3 August 2018

Liberia's Senatorial By-Elections (2018) - Why These Voting Queues Are Empty

The photo above is of Voting Precinct # 30242 (in the compound of the Episcopal Church/Mason Center High School, in the Old Road Community, Sinkor, Monrovia) of the Montserrado County's Senatorial by-election between candidates Saah H. Joseph (incumbent Representative of District #13), Josephine George-Francis (former Representative of District #1, Montserrado County), Yekeh Kolubah (incumbent Representative of District # 10) Bernard "DJ Blue" Benson (Music entertainer/Disc Jockey and co-owner of Hott FM/TV), Michael Tipayson, Findley Karnga (Lawyer) and Mark Keshen.

Each person thought he or she was the 'best person' to occupy the seat vacated by George Manneh Weah to contest the presidency.

I took the photo at 10:20am (of July 30, 2018)--two hours and twenty minutes after the National Elections Commissions (NEC)-announced start of voting. NEC set 8:00am for start of voting.

I live in this community (Old Road, under electoral district #10). My mission at the voting center above was to see whether other residents who had expressed their lack of interest in a "Senatorial by-election" would prove it by not coming out to vote, or they would fall to the nationalistic nudge of demonstrating a "civil responsibility". The scene at the voting center showed the stance of majority of the "complainants".

With my camera hidden from the view of Polling Officers and Security, I started fanning around and within the voting center, my attention got fixed to the entrance of the voting center--to see who was coming in to vote and the time-interval between the first voter and the next--and the number of persons in any of the four voting queues.

After thirty minutes, I couldn't see anybody--showing voting card--with Mr. Samuel Williams, a NEC's Polling Staff member stationed at the gate to receive a citizen's voting card before the person is allowed into the voting center.

Three minutes later, a man arrived and brandished his Voter's ID card in Mr. Williams' face.

"This Voting Card was used in the presidential and House of Representatives elections in 2011. We are accepting the one printed for the elections in 2007. Where's the 2007's voting card?" Mr. Williams said to the 'registered voter'.

"I couldn't find it," the man replied and walked away.

Twenty minutes later, four young men arrived to be ushered into the voting center, but none of them had the Voter's Card issued by the National Elections Commissions (NEC) for recent elections.

One of them--with 'Mandela Saye Whea' written on an ID card hanging on his trouser--introduced all as "Voting Supervisors from the political camp of Honorable Mark Keshen," he announced to the NEC's Polling officer stationed at the gate.

"Where's your Voter's ID card?" NEC's Samuel Williams demanded.

The group's spokesperson presented a call card-sized white paper with 'National Elections Commissions' inscribed on it.

"We need the real Voter's card, not this one," the NEC's officer at the gate said to the party's voting supervisor.

None of the other three candidates Mark Keshen's supporters could show a valid Voter' ID card.

"The elections law of Liberia says, where the voting card of a registered voter is missing, NEC's Polling officers at the polling center should check the voter's name in NEC's general register at the polling center," Mandela Whea of candidate Mark Keshen argued to the NEC's officer stationed at the gate.

"Show your real or valid voter's ID card," NEC's Samuel Williams maintained his stance on accessibility to the voting centers for the four voting supervisors/agents.

The misunderstanding later changed to commotion, attracting most of the other NEC's officials at the voting center, and some of the people around the center.

At this juncture, Tom Tozay, one of candidate Mark Keshen's party's 'voting supervisor', threatened: "We will disrupt the entire voting process, If you can't allow us into the voting center, for us to see whether or not the voting rights of supporters of our candidate, Honorable Mark Keshen, are respected by your colleagues in there."

Tom Tozay's threat didn't yield result.

The fourth candidate Mark Keshen's supporters filed out of the voting center--all ranting in protest against the NEC's officers' enforceability of the Elections Law on voting.

After the commotion between the Mr. Kenshen's supporters and the NEC's officers had subsided, I spoke with one of the NEC's Polling Staff members on the numbers of voting-ID-card-holding persons he had seen being registered to cast their votes, and the frequency of persons coming into the voting center.

