Liberia’s 2017 Election: A Test of True Democracy

A decisive moment in democracy: a play by play of what’s happening in Liberia’s historic elections Tuesday

by Charlotte Platt

On Tuesday, October 10th, Liberian voters will head to the polls to participate in the country’s third post-war presidential and legislative elections, in what some politicians are referring to as the most critical and decisive race yet. Nobel Peace Prize winner and Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, will step down after two successive elections and twelve years in office, as she is ineligible to run again due to constitutionally mandated term limits.

After more than two decades of civil war and West Africa’s recent Ebola outbreak in 2014, Liberia remains on a long road to sustained economic and social recovery. These elections are a crucial part in establishing the country’s ongoing democratic practices and ensuring the right people are in government to move Liberia forward on the path to global success.

There are three leading parties: The Coalition for the Democratic Change, headed by former Peace Ambassador and Senator of Montserrado County, George M. Weah; the Liberty Party, headed by a longtime international lawyer, Councilor Charles Walker Brumskine, and the ruling Unity Party, headed by the incumbent Vice President, Ambassador Joseph Nyumah Boakai.

According to Liberia’s National Elections Commission, there are over 2.1 million registered voters expected to participate in Tuesday’s polls.

With less than a day until polls open, Global Daily interviewed Liberia’s Director of Public Relations & Communications at Civil Service Agency, Ambassador Moses Owen Browne, Jr., on what to expect. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Global Daily: Why is this upcoming Liberian election important?

Ambassador Brown: Just as the former U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry said, “Elections are vitally important, but make no mistake: elections cannot be the only moment for citizens to shape their future.”

This is a critical election for Liberia because it is the first post-war presidential transition – where one democratically elected government will turn over power to another. Further, it will be a very tense and tight race between already divided oppositional political parties and the ruling Unity Party.

Global Daily: Who is leading the polls? And why?

Ambassador Brown: Opinion polls and focus groups conducted within selected counties have placed Ambassador George Manneh Weah ahead of the incumbent vice president, Joseph Nyumah Boakai.

Ambassador Weah is senator of the most voter-populated county amongst the fifteen counties of Liberia. He is also a renowned international soccer star turned politician. Weah has served as a Peace Ambassador for Liberia and also the former Chairman of the National Reconciliation Committee. He is widely popular with the youth, who make up an overwhelming majority of the voting bloc.

Global Daily: Any worries?

Ambassador Brown: There are signals for which anyone should be cautious if not worried about the upcoming elections in Liberia. We see political parties for example planning campaign activities simultaneously. Just on the eve of polling, the ruling Unity Party (UP) and the Alternative National Congress (ANC) were planning to close their respective campaigns in Monrovia.

We know that there are unfair advantages because the incumbent Vice President enjoys the advantage of access to state resources far more than any of the contending parties. During the Unity party campaign launch, Government official vehicles were used.

A report from the Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD) sites that state resources are being misused, especially human resources and state-owned vehicles for campaign purposes across the country.

The IREDD report also notes that while public buildings and facilities have been widely used to have campaign posters posted by politicians, some privileged politicians can easily access some public facilities that others may not.

These are signals that could lead to pre and post election violence if care is not taken.

Global Daily: What can Liberia do to ensure sustained peace during this election?

Ambassador Brown: The National Elections Commission (NEC), the regulatory body of elections in Liberia, must ensure high level capacity and timeliness in handling electoral cases. Further, the Judiciary Branch of Government must interpret the laws of Liberia fairly and be willing, ready and prepared to adjudicate electoral cases in a timely and fair manner.

Liberians must demonstrate their love for the country and patriotism by lining up early Tuesday morning to vote for the candidates of their choice – those in whom they believe will chart a new path to sustainable peace, democracy, rule of law and development across the country.

Global Daily: What are the various candidates promised plans of action?

