ECOWAS Vows to Monitor Every Stage of Runoff -Says Inclusive of Tabulation, Transmission, Aggregation

MONROVIA: The ECOWAS Commission has issued its preliminary observation findings for the Presidential runoff of the 2023 Presidential and General Elections, in which the Mission concluded amongst others, that ECOWAS will continue to closely monitor the concluding phases of the electoral process, in particular the tabulation and transmission of results from the counties, their aggregation at the national level and the declaration of the preliminary results by NEC and will make further pronouncement should the need arises.

The ECOWAS Mission also urges winners of the polls to remain magnanimous in their victory and be graciously conciliatory to forestall any breaches of the peace in order to maintain the stability of the country.

In an eight-page preliminary observatory statement issued yesterday, the ECOWAS Mission also said the electoral process has exposed the Liberian society as  sharply divided  and requires urgent steps   to foster greater inclusivity in governance and social cohesion and national; unity by whoever emerges victorious in the runoff elections.

Signed by the Head of Election Observation Mission Professor Attahiru Jega, the preliminary observatory statement commended the electorates and their sense of patriotism exhibited and urged them to display the same high sense of maturity while awaiting announcement of the final results by the National Elections Commission.

The ECOWAS Mission however notes with concern the challenge that some ECOWAS elections observers faced in the course of their duty, saying in some polling stations observers were not given required information upon request by the polling agents who appeared hostile to them.

“These unfortunate occurrences happened particularly in the St Paul River District in Montserrado. For instance in the Fiama Calvary Baptist School station in Greater Monrovia, Montserrado County, the presiding officer flatly refused to cooperate with our teams in providing information despite the observers clearly identifying themselves with their accreditation,” the ECOWAS Mission disclosed.

The Mission furthered that notwithstanding the incidents non-cooperative attitude by some few polling officers, the polling process proceeded generally smoothly and in large peaceful atmosphere where eligible voters freely exercised their franchise, and commended the election management body for what they called “the marked improvement in processing voters, which greatly accelerated the voting process.

According the statement referred to as “Preliminary Declaration” for the Presidential Runoff of 2023, the ECOWAS Mission appealed to all stakeholders, including political parties, candidates, and supporters as well as the general citizenry to remain calm and patiently await the official declaration of the results by the National Elections Commission, the sole authority mandated to do so under the law.

Similarly, the ECOWAS Observation Mission urges candidates and their political alliances and supporters to be guided by the spirit of national unity, peace and stability and adhere to the expressed commitment made within the framework of the Revised Farmington River Declaration.  “In this regard, the Mission appeals to all stakeholders to refrain from any acts of excitement that would undermine the peace,” the statement said, calling on security agents to maintain professionalism in their execution of their duties for the maintenance of order in the country.

The ECOWAS Mission further urges the NEC to diligently work to ensure the timely and transparent release of the results so as to consolidate the enviable gains made in the handling off the October 10, 2023 general elections in the way that will ensure the stability of the country.

Meanwhile, the ECOWAS Mission related some of its experiences in and out of Monrovia during the voting process, stating that the ECOWAS teams observed 440 Polling Stations in all 15 Counties during the voting process, after the opening of polls.

On Overall, the Mission ECOWAS said voting materials were largely available in 99.33%, and in sufficient quantities, in polling stations that the ECOWAS observers visited and spoke on inclusivity by saying 384 polling stations visited, representing 78.2% were accessible to Persons Living with Disability (PLWDs).

In addition, the Mission indicated that about 407 polling stations, representing 91.46%, special arrangements and assistance were provided for the aged and persons living with disability, adding that this was a marked departure from the previous elections on 10 October 2023, where in most cases such special arrangements were not made for the aged and persons living with disabilities.

The ECOWAS Mission said Observers also reported that there were tactile ballot jackets in 59% of the polling stations visited, and indicated that all Polling stations visited were set up in a way that guaranteed the secrecy of the ballot.

“In general, voters were required to present their voter ID card to cast their ballot. In 16 Polling stations visited (representing 3.6%), observers witnessed that voters were allowed to vote even though their names were not on the voters’ register at those stations,” the ECOWAS said.

“Some of the people who were allowed this dispensation included polling staff and security personnel on duty, as well as drivers of international observers (who could produce voter identity cards),”  according to the ECOWAS Preliminary Declaration.

This dispensation, the Mission said, was allowed in compliance with the NEC manual on polling process where voting by polling staff NEC officials on duty. Election security personnel, international observers drivers, and other special civil servants, were allowed, provided the voter card is in possession of a valid 2023 BVR card, an accreditation badge issued by the NEC, Or personal or work-related ID card, which measure the ECOWAS considered commendable as it was also the case during the multi-tier elections on 10 October 2023.

“However, as the Presidential election is a one-constituency poll, it was easier to allow out-of-area votes, once the voters possessed a valid BVR card,” the Preliminary Declaration statement added.

The statement furthered that observers did not witness any active campaigning in about 99.78% the Polling precincts visited, but noted however that at New Kru Town Administrative Building Polling Precinct, in Kru Town, Montserrado County, and Sammy M. Dukuly School, Soul Clinic E, Paynesville in Monrovia, disputes ensued when party supporters were respectively seen canvassing for votes for their candidates.

“In each of the instances the offending persons were eventually removed with the support of the security personnel, thus allowing for normalcy to return and the process to resume,” ECOWAS Mission narrated. They cited two notable incidents that occurred firstly at the Bishop Nah Dixon School in New Kru Town, Montserrado County, where some voters complained that the ballot papers issued to them did not have a stamp at the back.

“This led to chaotic scenes leading to suspension of the voting process for a while, as the security officer got overwhelmed. The situation was eventually resolved when the persons involved were evicted from the station, with the arrival of police reinforcement,” they explained

Upon further inquiry, the ECOWAS said they observers were informed and confirmed by party agents present that indeed the ballot papers had been stamped except the stamps were not so obvious due to how the papers were folded before handing them over.

The other incident worth mentioning, the observers said, occurred at the Polling Place-2, Administrative Building, City Hall, in Tubmanburg District in Bomi County where the Presiding Officer raised an alarm on three individuals suspected to be inducing voters with money, whilst voting was in progress.

“The said individuals became enraged and went on a rampage, leading to the suspension of the voting process. The security officer, who was obviously overwhelmed, had to call for reinforcement as the situation was getting out of hand. Voting eventually resumed as calm was restored,” the ECOWAS statement explained amongst others.

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