Early & Reckless Campaign May Jeopardize Peaceful Election – As Political Parties Ignore NEC Rules; Compromise Public Safety

The National Elections has set aside October 10, 2020 to December 6, 2020 as the political campaign period for the 2020 mid-term Senatorial Election and Referendum, consistent with Article 10.21 of the New Elections Law of the Republic of Liberia. This means that political parties, political coalitions and alliances can only openly engage in campaign activities for the election on the date declared by the Commission, otherwise, parties found in violation are liable to pay substantive fines. However, in complete disregard to the NEC regulation setting out the timeframe for campaign, political parties have been openly engaged in what is being described as “campaign activities in such a reckless and lawless fashion” which often leave the very voters perplexed and stranded amidst unannounced human and vehicular traffic jams, stone throwing and mob violence, all in the name of “accepting petitions, endorsing and certificating candidates.

Political parties and their members from both the governing Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and the opposition community are not exempt from the early and unannounced campaigning, as citizens are awakened daily to the ungainly sights and sounds of bereted youths chanting battle cries, marching up and down the city streets, and in worst cases, stoning one another with rocks and blunt objects.

Against the backdrop of such flagrant violation of the NEC regulation against early campaigning, the new NEC Chairperson, Mrs. Davidetta Browne-Lansannah, addressed a major press conference on Monday, August 17, 2020 on the occasion of the Interparty Consultative meeting of the Committee on Political Parties aimed at signing the revised Code of Conduct for the 2020 midterm senatorial election and referendum.  Expectations were high that the NEC boss would address the issue.

Observing that political parties, political coalitions and alliances are central to Liberia’s democracy, and that the actions of their leaders, members and supporters are essential to maintaining the peace that Liberians enjoy, Madam Lansannah said it is therefore important that all political parties, political coalition and alliance, their members and supporters help to promote conditions conducive to free, fair and credible elections in a climate of tolerance; accepting that others have the right to present their political principles and ideas in a peaceful environment without intimidation or fear.

“In fulfillment of these ideals, a two-day workshop, with assistance from UNDP, was held on Feb 27-28 of this year, where political parties, political coalitions and alliances revised the Code of Conduct format. By adopting these revised Code of Conduct, the parties reaffirmed their will to abide by these democratic principles to conduct a nonviolent campaign. The Commission applauds the parties for this achievement, and will support the implementation of this Code,” the NEC boss stated.

But the failure by the NEC authorities to tell truth to political party leaders on their increase violation of the NEC regulation could not pass by without comment.

“I have not read the revised Code of Conduct yet, but I think Madam Commissioner should have used the occasion to tell the political parties’ leaders in their faces that the NEC will not condone anyone or any political institution breaching the elections law or the Code of Conduct,” says Reverend Abraham Williams, a prolific socioeconomic commentator on sub-regional affairs.

Reverend Williams said the failure by Madam NEC Chairman to tell the political leaders their wrongdoing will allow them to leave that building and go right back to their old ways

Article 10.21 of the New Elections Law on Freedom of Travel throughout the Country and the use of Public Facilities by Political Parties states clearly that political parties, without any molestation whatsoever by official action, are privileged to travel throughout the length and breadth of the country to canvass for membership or for elective public offices and to hold and conduct orderly meetings and political rallies to raise funds or for any lawful purposes in the free exercise of their political franchise being responsible for the abuse of such privilege.

The Article further states: They shall be entitled to appropriate security protection when timely public notice is given. Political parties are also privileged to use, and shall not be denied the right to use any public building or such public facilities necessary and appropriate for their purpose, a timely request shall first be made to the appropriate authorities.

According to the Constitutional article, “… Any person or persons using their official power to molest the free travel to any part of the country of a political party or persons accredited by such party to travel to any part of the country, or after a public notice of the holding of an orderly political meeting or rally shall have been given,  and after being granted due permit by the Ministry of Justice, any person or persons by any means molesting the holding of any such meeting or rally or to denying or refusing to allow the use of any public facility to any political party involved shall be subject to a fine upon proved complaint of the political party affected or involved.”

“In any election year and upon declaration of the opening of campaign by the Commission and during such period, any person or persons violating any of the provisions of this section shall be guilty of an election offense and punishable by a fine of ($500.00) five hundred dollars to be paid forthwith. Notwithstanding any such administrative action should any damage result by the misconduct of any person or persons, the party or person so affected shall have a civil remedy under the appropriate provision of the Civil Procedure Law Revised,” Article 10.21  of the Constitution further said.

Also, Article 10.27 on Election Offenses Punishable by Fines says: wherever this Law refers to election offences punishable by fines: (a) With respect to election offences committed by a political party, including alliances and coalitions, the fine shall not be less than the Liberian dollar equivalent of US$2,500 (two thousand five hundred US dollars) and not exceed the Liberian dollar equivalent of US$50,000 (fifty thousand US dollars). [Amended in 2004] (b) With respect to election offences committed by a natural person, the fine shall not exceed the Liberian dollar equivalent of US$500 (five hundred US dollars). [Amended in 2004].

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