ON SATURDAY, AUGUST 5, 2023, the National Elections Commission (NEC) announced the beginning of the campaign period for the 2023 presidential and legislative elections. The August 5th announcement by the elections authority opens the way for 890 representatives, 100 senatorial, and 20 presidential candidates to traverse the country and canvass votes. The sheer number of candidates speaks volumes about the rat race that is at hand. Friends are expected to go against friends, clans against clans, and districts against districts. It is from the heat of these competitions that grace, peace, integrity must spring if Liberia must maintain its enviable place within the comity of nations.
THESE CANDIDATE NUMBERS grew out of tedious methodical processes that took NEC thousands of man-hours, spanning several months, to extrapolate and compile – at the cost of millions of US dollars. NEC has also started the voter’s education process. Whether the processes were perfect, is beyond our focus. We, however, congratulate NEC for job well done.
THAT BRINGS US to the most crucial concern of the Liberian people. We are talking about the duty and responsibility of political parties and independent candidates: the conduct of orderly, peaceful campaigns respecting NEC’s Guidelines and the Public Safety Laws of the Republic.
THE OCTOBER 10 ELECTIONS are epochal to our historical existence. They will be conducted for the first time virtually on the nation’s own initiative especially as it relates to national security since the departure of the multinational UNMIL security setup. This will be the fourth such elections since the end of the brutal civil war in 2003. In the previous three cycles, despite the challenges that characterized those events, the outcomes got accolades from the international community as worthy of standard best electoral practices.
WHAT THE NATION achieved so far in this electoral process should command the gratitude of every well-meaning Liberian given the crucial nature of the elections. We therefore encourage NEC and all stakeholders in the process to exert all legal efforts to ensure that no stones are left unturned in ensuring that the process meets international standards.
WE COMMEND THE Weah Administration, which is seeking re-election, for readily committing itself to ensuring that the elections are free, fair, transparent, and competitive. We also commend the country’s political leaders for voluntarily signing the Farmington River Declaration that supports a violence-free electoral process. We are not naive to believe that these safety nets will pave a smooth road to October 10. But we have no doubts that with commitment from all parties, no peace mountain is too high.
WHILE IT IS granted that the stakes are high as the nation is about to witness a little over two months of campaigning, we urge politicians to make the stakes manageable by elevating the entire process to issue-based contestation wherewith party candidates and independents will clearly tell Liberians the practical solutions they have to help tackle the myriad of problems facing the country.
THE ESSENCE OF campaigns cannot be lost on us. Campaign integrity has been topical since the start of the electioneering process; but unfortunately, not much is done to ensure that it is upheld. The quality of engagements in the build up to and the outcomes of party primaries seemed to have set the tone for the 2023 elections.
CLEARLY, IT WOULD seem that some of the politicians are more interested in fulfilling a life ambition than to help safeguard the integrity of the process. That this is so because most political parties are not driven by ideologies, but by parochial interests, may help explain the utter disregard for integrity often heard on social media and in party rallies. But this unfortunate aspect of our electoral composition should not compel us to condone electoral malpractices. No Liberian needs to be told that elections have consequences.
HAVING GONE THROUGH our ugly past and seen the consequences of electoral irregularities, we must do everything this time around to bid for peace and integrity. What is more, at a time the rawness of the nation’s ethno-religious diversity seems to be on trial, the expectation is that parties will be conscious of the times and candidates will be more statesmanly, deliberate, and reflective of the narratives that bind rather than divide us as a nation and people.
POLITICAL PARTIES AND independents must be reminded that while the essence of political campaigning is to help the electorates make the right choices, that can only happen if there is a contestation of ideas on critical issues – not on religion, ethnicity, and other trivialities. Besides, this time around, Liberians deserve more than the usual distribution of consumables and the procurement of musicians, comedians and dancers to entertain crowds in the name of political rallies.
THOSE WHO ASPIRE for leadership must understand that when campaigns are vicious, chaotic, polarizing and bloody, the outcomes will not serve national good. What is therefore paramount is to ensure that the rules and regulations governing the campaign season are observed and followed religiously by all candidates – incumbent or opposition.
IT CANNOT BE disputed that it is only when NEC continues unbiasedly on the path it has set forth that the electioneering process will proceed smoothly; that it is only when the candidates abide by the dictates of the laws and guidelines that the electorates will have their fair chance to make best choices; and that it is only when the electorates conduct themselves as patriotic, law-abiding citizens, that Liberians will proudly raise their banners on Montserrado verdant heights and sing the Lone Star Forever with hearts and hands to defend the cause of their country. Yes, the campaign deserves sober reflections from all stakeholders.