Liberia: Civil Society Organizations At Odds Over Changing Mid-Term Elections Date to December

Monrovia — In continuation of the search for solution to what could be a suspension of a constitutional provision that could push the October 13, 2020 Senatorial Mid-term elections to December or January,, the Senate Joint Committee on Judiciary and Autonomous Agency Friday invited civil society actors to its chambers to gauge their expert opinions.

The Election Coordinating Committee of Mr. Oscar Bloh and the Liberia Election Observation Network (LEON) represented by Mr. Augustine Tamba and Mr. Amose Williams were in attendance. In separate comments the two Civil Society Organizations differed on whether to grant or not to grant the National Elections Commission (NEC) a request to push the election from October to December.

'Beginning to See a Pattern'

Their appearance came days after the committee met with political parties on the same matter of concern.

The ECC's Bloh questioned the rationale behind the NEC request to the Legislature to grant them permission to postpone elections to December.

Said Mr. Bloh: "We are beginning to see a pattern of using joint resolutions to unset constitutional dates. We think this is unhealthy. Can we continue to use joint resolution to hold elections outside of constitutional timeline? We also want to know why government ignored the public health law in dealing with COVID-19 and imposed a state of emergency. Our question is whether the request to postpone election by two moths is because of COVID-19? If yes, we want to know whether the COVIDD-19 has posed or continue to pose an existential treat to the survival of the country."

In his view, Mr. Bloh averred, a change to article 83 A. must go hand-in-hand with Article 77 B which deals with the voter registration of eligible vote. According to Bloh, section 3.1 of the elections law calls for elections registration to be done on a periodic basis.

"The conduct of the elections is a constitutional requirement and as a government we knew we had to do elections this is no by-election and the response has been the no money syndrome. Why didn't we budget for this election? This clearly reflects our weakness in terms of legislative oversight."

Mr. Bloh argued before senate committee members that even if half of the money needed to conduct elections was provided by the Ministry of Finance, the current road condition that comes along with the raining season will not allow voter registration to be conducted before elections which is a constitutional requirement.

Mr. Bloh reminded lawmakers that after the 2017 general election, the major issue was the credibility of the election which had to do with the cleaning of voter roll which according to him has not been done in keeping with the Supreme Court's mandate. "The NEC needs to be honest and say whether they can conduct these elections, including cleaning voter roll update in this given circumstances and ensure the Ministry of Finance provide the finances to ensure that the NEC operating in a transparent and independent level."

LEON differs

Mr. Tamba of the Liberia Election Observation Network (LEON) agreed that the precedence with neighboring countries facing similar health conditions, has not been set under this COVID-19. He said many countries in the region are still planning to hold elections this year; in spite of the Coronavirus pandemic. He warned that if care is not taken, the country could see a repeat of what happened in the 2017 presidential and legislative elections.

According Mr. Tamba, time constraints in 2017, led to NEC contracting the voter roll handling to a company that in turn subcontracted to another for the production of the optical mark recognition. Additionally, due to the lack of equipment some of the process was done manually which led to lot of discrepancies on the final voter roll.

Mr. Tamba said the proposal under consideration must be look at from different anger. It is clearly known that the last voter roll update was done in 2017 and Liberians who were 17 are now 21, which makes it important for the process to be carried out.

Mr. Tamba said "LEON believe that the proposal to move to a December date is the only viable option at this stage. This would allow sufficient time for procurement of all the important Optical Mark Recognition forms."

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