MONROVIA – As the momentum towards the 2023 general elections builds up, 26 of Liberia’s political parties united to pledge their commitment to a peaceful, transparent, credible and violent free elections with the signing of the Farmington River Declaration 2023 yesterday in Margibi County witnessed by some of Liberia’s international development partners and other stakeholders.
At the well-attended program yesterday, notable political figures who signed on behalf of their respective political parties included President George Manneh Weah who did for his ruling Coalition for Democratic Change(CDC), former Vice President Joseph Nyumah for the Unity Party and Alexander B. Cummings who likewise did his for the Collaborating Political Parties(CPP)
The major political event of the year ahead of the crucial general election was organized under the auspices of ECOWAS and the United Nations was attended by President George Manneh Weah, Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, Ms. Giovanie Biha, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General and Acting Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel(UNOWAS), Dr. Omar Alieu Touray, President of the ECOWAS Commission, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, for VP Joseph Nyuma Boakai, Speaker Bhofal Chambers, Senate Pro Tempore, Albert T. Chie, CPP leader Alexander B. Cummings, members of the diplomatic corps and international organization, civil society groups , among others. Held at the Farmington Hotel in Margibi County.
In her welcome remarks earlier during the program, the Chairperson Davidetta Browne Lansanah said that the signing ceremony “marks another historic moment in the democratic landscape of Liberia in which political actors who are contesting in the upcoming October 2023 general and legislative elections have mustered the courage and enthusiasm to collectively show to the world their ability to continuously contribute to the maintenance of peace in the country by committing themselves to a violence free elections in October”.
She said that the Farmington River Declaration was birthed on 23rd January 2017 and the former President of the Republic of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced during her annual message to the National Legislature the need for a national political forum for the peaceful conduct of the 2017 general elections.
The NEC Chairperson used the occasion to express the Commission most profound gratitude to the standard bearers, chairpersons, and members of all political parties as well as coalitions and all alliances for the milestone electoral sojourn of the Farmington River Declaration 2017.
She said the gathering was as an affirmation of step taking in 2017 to once again witness with almost recommitment of political parties to ensure that the 2023 general band legislative elections in Liberia shall be free of all forms of violence and intimidation.
Madam Brown-Lassanah commended all political parties for their commitment and regard, adding that the Commission is grateful to the government and people of Liberia for providing an enabling environment where all eligible Liberians can participate in the electoral process free of violence.
“In the same vain, the NEC is thankful to the African Union, the ECOWAS Commission, Electoral Management bodies of Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and the Association of African Electoral body as well as the USAID and its implementation partners, UN, EU and other ambassadorial missions to Liberia including the US Embassy, Sweden, Ireland, Germany among many others for their unflinching support to the Commission in its conduct of free and credible elections which border on the substance of peace and security, she said furthered.
In his keynote address at the occasion, President Weah who was dressed in a flowing white gown historicized that “few months before the Presidential and Legislative Elections which were held in Liberia that year, twenty (20) of Liberia’s twenty-two (22) registered political parties met here in this place and signed a document which was named as the 2017 “Farmington River Declaration,” the president recounted.
In this document, he said “We committed ourselves to an orderly and peaceful elections process in October 2017. We agreed, individually and collectively, to prevent electoral violence, impunity, and injustice; and pledged before the ECOWAS Heads of State, who were present in Liberia at the time attending the 51st Summit of that Organization, that if ever and whenever such conflicts occurred, we would address them through mediation or through legal means,” the Liberian leader who was victorious of the 2017 process noted that every party that signed the Farmington River Declaration in 2017 kept true to their word, and the elections were conducted in a free, fair, and transparent manner, without violence; and, moreover, all differences were processed and resolved through the justice system in Liberia, under the rule of law.
“Once again, six years later, the citizens of this country will be going to the polls in October of this year to participate in Presidential and Legislative Elections to choose their leaders.
“These elections present a significant opportunity not only to consolidate Liberia’s democratic gains, but to entrench and build upon them,” he told his audience.
The Liberian Chief Executive sees the ensuing process as opportunity to strengthen a deepening political culture of Liberia on the core of the principles of freedom, justice, and equality, and the respect of human rights, including the rights of women and children.
“They will also provide the occasion for the Government of Liberia to continue to demonstrate its unreserved commitment to the protection of the rights of all citizens, as enshrined in our Constitution. The Presidential and Legislative Elections of October 2023 will be the first to be primarily organized and administered by Liberia, since the drawdown of UNMIL, although since the incumbency of my Administration in 2018, the National Elections Commission has successfully conducted By-elections and a Referendum that were recognized by all stakeholders as peaceful, free, fair, and transparent,” he intoned.
He pointed out, “It is therefore incumbent on all political stakeholders, including the ruling party, as well as the opposition parties, civil society, the media, and in fact ALL Liberians, to recognize the centrality of peace during these elections, and work collectively to deliver a credible, inclusive, and peaceful process,” adding that the risk of post-conflict countries to regress to war is extremely high as he considered as Liberia is a post-conflict success story.
