MONROVIA: As international observer groups continue to weigh in on their perspectives of the just concluded elections in Liberia, the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) has said the just concluded elections in the country has elements of substantial good practices germane to building a strong democracy, ensure peace and national development and promote mutual coexistence among the citizens just as it made several recommendations from its observations which according to the institution will further improve good electoral system in the country.
In a press statement read yesterday to newsmen at its temporary Secretariat at the Cape Hotel, Mamba Point, by Dr. Nevers Mumba, former Vice President of Zambia and Head of the delegation, mentioned some of the good practices as NEC’s proactiveness in addressing issues from the first round, including steps to address invalid votes, updating the tabulation manual, and refresher training to election officials and deployment of materials ahead in advance of the Run-off.
Others are improved format of the ballot paper clarifying voting choices provided enough marking space for indicating a preferred choice, use of the FRR hard copies by party agents to verify voters in some areas demonstrated improved transparency of the voting process and improved coverage during both rounds of the election by the joint security given that the provision of security was the sole responsibility of internal security agencies.
Speaking on the opening of voting process on election days, the EISA IEOM reported a generally calm and peaceful environment with no election related incidents, adding that opening procedures were largely observed at polling precincts, highlighting timely openings, the full complement of staff, and ease of access for authorized persons.
The report further said the secrecy of the vote was maintained through well-arranged polling booths just as polling staff, security agents, and election monitors demonstrated professionalism and knowledge of their roles, contributing to a smoothly conducted election day. However the Mission noted inconsistencies in the application of ink to indicate that a voter had cast their ballot adding “according to NEC regulations, the voter’s index finger should be marked before casting the ballot, however, observations revealed that, in 61.6% of the polling places, voters were inked before casting the ballot. In 38.4% of the observed polling places, voters were inked after casting the ballot”.
On counting and closing of electoral processes, the closing process was as reported a peaceful and orderly process with a 92.9% incidence free rate and that counting processes were rated as transparent, with procedures adhered to in the presence of party agents and observers. However, approximately 25% of the visited polling places had inadequate lighting.
Putting the entire electoral process into context, the report said in accordance with article 2(3) of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG), the 10 October 2023 elections presented an opportunity for the second peaceful legitimization of representative government and democratic transition of power. It said on October 24, 2023, the NEC successfully tallied and announced 100.0% of the total votes cast, stating that 5.89% were invalid.
“The incumbent, President George Weah of Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), received 804,087 votes, constituting 43.83%, and the Standard Bearer, Joseph Boakai of Unity Party (UP) received 796,961 votes, constituting 43.44%. Due to the absence of an absolute majority among the presidential candidates in the presidential poll as mandated by election legislation, a Runoff was scheduled for November 14, 2023”, the report said.
On the administration of the election, the report said NEC has jurisdiction to adjudicate electoral complaints and disputes in both the first and second instances, with the option for further appeal to the Supreme Court. “EISA-IEOM noted that after the October 10 elections, the NEC’s County magistrates and hearing officers received a total of 50 complaints,” adding of the 50 official complaints received by NEC, 20 were dismissed on legal technicalities such as lack of legal standing.
“While it is undisputed that legal matters may be adjudicated through technical grounds as provided for in Section 16.1 of the New Elections Law or based on merit, the overwhelming dismissal of electoral matters on technical grounds is concerning.
“These technicalities have added complexity to the dispute resolution process and have the propensity to deny parties the right to be heard before condemnation, which is a fundamental human right as provided by the Constitution of Liberia.
“The Mission observed that inconsistent legal frameworks are being used to resolve election disputes. An example of this is the NEC v. Vision for Liberia Transformation Party (VOLT) case, where the Board of Commissioners upheld a ruling made by the hearing officer of NEC. VOLT’s case was dismissed due to lack of legal capacity to sue, as they failed to attach an authorization from the Board of the Party instructing the party’s leadership to file the suit. The NEC found that since
“VOLT is a corporate institution by law, their failure to present a corporate instruction is enough reason for dismissing the matter due to lack of capacity to sue. EISA-IEOM observed that the inconsistent timetable for filing election disputes created more complications with the elections dispute resolution process”, the report said..
Other issues considered by the group centered around inclusive participation of minority segments of the society including women and asserted that the poor representation of women in the legislature has not changed, standing at nine out of 103 representatives, accounting for 08%, a decrease from 11 per cent in the 2017 elections.
