As the pendulum of time ticks towards the highly anticipated 2023 political process, opinions on the success of the crucial elections have begun to sprout, one of which was provided by an ace political actor, Mr. Alexander B. Cummings, Jr. Cummings, the political leader of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) says it is really important that the country does not only hold the 2023 elections according to the constitutional time, but that Liberia should do so in a way that makes the process, and the results, credible.
No responsible government needs to be reminded about its duty, especially to provide money to the election commission, Mr. Cummings intimated, saying that this includes the money they need for by-elections. “Every other day by-elections are delayed, a district or a county is denied proper representation in the government. This is wrong,” the ANC political leader averred.
He said elections provide a chance for the people to speak, and choose their leaders, as a result of which he added that serious democratic governments do not delay elections. “They do not need to be reminded to plan to support elections. It is such an important duty for governments that every responsible government makes planning for, and support to elections, a major priority,” he indicated.
The former chairman of the four opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) made the observations in his article entitled, “An Op-ed: Toward A More Credible, Free, Fair And Transparent Elections in 2023” that he circulated to the media over the weekend. He maintained that conducting elections on time is the most basic test of any nation’s democracy, emphasizing that this country, Liberia, cannot be failing this test and hope to be democratic.” For our country, holding free, fair and credible elections, on time, is amongst the best ways to continue to keep our peace, and remain democratic, he said.
Mr. Cummings recalled that Senator Varney Sherman spoke about the need for the government to begin planning to give the National Elections Commission (NEC) the money they will need to conduct the 2023 Elections on time, and said in support, “I agree with the Senator, and thank him for reminding the government about this important responsibility.”
He further asserted however, that time and again elections have been postponed and by-elections delayed under this George Weah-led government because the government says it has no money for elections.
Work and think Weah One-term President
Notwithstanding the unavailability of money to support the holding of elections as claimed, Cummings said the same government knows how to find money for trips that bring nothing back to the country. “When a country does not have money, its leaders will not waste the little that it has on things that yield no benefits to the people.”
Even when countries that can afford are keeping their leaders’ home, during this COVID 19 period, our President is travelling and using money we don’t have when the government could not afford and at the same time begging for help to pay civil servants’ salaries that are already cut and so low, he said.
He intimated that although it is not wrong for countries to ask for help, he nevertheless noted, “… when we start getting donations of hand pumps, we should be concerned and ashamed. This is not where our country needs to be. Liberians would say, when people have to beat drum behind you to do the things you are supposed to be doing, it means you are irresponsible. Irresponsible people don’t lead.”
For this, he continues to say, Liberians must work as hard as they can, and think as best as they can, to make Mr. George Weah, a one-term President. “He and his friends don’t know what they are supposed to be doing, and by not doing what they are supposed to be doing, they are threatening our peace, threatening our democracy, and undermining the way the Constitution say we should be running the country.”
Additional to holding elections on time, Mr. Cummings said Liberians also need to review the way the December 8, 2020 Elections were conducted, and try not to repeat the many mistakes made.
“If we carry the same mistakes to 2023, even if we give the NEC all the money they need and we conduct the elections on time, the process and the result, will not be considered by many to be free, fair and credible. This will not be good for our country. It could undermine the peace, security and stability of the country. Elections, if not done well, can lead a country to breakdown and chaos,” he accentuated.
Start 30% Women quota on party tickets
Therefore, he said as we start talking about money for the NEC, we also need to start putting everything in place to make sure every political party makes the minimum 30% quota for women on their party tickets. If a political party cannot do this, he indicated that it should not be a party claiming to represent all Liberians.
“Enough with the talking about women participation in politics. It is time to actually do it. The CPP did not only meet the 30% quota for women candidates in the 2020 Bi-elections, but exceeded it by fielding five (5) out of fifteen (15) candidates. In 2023, let us all show that we mean this by actually doing it,” he advised his colleagues in the opposition bloc.
Mr. Cummings also spoke of the need to improve the security of election materials, especially the ID card machines and ballot papers so that we don’t start finding them in private homes and abandoned places.
“We need to also improve the voter registration system. We have to make it harder, if not impossible, for anyone to register more than one time, and to make sure the voter roll is clean. To do this, we need to use the biometric system of registration others are using for registration, which ECOWAS recommended for us to use,” he further advised.
Stop the trucking of voters
At the same time, the Opposition political figure expressed the need to stop the trucking and bussing of people who do not live in a district or county to register and vote there. “It is wrong to truck people into a district or county from outside to register and vote for representatives and senators of places you do not reside.”
Mr. Cummings said these trucked voters will not really care how the person they are voting for will represent the people who are actually living in the district or county, adding, “If we do not stop this, we will continue to end up with legislators who do not know their people, do not care about them, do not live with them, and in truth, do not represent them.
“More and more, we are seeing now that after elections, elected officials are moving out of and residing in places way outside their districts and counties they are supposed to be representing. As a result, they are caring very little about the people they are supposed to be representing. This is because they were elected by outsiders and not the people who actually live in those districts and counties,” he noted.
Changing our dealing with election protests
Mr. Cummings further spoke of reversing the dealing Liberians with election protests, and expressed the need to make some changes to how we manage protests emanating from the elections so that runoffs, certification or seating of declared winners are not delayed as it was seen before, pointing out that these delays can undermine the work of the government too.
Cummings disagrees and recommends
Cummings disagrees with suggestions that the winner of an elected post when announced by NEC should be allowed to take seat and start working while protests against the announced victories are being heard as propounded by some people. This, he maintained, is illegal, wrong and undermines the right of any person with a grievance to be heard.
“If we do this, we will be undermining the right to protest. Without the right to protest, we will not have democracy. The real problem is not the number of protests. It is the delays in hearing and judging protests that are the real problems. What we actually need to do is fix the NEC law to make sure protests are heard quickly and without letting the process be unfair to any of the parties,” the ANC leader explained.
He recommended that the National Legislature should begin to hold public hearings to get ideas on how we can do both. One way to consider, for example, to fix the NEC Law so that the NEC can appoint a team of three regional electoral magistrates for each region of the country, which appointments he further recommend are to take effect on the day after elections and will run for the next three months, after which, the work of the regional magistrates shall end.
“The regional individuals must preferably be lawyers who will sit to hear all electoral protests from a region provided that no one hailing from a region can hear protests from that region. The regional magistrates are to decide each protest within three days of hearing it. Appeals from their decisions will go straight to the Supreme Court,” Cummings further suggested.
He said by this way, the business of electoral protests under NEC will be kept as the Constitution instructs, but free up the NEC Commissioners to concentrate on the other business of the elections. The way the current system works, he opined, leaves room for delays and the rendering of unfair decisions; adding that it has the same people against whom some of the protests are actually being brought to hear and decide it. “This is like having the same referee to hear and decide protests from the game he refereed. Whatever he decides, will not be considered fair,” he averred.
The election in 2023, he explained, will be for President, half of the Senate, and the House of Representatives. He said “It is too important for our country to get it right – to do all we can, including fixing the current laws, so that the election is seen to be free, fair and credible, concluding that for sure, “we must do it on time, and not look to delay it, as we have done in the past.”