MONROVIA: As various international monitoring groups continue to make their assessment of the just concluded general elections, the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) has said it has noted that there were substantial good practices from the election which are important for Liberia’s nascent democracy and recommended to stakeholders to work on some challenges for improvement in the future.
In a statement read by Dr. Nevers Mumba, former Vice President of Zambia and Head of the Mission at the Cape Hotel, Mamba Point, Monrovia, EISA said the statement ” presents a summary of the preliminary findings, conclusions, and recommendations of the EISA-IEOM” on what it has observed thus far and will issue a final comprehensive report following the conclusion of the election process, including the announcement of results and post-election day complaints and appeals.
Speaking on the good practices, Dr. Mumba mentioned the provision of gender-disaggregated data following the completion of BVR exercise aligning with international best practices to foster inclusive election management, the signing of the Revised Farmington River Declaration demonstrating political parties’ commitment to peaceful elections and the establishment of various Situation Rooms and Early Warning and Response mechanisms for election-related violence and human rights violations.
Other good practices he mentioned included organizing public debates at both presidential and legislative levels to encourage more issue-driven and participatory politics, fostering greater accountability among politicians, the introduction of a tactile ballot aimed at enhancing the participation of persons with visual disability in the elections, making the voting process more accessible, the presence and provision of adequate access for Party Agents and observers contributed to transparency in the process and that the elections saw an increased role for youth participation particularly through civil society organizations and as election officials. Their participation as voters was also remarkable.
Speaking further on the report, Dr. Mumba said there are some areas that needed improvement including the slow budget release from the National Treasury and infrastructure challenges accentuated by the heavy rainy season hampered the delivery of election materials, lack of a strong legal framework for increased participation of women candidates by political parties, underrepresentation of young people in elective offices and growing engagement of youths as militants by political parties.
Others are the delay in distributing the Final Registration Roll for public scrutiny and delay in releasing regulations on collation and tabulation of results, lack of substantial issue-based or policy-focused campaign messages, the widespread misinformation about elections on social media and a weak communication strategy and low visibility of the NEC’s programs.
The report noted that year’s elections are the fourth consecutive general election since the country returned to democratic rule after 14 years of civil war, stressing that the 2023 General Elections were organized primarily by Liberian authorities, with minimal technical or financial support from the international community, and no input from the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which concluded its Mission on March 30, 2018. “The elections marked the first nationwide elections conducted solely under the leadership of the current National Elections Commission (NEC)”, the report said.
“The Mission observed the absence of significant electoral or constitutional reforms for this election. Recent legislative attempts to make substantial changes to the New Elections Law, such as establishing a new independent body to address election-related complaints, altering the election date, and enabling Liberian diaspora members to vote with valid Liberian identification, were vetoed by the President. Although amendments to Section 4.5, which addresses women’s political participation, were approved, the vetoing of other provisions left the entire reform process in limbo.
“As a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Liberia has been affected by regional dynamics, with military coups and contested elections suggesting democratic backsliding in the region. The 10 October 2023, elections therefore took place under intense sub-regional and international scrutiny”, the report said.
The report also highlighted some legal framework under which elections are held in Liberia and added that the 2023 General Elections in Liberia are guided by the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, which stands as the supreme and fundamental law of the country. It specifies the qualification and disqualification of candidates, rights and responsibilities of voters, and establishes the National Elections Commission (NEC) and its authority in keeping with Article 77(b).
It said the NEC created supplementary election guidelines including the 2023 General Elections Regulations, Political Parties and Independent Candidates Regulations 2022, Voter Registration Regulations of 2022, 2023 Campaign Guidelines, Campaign Finance Regulations of 2022, Guidelines and Code of Conduct for Observers, and Hearing Regulations and Procedures.
“However, the current legal framework falls short of international standards as it imposes restrictions on candidacy based on residency and property value. In 2022, Liberia passed the Dual Citizenship law allowing Liberians in the diaspora to maintain their citizenship even after acquiring another nationality. On the contrary, this law comes with certain limitations, including a ban on individuals with dual citizenship from holding elected positions.
“Additionally, requirements for public officials to step down years before an election, though intended to prevent misuse of state resources, unduly limit the right to stand for elections and contradict international commitments”, the report said
Touching on electoral boundary delimitation, the report said the current constituency boundaries in Liberia do not align with international standards for equal suffrage, as they exhibit wide variations in the number of voters per district. The report gave an instance that in the 2023 election, the district with the highest number of registered voters(Montserrado District 4 at 75,515) had approximately six times as many voters as the district with the lowest voter count(River Gee District 3 at 12, 401)
“A census was conducted in 2022 with results only being released in 2023, therefore not providing sufficient time for a boundary delimitation exercise to be conducted”, the report said.
The statement also said that the mission attended over 153 campaign activities and has identified a need for political candidates to adopt issue-based campaigning considering that observer field reports show that the most popular forms of campaign were public rallies (56.9%) and music caravans (47.1%). Whilst door to door campaign(5.9%) and public debates(0,7%) were the least preferred forms of campaigning, adding that campaign messages often revolved around the candidates’ personalities and ethnicity, with an emphasis on these aspects rather than issue-based politics.
“While the campaign period was largely peaceful, the last leg campaigns had isolated incidents of election-related violence. The most significant being a violent clash between supporters of the Coalition for Democratic Change(CDC) and the All Liberia Coalition Party(ALCOP) in District 10 in Montserrado and a clash between supporters of the Coalition for Democratic Change(CDC) and the Unity Party(UP) in Foya City in Lofa, resulting in fatalities”, the report said.
In conclusion, the report said based on the EISA-IEOM assessment of the pre-election environment and the reports of its observer teams on Election Day, “the Mission acknowledges the peaceful and enthusiastic participation of Liberians in the electoral process”.
“With some few exceptions, voting proceeded without interruption throughout the day, and voters freely expressed their choice. The NEC discharged its responsibilities with diligence, often under difficult conditions, EISA’s observers expressed confidence in the conduct of NEC Staff. EISA calls on all stakeholders, supporters, security personnel and the media to sustain the peaceful conduct of Election Day as the country waits for the tallying process and final announcement of results”, the report said.