“This percentage falls significantly below both regional and global averages, which stand at 26.5%. The mission commends the resilience of 159 women who contested in the first round. Although women’s representation is at its lowest since 2005, the mission acknowledges key successes during these elections where women were elected in some of the most traditional counties such as Cape Mount and Grand Gedeh.
“For the first time in Grand Gedeh’s history, a female House of Representative candidate was elected. In Grand Cape Mount, female candidates won the House of Representative and Senatorial elections. The Mission noted threats of violence against women especially in traditional counties such as Lofa were prevalent”, the report said.
In the same token the mission observed the positive contribution of young people throughout the electoral process, maintaining that young people took active roles as voter educators, polling officials, observers, and voters among others and that both young men and women have been especially visible on social media as influencers and messengers of peace.
The report also said EISA-IEOM acknowledged the election of Liberia’s youngest lawmaker at the age of 26 from Grand Cape Mount as well as commended the election of one PwDs aspirant in District 8, Montserrado during the first round.
The report speaking on election administration in the country said as per the October 10, 2023 general election, there has been evidence to show that elections in Liberia underwent comprehensive scrutiny by both international and domestic observers and other electoral stakeholders.
“The NEC’s proactive initiatives in fostering public trust through transparency during result tabulation were widely commended. For example, the results were announced progressively in public NEC press conferences. At the same time, these results were consistently refreshed on the NEC’s website, providing a breakdown by county and polling place. This strategy proved crucial, allowing political parties and observers to cross-verify copies of the records of the count from both the polling places and the tabulation centres”, the report said
The report did not only praise the good side of the election process, but said that despite the overall positive assessment, some challenges surfaced during and after the first round, pointing out specifically that there were premature declarations of victory by certain political parties before the completion of the results tally process.
“This prompted a response from national and international observer groups and the diplomatic community, urging political parties to adhere to the official announcement by the NEC. Additionally, the considerable percentage of invalid votes, accounting for 5.89%, although within Liberia’s historical performance and global averages, underscores the necessity for enhanced civic and voter education efforts. The slow announcement of results, although enacted within the prescribed 15-day period, coupled with security vulnerabilities and reported incidents of interference with ballot boxes in specific areas, particularly in Nimba and Maryland, were identified as areas of concern”, the report said..
Turning to election campaign “the EISA-IEOM noted a shift in the campaign strategies, as the runoff campaign commenced on October 24, 2023, and spanning just 18 days unfolded with a relatively subdued atmosphere, characterized by limited campaign-related activities.
“However, the two political parties, the CDC, and the UP, deployed teams for house-to-house campaigning to convince voters through direct engagements. The contesting parties also focused on obtaining endorsements from other political parties and candidates instead of citizens. Particularly, various political presidential candidates and leaders engaged in both endorsements and counter-endorsements”, the report said.
EISA while looking at the state of security during the electoral process, “the Mission commends the collaboration between the LNP and the Joint Security Council (JSC), ensuring the safety of voters, candidates, and election officials. Security”. It said security forces responded promptly to electoral fraud and voter intimidation incidents; however, stakeholders highlighted a need for feedback on the status of cases.
“Budgetary constraints and logistical difficulties were noted by security officials managing election deployments. The IEOM notes that there is a need for the state security apparatus to remain neutral in the provision of security for political candidates during campaigns”, the report said.
At the end of its report, EISA made several recommendations to the government, to NEC, political parties, the media, among others. For the government, EISA recommended that the government should consider appropriate electoral reforms to strengthen the existing legal framework, Clarify and strengthen legal requirements and establish measures to identify and deter incidents of voter trucking, consider the establishment of an intermediary court/electoral tribunal to hear and dispose of elections-related matters and improve the media regulatory framework to reduce the leeway for journalists and media houses to report and publish unverified news.
For NEC, EISA recommended improvement of the contracting and vetting of temporary staff in future elections, review CVE strategies to reduce the number of invalid ballots, facilitate the movement and inclusion of PWDs by ensuring the NEC budget reflects the need for additional specialized support and publicly address and act on reports of voter trucking, treating it as a pressing matter for post-election discussions.
“EISA congratulates Liberians for the peaceful conduct of the election and their calmness as they wait for the results from the NEC. Early celebratory activities must be stopped. Liberians should wait for the official announcement from NEC. EISA will issue a final comprehensive report following the announcement of results and post-election day complaints and appeals. The final report will form the basis of the EISA IEOM’s contribution towards the consolidation of democracy in Liberia. Through its core team, the Mission will maintain its presence in Liberia until May 2024”, the report concluded.