Speaking on behalf of political parties in Liberia, Unity Party Standard Bearer Amb. Joseph Nyuma Boakai said emphasis has always been placed on peaceful elections but the elements inherent in every democratic environment and its assurances must be deeply anchored in a free, fair and credible process.
He added that “Too often we tend to ignore, neglect and in some cases become complicit with the outcome of the process rather than the actual process itself. Election is not an event. It is a process which must not be merely observed but monitored over a period of time to offer what will eventually advance peace, consolidate democratic entitlements and good governance.”
“As we pen our signatures to this Farmington River Declaration that will commit us to a NON-VIOLENT, FREE, FAIR and TRANSPARENT Legislative and Presidential elections, we call on the National Elections Commission to consider extending the registration process in the first six counties. This is intended to make up for the delays and technical problems that have led to many not been able to register. Not doing so will be an act of deliberately disenfranchising Liberian citizens from participating in the elections.
In concluding, he said all must understand that while ensuring that elections are violent free simply because the people want to be in peace and harmony, some of those elections have produced inefficient leaderships that are undermining the stability and development of the country. It is important, henceforth, for “Us to stress the need to monitor those indicators that would undermine the CREDIBILITY of the elections as well as those that will trigger violence.”
“Liberia is now on the threshold of a new democratic order having had a positive transition and we are determined to accelerate another peaceful transition free of violence. We are committed to a credible, free and fair process and I repeat Credible, Free, fair and transparent process”, he added.
Making special statement, Ms. Giovanie Biha, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary -General and Acting Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, thanked ECOWAS, UN and every stakeholder and partners for their facilitation and commitment of support to ensure the success of the Farmington River Declaration. Especially to the dedication of the political parties and quest to promote among Liberians in the context of the upcoming presidential and legislative elections.
“With collective determination to preserve Liberia’s quest for national unity, you political leaders are demonstrating to Africa and the rest of the world that Liberia is prepared to organize peaceful, credible, inclusive and transparent elections”, she told the gathering.
The revised Farmington River Declaration 2023, according to Ms. Giovanie Biha, like it predecessor in 2017 is a perfect example dedication to country, saying you have shown that you have committed to strengthening the stability of Liberia and promoting good governance with youth and women at the center, underscoring that Liberia’s population is very young and these youth should be given space as the leaders for tomorrow.
“Through these agreements, you must uphold it the highest principles of your democracy, holding yourself accountable to the Liberian people for the October 2023 elections”, she said..
She stressed that inclusive democratic system remain the best practice. “20 years after the civil war Liberia stands out as a peaceful country in the region thereby encouraged the continue work on holding the principles of human rights and resolve to dialogue to address political differences”, she said.
She said the Declaration is a strong message to the Liberian people, Africa and to the world, adding peace is a vital commodity that must be a save guard at all cost. “Your commitment to place national interest above personal and partisan concern through this pledge is an example to all, you have promised to solve issues if any through resolution and judicial means in accordance with the law or litigation and pledge to support the outcome of the judicial process and the results.
“This agreement is a significant step towards creating a level playing field for all political parties in ensuring that the will of the people is reflective in the outcome of the elections. Transparency and fairness during electoral process is a critical element to build public trust and confidence in any democratic institution and society”, she emphasized further.
Also making special statement, Dr. Omar Alieu Touray, President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission commended the government and the people of Liberia For the tireless efforts towards reconsolidation of peace and development and recognized the efforts of development partners in supporting these efforts.
He said the next phase of Liberia democratic journey brings Liberia and the West African sub region to a cross road, either to consolidate peace or to retrogress into unrest and chaos.
“Elections continue to trigger conflict in the subregion. As the results, he said ECOWAS will keenly monitor member States who are in the process conducting elections, adding that ECOWAS will continue to support these processes in other to safeguard the integrity of the elections, but will not hesitate to raise red flag and caution all stakeholders where needed in other to safeguard the integrity of the elections.
“It is in this regard that we urge the government, political parties, and the National Elections Commission and all key stakeholders to be fully compliance with the ECOWAS supplementary protocol on democracy and good governance. In other words they must ensure that peace and security underpinned the action of each and every one including utterances”, he stressed.
In these times when some countries in the subregion are going through transition, Dr. Omar Alieu Touray noted that ECOWAS remain constant in their position of zero tolerance for unconstitutional change of government. For ECOWAS unconstitutional government includes not just military government, but equally government that tempers with electoral process that effects the choice of the people.
In addition to the support given to NEC, according to the President of the ECOWAS) Commission, medium and long term observers are also in Liberia, adding that these observers will continue to provide feedback from their observation in order to enhance free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections.
“ECOWAS has zero tolerance for violence. All perpetrators will be identified and punished in accordance with the law including the law of ECOWAS”, he concluded.