TODAY, JULY 5, 2011, marks the official start of the campaign period for the 2011 presidential and legislative elections. Even though little is known about the essential elements of the campaign process – length of campaigns, demarcation of electoral districts, and lists of certified participating parties and candidates, etc – there is no question that the Liberian people have embarked upon yet another process to test the democratization of their country. They have come to the crossroads where one road leads to national progress and recovery underpinned by a successful political transition, and another road leads to political bigotry and vain post-election strife. As the Christian holy book would say, the road leading to success is narrower and restraining, while the one leading to strife is broader, free, and easy to follow. Which way they – the Sirleaf Administration, participating parties and candidates, the voters, NEC, and the civil society, etc. – choose to go, will depend on what they do and say and how they choose to do and say what they do and say, as of today.
BUT THEY DO not have much of a choice between progress and strife. The nation had already traveled down the strife road and came away bruised, disgraced, and devastated. They must choose progress, which will mean more than just supporting the election budget, playing the converted audience at political rallies, and casting ballots. Here is where complementary, the commitment to duty, and putting ‘Liberia first’ come into play. The administration will first have to adopt the rarest form of disinterest in the process by distancing itself from the campaign for President Sirleaf’s reelection and demonstrating the autonomy of NEC by not exercising undue influence over its officials and decisions beyond legal prescription. Second, it must give unhindered budgetary support to NEC and even-handed security support to its activities. Finally it must provide equal security support to all political rallies, refrain from equating anti-Sirleaf statements to sedition and subversion, as it were in the past. It must avail all public theatres (halls, squares, playgrounds or stadia) equally to all rallies without bias toward due requirements.
NEC, ON THE other hand, must erect a fair-view lookout post, whence it will relate to all participating parties and candidates from the strictest dictates of the elections laws. It must never close its eyes to any complaint – big or small, prudent or nonsensical, distracting or on course. It must resolve, or transfer for resolution, all issues of real or perceived violations, equally and immediately. (There no question that any delay, in this period of political anxiety, will amount to denial of justice or simply, “side-taking”.) Concomitantly, certified parties and candidate must resolve to play to the rules on the highest plains of dignity and discipline, always striving to distinguish bias from the restraints of the law, and avoiding unnecessary bickering and concocted, unprovable allegations triggered by unbridled paranoia and self-conceit. Liberia had seen how unfounded paranoia and distrust of the electoral system had ruined many an election in the past. There is therefore no time ever, than now, to avoid it.
FINALLY, THE CIVIL society – particularly the Media – must set to play the unbiased umpire, professionally and disinterestedly. The question crucial to the responsibility of the civil society is, “What are the issues?” They must set the agenda for the electoral direction of the country in a way that will give voters the opportunity to assay the worth of each candidate by the elections day in October or November. The ability and capacity to handle such issues as the development of Liberia’s entrepreneurial class, the management of the tax-dollar and foreign aid, the decentralization of power and methodical dispensation and management of the nation’s resources, and the management of foreign investment, must dominate such agenda. Also, they must raise the issue of where candidates stand on the unfinished administrative and legislative business of Liberia: radical legal and institutional reforms and the passage of the “Threshold Bill” and National Code of Conduct Bill, which are currently in limbo.
FOR A NASCENT democratic environment of over 75 percent first-time voters, most of whom have no serious bias towards any policy or ideology, but just concerned about relationship and bread, this must become true if the October elections must serve the purpose of Liberia’s recovery. A pre-election process that does not provide a clear roadmap for post-2011 Liberia is nothing but an exercise in vain; and this is certainly not what Liberia and its international partners want. This, all participants must bear in mind as they embark on the most crucial journey of the electoral process today. The Analyst wishes the Liberian people well on the threshold of this crucial journey.