By Nathan N. Mulbah – Liberia, a West African State, with a population of about 3,476,608 is nursing itself from the scourge of a 15-year civil cum military upheaval that bedevilled the country thus leaving political and social commentators to describe it as a “Fail State”.
However, in 2005, a Special Election was held under the auspices of the National Elections Commission (NEC) with assistance from the International Community. It was that election that catapulted Liberia’s and Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson to power.
But with five years at the helm of political affairs of the bruised West African state, Madam Johnson-Sirleaf administration has to ensure the country’s re-entry into the fold of the comity of nation as evidenced by the galore of debt waivers that came on the heels of the Country completion of the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative (HIPC) points.
Though the country is attracting foreign direct investments with the signing of variety of concession agreements, election fever is fast taking over the psyche of the West African state as the country prepares for it second post war democratic elections come October 11, 2011.
The ensuing election is charged with challenges and yet exudes some signs of prospects for a country that have had most of its basic infrastructures destroyed and beset with massive brain drain occasioned by the migration of its people owing to the senseless destruction of lives by marauding band of armed men that became the trademark of the rather fratricidal war.
2011 Elections Time Table
On August 20, 2011, the Chairman of the National Elections Commission (NEC) James M. Fromayan released the Key Electoral Dates for the conduct of the 2011 Presidential and General elections.
The key electoral time line seems to serve as a harbinger to activities in the lead-up to the elections. The calendar sets October 11, 2011 as Election Day. But other key activities have already come and gone.
On August 27, 2010, the Electoral Management Body of Liberia (NEC) launched the Voter Registration Exercise. At the launch, Chairman Fromayan indicated that the a new voter roll was necessary because many Liberians who were in exile and living in refugee camps outside the country have relocated to Liberia and so it was prudent in electoral terms to have them captured on the new voter roll.
Chairman Fromayan further hinted that because Liberia’s Electoral authority does not have a continuous voter registration regime and most citizens have reached voting age (18), the Commission was under statutory obligation to ensure they have an opportunity to register.
“When we commence voter registration on January 10, 2011, we will want all Liberian citizens of voting age to take advantage of the exercise and turn out en-mass”, the NEC Chairman cautioned his compatriots. During the 2005 Presidential and Legislative elections there were 1,352,730 registered voters.
Voter registration in the West African state is expected to start on January 10 and ends on February 6, 2010. Far ahead of the voter registration exercise, an opposition political party, the Liberty Party, issued a press statement at a press conference complaining the time frame allotted for the voter registration exercise is just too short and as such was calling on the NEC to extend the time so as to allow “a good number of Liberians who were out of the country- in exile, in refugee centers or otherwise residing out of Liberia- have now returned and are likely to seek to register” to have a chance to do so.
The electoral calendar also projects all of the key events relating to the 2011 elections including the time for the issuance of elections writ, the time for the commencement for political campaign and the time for the arrival of ballot papers among others.
Liberia, emerging from a debilitating civil war has a shattered economic structure and trust and confidence in state institutions is nothing to write home about. Currently, Liberia prints her ballot papers in the Republic of Ghana. Since 2005, the country has conducted (9) nine by-elections and all of the ballot papers were printed in Ghana.
As a post conflict society, the challenges associated with the conduct of a national election for legislative and presidential seats are enormous. The elections budget for a voting populace of about 2.1 million potential voters is put at US$39.3 million dollars.
A Basket Fund for the attainment of the elections budget is being managed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Liberia office.
Of the amount, the Liberian Government has committed US$12.1 million while the government of Spain has already contributed US$750.00with Germany, Sweden, Japan, Norway and other countries are also making substantial contribution to the basket.
At a recent Donor Conference held in the conference room of the commission, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General and Resident Coordinator of the United Nations, Moustapha Soumare, said development partners have pledged US$15.6 million to the basket fund.
However, in a follow-up donor conference, it was revealed that the projected US$39.3 million is not sufficient to conduct run-off elections. Liberia current electoral law allows for a run-off in the event where none of the candidates chalked 50% plus one of the total vote cast.
Mr. Soumare said, the fund will be used to build the operational and professional capacity of the NEC and help with the civic/voter education and the electioneering process.
Other challenges of the Commission are logistics and the in accessibility of the certain leeward counties as well as the delay in the passage of some critical electoral related bills by the Liberian Legislature.
To overcome logistical challenges, the commission is working in-sync with some key international partners and expatriates to ensure non-sensitive and sensitive voting materials are identified and short-listed for subsequent purchase and or importation.
According to the Director of Public Information, Bobby W. Livingstone, UNDP is working with the NEC logistic team in helping to procure voting materials. Unlike the 2005 elections, the 2011 elections will be largely driven by Liberians with little assistance from the international community.
On the delay electoral related bills, the NEC, Mr. Livingstone said, in 2008, a number of electoral bills were forwarded to the National Legislature for enactment into law but the august assembly did not act until August 2011.
Among the bills, Livingstone observed, is one seeking amendment in Article 83 (b) of the 1986 Liberian Constitution which states that “all elections of public officers shall be determined by an absolute majority of the vote cast…” The bill is seeking for all elected post to be done on the basis of simple majority or FirstPass the Post besides the Presidency which will required absolute majority.
In 2005 there were about 22 presidential candidates, 21 political Parties, alliances and coalitions with about 1,352,730 registered voters. For the 2011 elections, the Elections Commission is targeting about 2.2 million potential voters
The 2011 Liberian elections hold a lot in stock for the war ravaged country. If conducted without any untoward incidences, the 2011 elections could serve as a trajectory to the consolidation of the peace the country currently enjoyed and pave the way for the entrenchment of the country’s emerging democracy.
At this juncture, there are about 17 registered political parties in the country. About 16 other parties were de-registered by the Supreme Court of Liberia for lack of office space. Now, there are attempts at forging political merger amongst some political parties. The ruling Unity Party has already forged merger with the Liberia Unification Party and the Liberia Action Party. That merger has now culminated into the formation of the New Unity Party. This means that the constituent members automatically ceased to exist.
There are other attempts at other mergers but those have not materialized up to the time of filing this article.
As the 2011 electoral process gains stem, the elections commission is being inundated with many requests for the formation of new political parties. How these political mergers and the formation of new parties will impact the political landscape of the country will be seen in the months ahead.