid to robustly curb some of the violations of the process, besides the VRU that is being marred with persistent abuse, however, the manner, style and form the petitioning exercise is being portrayed, is deeply regrettable and sadly unthinkable, as it is difficult to distinguish it from full-blown campaign activities.
If the NEC cannot put down its feet hard on the ground for this impending December 8, 2020 by-election, and without fear or favor, called spade a spade, the pundits noted, then it will not only be baseless to be robust, but much more than that, it will be rough and tough to weather the storm of the entire process without serious negative consequences; which will badly bruise trust, intensify tension and ill-treat our democracy.
Meanwhile, Liberia’s leading election Observation group, the Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC), has alarmed over what it considers the sale of democracy in the country.
The ECC observed that since the commencement of the voter’s roll update, the process is characterized by “commercialization of our democracy through voters trucking and financial inducements”
Addressing a news conference in Monrovia on Friday, September 18, 2020, the election Observation group sees the commercialization of the electoral system as a breach of the New Elections Law of Liberia.
This, the ECC said has created the environment for the occurrence of electoral violence notably in Grand Cape Mount and Bomi Counties and has heightened unnecessary political tension in the country.
Oscar Bloh, the Chairman of the Elections Coordination Committee however confirmed that the VRU has commenced across the entire country but the process did not start simultaneously on September 11, 2020 in all of the 73 electoral districts namely, Maryland, Sinoe, Grand Kru, Rivergee, Districts 6 and 9 in Nimba and District 5, Montserrado County.
According to Bloh, ECC observers have reported the trucking of voters from Montserrado into Bomi, particularly district number one. One case in point was in District Number One, at the CH Dwey High School with center code number 03071 and Klay Town Hall with center code 03043, Electoral District Number 2. Another incident was reported from Bomi County, Electoral District 1 at center: Moses Vincent Compound with code 03075 where violence, harassment and intimidation disrupted the VRU exercise.
The ECC condemns the trucking of voters and wishes to inform the public that such act contravenes Section 10.1a of the New Elections Law which prohibits the trucking of voters and the practice constitutes an electoral offense and is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for not more than six (6) months or both.
The ECC further noted that the trucking of voters which goes with financial benefits and other forms of financial inducements to mobilize support are calculated attempts by politicians to unduly influence the outcome of the results of the December 8, 2020 elections. These practices amount to the commercialization of Liberia’s fragile democracy and undermine the principles of electoral integrity, credibility, and legitimate representation of citizens at the National Legislature.
In Grand Cape Mount County’s Electoral District 2, the ECC reported an incident at the Sinje Public School with center code 12029 where the entire voter roll update was ordered closed by 2:00pm by the NEC’s Magistrate who instructed the VRU team to relocate to Robertsport because they had the wrong Movement Plan. This resulted in the sending home of the remaining registrants on the line who had either come to update their information or get registered.
The ECC further observes that most registration centers lacked uniformed security personnel and about 50% of the total of 115 reports received showed that political parties deployed agents to observe the voter roll update exercise.
For the total number of 115 centers observed during this phase of the observation, 83 centers had hand washing buckets for registrants and staff to use and 53 centers had hand sanitizers. Additionally, the NEC’s officials in 80 of 115 centers were wearing face masks and in the remaining centers, they did not wear the face masks during the conduct of the process. For social distancing, only in 64 centers that registrants and officials practiced social distancing while in 35 centers, there was no social distancing.
The ECC recommends that to help enhance the quality of the registration exercise and to build citizens’ trust in the electoral process it calls on the government to close the border with Sierra Leone for the next phase of the VRU, a broad-based stakeholders’ consultation with political parties, CSOs, media, religious institutions, and prominent citizens to reduce the escalating tension in the country.
The ECC is also asking the NEC to conduct an immediate investigation of voters trucking and prosecute the doers in keeping with due process of law while political parties demonstrate political tolerance backed by public commitment to remain civil, reduce the use of inflammatory statements and refrain from violence and intimidation.
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