Hour of Reckoning Finally Arrives As Liberians Head to Polls
Monrovia - At the end of his campaign rally Saturday, Alexander Cummings, standard bearer of the Alternative National Congress proclaimed a refrain that has been familiar in these elections, trumpeting to scores of supporters gathered at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium that he just could pull it off in the first round.
It is a promise many of the twenty candidates eyeing the presidency has been known to chant in the past year even as critics pounced on the number of candidates looking to become Liberiaâs next President and why so many members of the opposition have failed to form a united front and strengthen their chances of shattering the threat of a one-party dominance resurfacing, after more than a decade of a brutal civil war.
An election big on crowds and limited on the issues goes down to the wire in what is inarguably the most unpredictable Presidential race in years
First Round Chatter vs. Reality
Back in May, Vice President Joseph Boakai, standard bearer of the ruling Unity Party proclaimed to citizens in Gbarpolu while accepting their petition: âI venture to foresee the possibility of delivering our deafening, unequivocal and final verdict come Tuesday, October 10. Let us save our dear Mama Liberia the cost of an expensive and resources wasting second roundâ.
Football legend turned Senator George Weah and his supporters are also confident of winning on the first ballot as is Benoni Urey of the All Liberia Party, Mills Jones of the Movement for Economic Empowerment even Charles Walker Brumskine of the Liberty Party.
Supporters and sympathizers have not resisted the temptation to flirt with the idea of a f irst round victory.
Both the last two elections in 2005 and 2011 were settled after two rounds leaving many political analysts, observers and international stakeholders convinced that this yearâs elections will be decided by a run-off between the two candidates likely to finish in the top two.
The uncertainty hanging over these elections have given rise to questions about the freedom and fairness of the ballot and whether what recently unfolded in the Kenyan elections doesnât happen here.
Flawed History Amid Current-Day Suspicions
Liberia has a rugged history of fraudulent elections.
In 1927, President Charles King won the Presidential elections with a landslide victory that earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records which qualified the results in its 1982 publication as the most fraudulent ever reported in world history.
Suffrage was constitutionally limited to some 15,000 citizens, all Americo-Liberians, but a ccording to the official election results some 240,000 votes were cast in favor of Charles D.B. King.
This yearâs elections are being complicated by the printing of extra ballots and comparison to Kenya where a decision by Kenya's electoral body to print an extra of 1.2 million ballot papers for the Presidential election raised serious contention in that country and thrust the electoral body into a political storm. Kenya has a voting population of about 19.6 million compared to Liberiaâs 4.1 million but only 2.1 million are registered to vote.
In Liberia, the National Elections Commission recent disclosure that some 869,806 excess ballots were printed, raised some concerns from the ruling Unity Party.
"We have raised our concerns with the National Elections Commission and we're still trying to find the rationale for printing that number of excess ballots, because even if you'll have people damaging ballots or something was to happen, you& #039;re not going to 900,000 persons spoiling ballots."
"We also know that hundred percent of the people are not going to vote in any case,â Mohammed Ali, Spokesman of Unity Party said recently.
But NEC through its Chairman, Cllr. Jerome Korkoya, explained recently that the commission would distribute 550 ballots evenly to all 5,390 polling centers centers, the total number of ballots papers in the country will be 2,964,500.
The balance from 3,053,435, when 2,964,500 is subtracted is 88,935; thereby making the overall excess in Presidential ballot papers 869,806.
Lingering Violence Fears
A concern over extra ballots and fears of post-election violence has led key stakeholders to issue caution ahead of Tuesdayâs elections.
âBefore and after the October 10 elections, we appeal to all Liberians to remain peaceful and respect the democratic processâ the US embassy in the capital said in a statement on the ev e of Tuesdayâs historic elections.
The statement continued: âWhile this is a time to engage in vigorous debate, exchanges should be civil, and take place in an atmosphere of tolerance and respect. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right.
Along with an independent media, free speech is a mainstay of any democracy.
People must be able to discuss issues freely, express their opinions, and challenge those of others."
"Anyone who would infringe on those freedoms should be held to account. Similarly, anyone who asserts those rights through threats, vandalism, or at the risk of public safety should also be held to account.â
This yearâs elections marks the rare process toward the first peaceful transfer of power in Liberia from one democratically elected head of state to another since 1944.
Liberia has held Presidential elections in 2005 and 2011
But even the presence of election observer s from Liberia, ECOWAS, the AU, the EU, the United States, other nations, international bodies, and non-governmental organizations such as the National Democratic Institute and the Carter Center are unlikely to satisfy the nerves of rival supporters of various political parties, even as the US is pleading for peaceful elections.
âThe U.S. Embassy urges all parties and candidates to reiterate to their constituents that any violence or unlawful attempts to disrupt the democratic process are unacceptable.â
The United Nations Mission in Liberia which has kept the peace has, through the Special Representative of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, given its vote of confidence in the ability of the elections commission, stating in a statement Sunday: âManaging an electoral process is complex.
Elections are never perfect. There have been technical issues in this electoral process, but none that make us think there will be major problem.
"The NEC has do ne its best to manage the elections fairly and impartially.â
Despite the vote of confidence, the SRSG says candidates likely to file grievances can settle them through the courts.
âCandidates and political parties have legal means to address their grievances, and I urge them to use those means and act responsibly if they have concerns on the process and its outcomes.â
Concerns aside, many political observers remain baffled at how nearly all of those eyeing the presidency have shied away from the issues, focusing instead on who has been able to pull the most crowds.
Thus, the underlying concerns regarding health, education, poverty and infrastructure developments have fallen below the radar of those Liberia hopes will take up the leadership baton when the incumbent Ellen Johnson-Sirleafâs reign comes to an end.
For now the twenty candidates eyeing the presidency have all but exhausted their last few days looking to convince voters why the y should get their votes.
But as in the past two elections where multiple candidates were available, it is highly likely that most of those on the ballot will not cross the one percent mark.
âGreat National Victoryâ, No Matter Who Wins
The next 48 to 72 hours will determine just which one of those on the ballot will make it to the second round or which one has done enough to shock the world with a first round victory.
Whichever way it ends stakeholders all agree that Liberia is staring down at a glowing opportunity to following the likes of Ghana, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and lately The Gambia in making successful democratic transitions.
The UN SRSG put it succinctly: âLiberians and their political leaders have a unique opportunity to prove it to themselves and their friends that they are determined and able to deliver the fairest, most transparent, inclusive and credible elections ever held in the history of Liberia.< /p>
"This would certainly be a great national victory for you and for all the people of Liberia, regardless of who wins the elections.âSource: Google News