Budding Electoral Violence Inhibits Growing Democratic Space – It’s Time to Rethink

WHAT WAS BECOMING a spurring democratic space, replete with aggressive opposition, tolerant political will and diverse media is now running into trouble with sporadic electoral violence and popular anger amongst the population. This is totally unacceptable. There is a need for rethink. There is a need to rise up and do something—quickly.

IN THE LAST couple of weeks, it seems everything done since the end of the civil conflict, exactly 16 years this August, is fast eroding. This is a very concerning and scary for Liberians who had thought that the country, which has just graduated from an internecine civil war, was on the right trajectory of peace, democracy and development.

THE SATURDAY, AUGUST 17 melee in District #15, specifically Logan Town, is in a chain of electoral disorders which have climbed unto the Liberian political landscape. Previously, and during senatorial and representative by-elections in Montserrada County, the country’s electoral politics quickly lost its serenity and peace to gangs of political hoodlums across the aisle. Each time there is political contestation, as was seen in the case District #13 and now in District #15, spontaneous altercations flared up leaving many wounded and political temperatures extremely high.

INSTEAD ELECTIONS HELPING to improve national healing and governance, it has turned to be razor shedding blood and dividing our people and nation.

THAT IS NOT the purpose for elections. Elections are civil exercises that are meant to strengthen peace and democracy because they provide the space for popular participation and political belonging for all citizens to the national mosaic. Under the True Whig Party political administration, and for 133 years, political participation and inclusion was a luxury if not nonexistent and many justify the coup of 1980 and the wars of 14 years on political exclusion and economic marginalization. Those conflict periods came to pass at the expense of the sweat, tears and blood of thousands of Liberians.

AS ELECTORAL DEMOCRACY singly guarantees a breakaway from the old order, Liberians are most needed to give regular elections a chance so that by and through it all citizens would have the sense of national belonging and participation. To do otherwise is to suggest that the struggle for which many perish was in vain and that we, as a people, are not yet mature, prepared and ripe to sail a democratic ship of state; for there is no democracy without elections.

NO DOUBT THE orgy of electoral violence is giving politicians reason to cut on those rights and privileges that come with democracy.

THERE IS ABSOLUTELY no reason to fall from the cliff of democracy back into the valley of autocracy. Our system has evolved well on the compost of the sacrifices of compatriots who fought and died so that this oldest Africa state thrives in peace, democracy and economic prosperity. There is media pluralism. Both the social and traditional platforms are bubbling. The opposition is critical and outspoken. The current political administration is nearly ultra-tolerant, with the president doing nothing about crude vituperations directed at his person. With these developments taking hold in our country, we must be proud that we are making it to the level of other tested democracies, except that the electoral violence is taking the credit away.

IT SHOULD NOT be difficult to overcome violence in our electoral system. While it is true that too many idle young people underpin the growing violence situation, it is not true that we are helpless and cannot conduct peaceful elections. All that is required is for political candidates to act nationalistic, tame their ego and desperation for power at all cost. It is they that take greater blame for electoral violence because their modes of thinking and zest largely influence their supporters and followers. It is they who, many times, give instructions. It is they who inculcate the spirit of hate, bitterness and aggression that they carry against opponents into their followers.

LARGELY, WHEN CANDIDATES and parties in elections develop the attitude that elections are not a life and death contest, when they know that the best politicians are nationalists who think there is another day for politics, the better it would be for this country. There must always a candidate or a party that puts Liberia’s peace and stability first over personal victory. Thus, while the National Elections Commission and the state security forces have some responsibility to tame aggressors, these institutions are not angels or gods to know and preempt in advance every hostile plan of the political forces. Political parties, or candidates and their field campaigners have the greatest responsibility to ensure peaceful elections.

LIBERIA DESERVES PEACE and order. Liberia needs regular elections to strengthen our democracy and to improve accountability in public governance. Nothing less.

IN THE FUTURE, candidates and parties should not only sign peaceful-elections MOUs. They must be made to sign behavioral bonds that extends to taking responsibility for the acts of deviant supporters. And where those bonds are violated, the culprits are barred and electoral decisions made against their interests.

WE JUST CANNOT afford to pervert elections, which are necessarily appendix of democracy, into game of devils.

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