Ambassador Brown: Joseph Nyumah Boakai, the current Vice President of Liberia, is generally riding on the legacy of President Sirleaf. He promises his development agenda will be driven by sustainable development and that he will prioritize infrastructure development with an emphasis on the agriculture. He said agriculture will be the primary development goal of his government side-by-side with roads because of their capacity to bring about growth and employment. He’s pledged to work to ensure that manufacturing becomes a normal part of our development process and is supported by investment in solar energy and other sustainable production approaches which will make electrical energy available to our people at the village level. In all these changes, ordinary Liberians will be the heartbeat and main beneficiaries of our economic transformation.

Councilor Charles Walker Brumskine promises to fight corruption by instituting strong policies and working with the judiciary branch of government for speedy prosecution of corrupt cases. Like Boakai, Brumskine will support investment in the agriculture sector.

Ambassador George Manneh Weah promises to give power back to Liberia in accordance with the preamble of the 1986 Liberian constitution and article 1. He believes once the people have power they can shape their destiny. He promises to institute strong measures to fight corruption, to expand access to quality education, to support economic growth through agriculture production and job creation for all, to pay the West African examinations fees for all students, and to build a vibrant healthcare sector and system that will cater to every Liberian.

What can Liberia do to ensure sustained peace during this election?

The National Elections Commission (NEC), the regulatory body of elections in Liberia, must ensure high level capacity and timeliness in handling electoral cases. Further, the Judiciary Branch of Government must interpret the laws of Liberia fairly and be willing, ready and prepared to adjudicate electoral cases in a timely and fair manner.

Liberians must demonstrate their love for the country and patriotism by lining up early Tuesday morning to vote for the candidates of their choice – those in whom they believe will chart a new path to sustainable peace, democracy, rule of law and development across the country.

Global Daily: What are the ‘hot topics’?

Ambassador Brown: Liberians are discussing change – real change. They believe their lives have not improved over the last 12 years.

They want access to quality and affordable education for all. They want to have jobs that will pay them well and put food on their table; Women want to get involved in massive agriculture production that spurs economic growth and development within their communities; Marketers want access to low-interest loans that will contribute to their wellbeing.

People want to move from poverty to prosperity; they cannot afford to vote a leader who does not love the country and have a clear plan towards their future.

Global Daily: What have been President Johnson Sirleaf’s greatest achievements? What remains to be done in Liberia?

Ambassador Brown: We credit President Sirleaf for maintaining the peace we enjoy today. After decades of uncivil conflict, she met Liberia when it was completely broken: bad roads, corruption, a poor health sector, low funds, and a messy education system.

Under her administration, we have begun to see improvements in education, health and social sectors, especially regarding enrollment, retention and education infrastructure development, but there remains a lot of work to be done.

More than 70 percent of our schools were destroyed during Liberia’s Civil War. Many of our teachers were killed and others fled to exile for fear of being killed in the war. Liberia continues to see the consequences of this destruction. There are an estimated 10 to 20% of children between the ages of 6-14 who are not enrolled in school (HIES 2014, EMIS 2015).

Critics argue that existing educational programs that aim to transform the education system are too expensive; Liberia must create an affordable and sustainable educational model system for a country that’s been damaged by prolonged civil wars. Parents are poor and cannot afford to pay tuitions. They want more schools built, they want more teachers trained and an affordable, but quality education for all.

Global Daily: What are you hoping for during this election process?

Ambassador Brown: Since the Accra Peace Accord in 2003, Liberia has enjoyed at least 14 years of sustained peace. During this election process, we need a transparent, free, fair and peaceful election. We believe strongly that nothing can be achieved without peace. In the absence of peace, we are a powerless and helpless nation and people. In the absence of peace, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that we are championing as a country cannot be implemented.

I am appealing to my fellow young Liberians who make up more than 60 percent of eligible voters to remain peaceful, but engaged. We must exercise high level restraint and respect the democratic process. Our argument should be conversational, not confrontational.

Let’s continue to engage all the candidates vying for the nation’s highest seat without fear or favor. Let us ask the what, when, why and how questions and hold each of the candidates accountable for every single promise they make.

Sources:

Lets hope the people decide the right people for them

It always comes back to respecting the democratic process...

false