Liberia’s Electoral Conundrum: Solving The Labyrinth Of Trucking, Violence And Related Malfeasance
An election is a process through which the people get to make key and strategic decisions that will affect their being. The Oxford Dictionary defines election as “a formal and organized choice by a vote of a person for a political office or other position”. Noting that the people involved in the election process are elements of the same nation, it is expected that such a process will make them stronger. Given that elections are held to determine the best idea or option for the forward march of a country, it should be held in a manner where everyone walks away as the winner. In Liberia, the case seems to be different. The vitriol and violence that have accompanied recent elections leave one wondering the purpose for which elections are held in Liberia. To this end, this paper seeks to identify the source of this vitriol and violence and a plausible solution.
Elections are on the horizon and tension is brewing in the country. The major opposition bloc within the country under the banner Collaboration of Political Parties (CPP) threatened a nonstop protest, to have begun 28 October 2020. The protest, according to the CPP, which is intended to compel the National Elections Commission (NEC) to make the “required changes” to avoid fraud and chaos in the up-coming mid-term elections, has been suspended with promise of an expected cleanup. Despite the suspension, this pronouncement of a non-stop protest puts the country on the edge and unaware of what is to come.
It can be recalled that the Supreme Court in 2017 denied the petition of constituent members of the CPP to annul the elections and order a rerun on grounds of “massive fraud”, “votes tampering” and “voter registry padding”, among others. The Court however ordered a cleanup of the voters’ registry. The Court’s mandate was on the basis that there were ghosts and duplicate names on the registry, as argued by the petitioners. Since then, the voter’s registry is yet to be cleaned up as instructed by the Court. However, several by-elections have been conducted using the existing registry, with violence gracing a couple of them.
A couple of weeks ago, NEC conducted what it called Voters Roll Update. The process was intended to register first-time voters as well as record change of constituency where applicable. That process did not go through without reports of violence, voter trucking, and disorganization, among others. The process laid bare the problems with the electoral system. Noting that election is not an event but a process with attending stages that must be perfected, it is safe to conclude that we have had electoral violence and reports of fraud simply because we have failed to perfect the required stages, including voters’ registration. We have also failed to properly handle candidates’ nomination, civic education, campaign and polling.
Civic education has been so poorly conducted to the extent that invalid votes have been very alarming. During the first round of the 2017 elections, 1,641,922 ballots were cast out of which 88,574 or 5.4% were invalid. The lack of appropriate civic education has contributed to the electoral problems. Candidates’ nomination comes with its hype that sometimes goes wrong with bias rejection or acceptance of candidates. These two stages compare to campaign and pooling have been minimal in terms of contribution to electoral vitriol and violence.
The campaign has been a disaster for the past three and a half decades. We have had series of violent and bloody clashes that have led to injuries and damage of properties. Most of these incidents, if not all, have gone with impunity. Polling has also not shied away from reports of violent interruptions and disturbances. These cases of violence that have gone unaccountable continue to cast a dark cloud over our democracy.
Voter registration has had its share of reports of violence. Howbeit, the level of violence emanating during the process of voter registration has not been as high as the campaign and polling stages. Nevertheless, this stage is the most problematic. The violence that takes place during polling is often on the accusation of double voting or ineligible voters. These are problems that emanate from the voters’ registration process. The violence during the campaign and all associated electoral violence has been repetitive because we continue to conduct ourselves in the same manner expecting different results as well as the impunity factor. The NEC has been unable to stamp out violence due to its inability to get the voters’ registration right as well as identify the party or group instigating the violence. This inability of the NEC could be rectified if the voters’ registration is handled properly.
The voters’ registration stage of our electoral process is a major contributing factor to electoral violence and vitriol as well as an opportunity to stamp out the same. It is therefore important that new measures are adopted. In this vein, usage of the national identification database for voting presents itself as the solution. Utilizing the national identification database ensures that all eligible voters stand a chance to vote and the possibility of double voting is eliminated. Also, the NEC can easily verify voters who are registered with NEC as partisans of political parties or supporters of independent candidates. With this advantage to the NEC, political parties and independent candidates will be compelled to institute measures to mitigate violence or risk being penalized directly in line with the elections law. Adopting the national identification database as voters’ roll is a departure from double voting, trucking, illegal voters, and an overall reduction in electoral violence.
Regarding the question of delineation of constituency using the database, numbering of houses provides the solution. The database will capture the individual’s house number, community, and fingerprint as part of the national identification process. The cost of the national identity can be borne by the budget for voters’ registration. This system will ensure that all Liberians are captured in a secure and authentic database. Said database can be used to fight crime and aid in other essential governance processes.
Written By: Johnny Baryougar White