27 December 2017

Liberia: Fear of Fraud Looms

Photo: FrontPageAfrica
Vice President Joseph Boakai casts his vote.

As the final vote continues, fears loom about the outcome of the runoff election results given early reports of fraud, the summary dismissal of a key functionary in the NEC data center as well as the NEC's denial, to its data center, of access to ECOWAS experts and observers of the National Democratic Institute.

Reliable sources say no valid reasons have been given by the NEC chairman except for unchallenged assertions that the ECOWAS Experts have no further relevance to the Commission's ongoing work. Just why the the NEC Chairman maintains that the ECOWAS team of experts have no further relevance to the process remains a closely guarded secret known perhaps to only him or to a few.

It may be recalled that fraud was at the centerpiece of the protesting parties' claims about irregularities in the October 10 elections whose results were legally challenged by the Liberty Party, All Liberian Party, Alternative National Congress and the Unity Party. The Supreme Court did however rule that fraud committed in the October 10 elections were not of sufficient scope and magnitude to warrant a rerun of the elections. It instead ordered a runoff based on the attainment of certain benchmarks principal amongst which was the clean up of the Voters Roll.

But the Unity Party in a subsequent Bill of Information filed before the Supreme Court charged that the NEC was acting in disobedience of the Court's mandate to clean up the Voters Roll and prayed that the December 26 date for the runoff, arbitrarily selected by NEC Chairman Korkoya be put off until the Court's mandate had been fully complied with. The Court however ruled against the request and ordered the NEC to proceed notwithstanding the stated concerns of the Unity Party.

The patience of the Liberian people, having been worn thin by the drawn-out litigation process in the Supreme Court, was again irked by reports of fraud emerging in the runoff period. These early reports of fraud provoked an almost instantaneous national outcry as a National Elections Commission (NEC) poll worker was arrested by officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP) Tuesday morning after reportedly being caught handing over two pre-marked ballot papers to a voter.

The incident, reports of which immediately went viral on social media, took place at the Rev. Mother Sarah School System on Duport Road Zubah Town, Paynesville. The information was confirmed by NEC Chairman, Cllr. Jerome Korkoya, at a press conference held in Monrovia. He indicated that the suspect is currently in police custody. The suspect was identified as Cynthia Ballah.

Other voters at the precinct indicated that the issue was first raised by one of the two party observers in the polling room where the incident took place. "I heard that a boy who was given two ballot papers by the poll worker was called for questioning by the police officer after someone raised the issue," an eyewitness said.

The witness, who had not voted prior to the incident, indicated that it was the young man who told the officer that the ballots, marked already, were given to him by Ms. Ballah. "And this is how she was arrested, put in the LNP vehicle and taken to the Zone-5 Police Depot for further investigation.

Photos and video footage from the incident were abuzz on social media, especially the ballot papers showing NEC's stamp on each.

In the images, the lady is seen hiding her face avoiding being "photographed or videotaped."

Report of the incident began circulating on social media shortly after it occurred. The photos showed Ballah as she was escorted by police to a waiting vehicle. There were photos of the pre-marked ballots with a thumb print marked for the Coalition for Democratic Change headed by Senator George Weah.

Meanwhile, there was another report of a pre-marked Ballot at MVTC Polling Precinct in District #2, Montserrado County.

The Presiding Officer of that precinct's polling place #3, Gerald Fin Boye, admitted that a staff of the NEC did hand over a pre-marked ballot paper to a voter during the early hours of voting.

The NEC later denied in a statement on its website that the paper got terminated as a result of an error and that the ballot paper was not pre-marked as was being speculated. NEC wrote on its official Facebook page that the ballot paper issuer, while trying to stamp the ballot, mistakenly touched the ink on the paper. The ballot paper, according to NEC was displayed to all present and marked spoiled and placed in the specified envelope.

The alarm over the pre-marked ballot paper was raised by one Musa Donzo, who was serving as the Unity Party supervisor at voting precinct 130223. Donzo, according to reports, said a voter was seen with a ballot paper reportedly pre-marked in favor of Senator George Weah of the CDC.

Meanwhile, the Daily Observer has been reliably informed that the second in command at the NEC data center, Mr. Isaac Zahn has been summarily removed from his duties by NEC chairman Korkoya after being accused of sharing confidential information with the Coalition for Democratic change (CDC) which he (Zahn) has allegedly denied.

According to reliable sources, Zahn has shown no interest in "cooperating" with contrived schemes to fix the elections results and has not surprisingly been given marching orders by Korkoya.

Attempts by this newspaper to contact Mr. Isaac Zahn by phone proved futile and up to press time he had not responded to text messages seeking comment on the issue. However when contacted, NEC Executive Director Lamin Lighe instead deferred the matter to NEC Information officer Henry Flomo who has also not responded to text messages for comment.

The Daily Observer has also been reliably informed that Chairman Korkoya has denied the ECOWAS IT experts, assigned to assist in the cleanup of the Voters Roll, access to the NEC data center where, according to reports, illegal fixing of the results are planned to be carried out away from the prying eyes of Mr. Zahn and the ECOWAS experts including observers of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), whose request to be present in the NEC data center has allegedly been turned down by Mr. Korkoya.

The NDI official who spoke to the Daily Observer, when reached for comment, said she was not up to speed on the alleged request for NDI's presence in the NEC data center but she promised to contact this newspaper as soon as she receives up to date information on the subject.

Sources say the matter has been brought to the attention of the ECOWAS Observer Mission as well as the office of the ECOWAS Ambassador accredited near this capital but it remains unclear at this point what action is being considered in respect of these reports.

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