"The number of persons who have voted, since we started at 8, o clock this morning, is less than thirty. On time-interval of persons who come in to cast their votes, the next voter comes in fifteen to twenty minutes after the other voter had left," Polling officer Keye Funnebo responded to my inquiry.

Mr. Emmanuel Glarley, 40, a resident of the Old Road Community, and the sole breadwinner of a seven-member family, gave me the reasons for the low turn-out of voters for the Montserrado County's Senatorial by-elections in 2018.

"The failures of politicians, voted for during past elections, on providing the basic needs, which were in their campaign promises, have killed people's interest for this by-elections," said Mr. Glarley, who sells drinks behind the voting center. His customers are mostly people in the lowest-income bracket, with a larger number being commercial motorcyclists.

He pointed to the voters' lack of basic needs of life as the major reasons for the lack of interest in elevating another politician through an electoral process called 'vote'.

"This lack of basic needs for the poor registered voters is blamed on the extremely high prices on basic commodities, due to two factors: galloping price of gas and high transport fare," said the former motorcyclist-turned landlord.

He described electricity, for 85% of Liberians, as a 'mermaid'. "Mermaid is something you don't see; 85% of Liberians cant's see LEC (Liberia Electricity Corporation) light in their homes" he said.

Ninety-eight percent of Liberians can't find potable water--from tap/Liberia Water & Sewer Corporation (LWSC), according to Mr. Glarley, whose house has an LWSC's customer badge (sticker).

He also said the current economic situation in Liberia, which he traced from the beginning of the George Manneh Weah's government in January, 2018, has pushed the 'daily survival income' of majority of Liberians downwards to twenty-five cents per day, against US$1.00 as indicated in the United Nations' Poverty Index on Liberia.

Mr. Glarley had a valid voter's card for Montserrado County, issued by NEC for the presidential and HoR elections in 2017, but he didn't vote in the by-elections, he confessed to me. "Why should I vote? I do not know any of the people in the race. Or do you want me vote for one of these persons who will continue with keeping me and my family in poverty with their lawmaking as is being done by those already in the Executive Branch or Legislative Branch?"

The Montserrado County's Senatorial By-Election in December, 2014, which brought in Africa's football legend-turned politician George Manneh Weah as Senator, saw high voter-turnout at each voting center.

It was also characterized by boozing or chaotic post-election activities, especially throngs of over-speeding campaign vehicles and wild drinking of alcoholic beverages, by supporters of all candidates, especially those of George Weah's Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and those for independent candidate Robert Sirleaf, son of the then Head of State.

The By-Elections in 2018 lacked most of the features of 2014's--all most likely due to extreme disenchantment of majority of eligible voters under the pang of stinging economic deprivation.

Bong County's Senatorial By-Elections--

Finding a replacement for Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor, who quit her post to be Vice President for Liberia--were not different from Montserrado County's. Most voters however, stayed away from the Polls.

If the current economic situation continues to the end of George Manneh Weah's first constitutional term in office (2024), voting centers around the nation would bear the features of Voting Precinct 30242 in the Montserrado County's Senatorial By-Election. Don't put your money onto the gambling board or place your head on the gulag as a bet against this forecast.

I strongly believe the people's "Country Giant" has the INTELLECTUAL ABILITY and the POLITICAL WILL to invoke in ordinary Liberians the "feeling" to participate in civil activities. The President must consider this as a MANDATE, which is reflected in the ruling party's motto, "YES, WE NUST" If George Manneh Weah CAN do it in a profession called SOCCER, which earned for him all the top laurels of the game in a single year (1995), he CAN do it in the other profession called POLITICS.

About the Author

Samuel G. Dweh, a fiction writer and author, is president of the Liberia Association of Writers (LAW). An indigene of the Wedabo tribe of Grand Kru County of Liberia, he is a journalist and member of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) He can be reached via: (+231) 886-618-906/776-583-266; [email protected].

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