Though the 2017 elections since produced their winners and losers and the new political administration is ending its first year, those who monitored or observed the electoral process are still carrying out their evaluations and studies as to decipher some of the intractably inherent problems towards improving if not perfecting the country’s democratic process. The American-based Carter Center is one those groups that have been spending some time checking the health of the Liberian electoral process, particularly since the 2017 elections. It just released the findings of the study, advancing several recommendations including the apparently most controversial one—the rights of homosexuals to participate. The Analyst reports.
The Carter Center has released several commendations from its observation of the 2017 elections which the Coalition for Democratic Elections won before President George Manneh Weah took the oath of office on January 22, 2018.
The organization was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide, helping to improve life for people in more than 80 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers to increase crop production.
The Center was amongst several national and international organizations that monitored and observed the crucial 2017 elections which their preliminary reports declared generally peaceful, orderly and fair.
The organization has come out with its final report in which it lined up several findings and recommendations amongst which is the contentious issue of homosexuals’ rights to political participation.
Homosexual rights are not recognized by most Liberians, and there have been moves at the National Legislature to fully criminalize same-sex marriages.
But the Carter Center is recommending the “removal of criminalization of homosexuality and LGBTI political participation”, arguing that “in light of Liberia’s international commitments for non-discrimination, homosexual acts should be decriminalized and legislation should be brought in line with international commitments for equal opportunities.”
The organization also touched another apparently controversial issue—rights of non-negroes to own land in Liberia. The Liberian Constitution limits land ownership to negroes. But the Carter Center is requesting the removal of race-based citizenship requirement in Liberia’s future efforts on constitutional reforms.
The Center’s observation mission also identified the promotion of the political Rights of participation of women, youth, persons with disabilities, LGBTI, and Ethnic and Religious Minorities in the Liberian political process.
The failure of Liberia’s legal framework and electoral process to bring women’s political participation in line with the country’s international commitments is one of the greatest weaknesses of Liberia’s democracy, the Carter Center noted in its final report on the 2017 elections.
“Liberia’s legislature, electoral authorities, and other stakeholders should consider a range of steps to increase women’s participation in public affairs, including passing legislation to promote women’s political participation, increasing the number of women working in the administration of elections, waiving fees for female candidates, granting female candidates access to the media, and continuing to collect data on gender and minority representation (including continued use of the gender data capture sheet).
The organization also indicated that in light of Liberia’s commitment under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Government should ensure that no ethnic or religious groups are excluded from political participation, and that the Liberian constitution should continue to protect religious freedom and should not be weakened, including by amendments that would identify a preferred faith.
Issues of property ownership, residency, and mental health were also identified by the Carter Center, stating that the qualifications for serving as a candidate that are listed in in Liberia’s constitution should be reviewed to determine whether they are overly restrictive and inconsistent with the ICCPR, including requirements of property ownership and references to mental health.
The group said limitations on the right to stand for elections based on property ownership particularly impact women, as the legal framework does not guarantee spouses the right to joint ownership of property.
Making several other recommendations, the Carter Center requested a review of candidate registration requirements and fees.
“Liberia should review candidate registration requirements and fees to ensure that political participation rights are respected, and should remove onerous registration requirements for independent candidates,” the organization recommended.
The group also said consideration should be given to ways to strengthen electoral dispute resolution in Liberia. The strengths and weaknesses of an electoral court system should also be considered.
“Legislative reform of the timeframes for elections is needed to avoid the potential for constitutional crisis that became apparent during the 2017 electoral process” the Carter Center further said. “The timeframes for the electoral dispute-resolution process should be well-synched with other areas of law, including the expiration of terms and the swearing-in of newly elected leaders.”
According to the Carter Center, the dispute-resolution process for pre-election complaints should be clarified, and specific timeframes established, and that the National Election Commission (NEC) should ensure that all complaints and appeals about candidate registration are adjudicated prior to the start of the campaign period so that the right to due process and appeal does not negatively impact the right to participate in public affairs.