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Integrity concerns mount as Liberian elections draw closer


Critics want deeper probe of voters roll

By Anthony Opara


Concerns have been raised over the potential integrity of the forthcoming General Elections in the West African nation of Liberia following the conclusion of a controversial voters registration exercise.


The elections are coming at the close of two terms in office of outgoing strong-woman, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf whose tenure has witnessed among other dramatic moments, the rebuilding of a post-war economy and tackling the Ebola disease outbreak. Among others, the race is featuring the likes of Vice President Joseph Boakai and former footballer, George Oppong Weah.


In his reaction to the outcome of the exercise, Mr. Augustine Ngafuan, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs in the country and a political player who had earlier indicated his readiness to run for the Liberian Presidency, has tasked the National Elections Commission to declare ‘a serious state of emergency regarding the just-ended voter roll.’


Ngafuan, who is now a staunch supporter of the rival presidential aspirations of Vice President Joseph Boakai said that NEC’s poor handling of the process was giving him jitters.


“Quite frankly, I am afraid. From what I’ve heard from Chairman Jerome Korkoya, I think we all, political actors and journalists need to sound the alarm and call a state of emergency around this issue because elections are won or lost based on the credibility of the voter roll.”


NEC had commenced the Exhibition of the Provisional Voter Roll on June 12, 2017 and ended on June 17 at all 2080 Exhibition Centers (formerly Voter Registration Centers) across the country.


The exercise is a cardinal electoral date as per Article 9.2 of the Voter Registration Regulations and in keeping with section 3.6 of the New Elections Law of Liberia.


The Provisional Registration Roll is a compilation of names, photos, center codes, ages, among others of individuals who registered during the voter registration from February 1 to March 14, 2017.


The key exhibition activities include confirmation of applicant’s information, inclusion, where the opportunity is given to an applicant or registrant to be included on the Provisional Registration Roll if erroneously omitted, correction where recorded information of an applicant is allowed to be changed by correction to set the proper information for the particular applicant or registrant, and objection to inclusion, wherein the chance is given to those who have proof or evidence that points to the ineligibility of an applicant or registrant to be maintained on a voter roll.


As part of the exercise, each Exhibition Center across the country has two electoral workers – the Exhibition Officer and the Clerk to assist registered voters view their particulars and conduct the Exhibition process.


There are also 416 Electoral Supervisors across the country to monitor and coordinate the Exhibition activities at the 2080 Centers.


Bad roads and rains are said to have hampered the process and kept some voters from participating in the process as critics pile the pressure on the elections commission to address the issue.


However, Ngafuan is accusing NEC of overseeing a flawed process.


“From what I heard, it appears, NEC does not have a credible voter roll and you cannot say that everyone who walks in there with a voter card would be allowed to vote; you have to have a credible database to vet everyone who comes to vote.”


“We don’t want a situation that happened in 1927, in an apparent reference to the rigged elections of that year when the number of persons who voted was more than those registered.


In that election, President Charles D.B. King was stiffly challenged by Thomas J.R. Faulkner. According to an official statement, King received 234,000 votes; however, Liberia had 15,000 registered voters at the time.


Thus, King won the dubious achievement of being listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most fraudulent election reported in history.


Mr. Ngafuan suggested Saturday that the first thing the NEC boss needs to do is to be clear on the number of persons who registered during the voter registration.


“We don’t have that. He needs to be clear on the national figure, the county figure, the district figure and the precincts and then the voting centers.”


“Because if he gives that to us, let’s know how many persons were exhibited first, from NEC and then let’s go to the county level and go to the district level and then we go to the precincts and then we go to the voting centers.


If at a voting center, 750 persons registered and today they come and only see 400 on the list, how do we account for the 350 that were missing.


Was it on your list before? How did it happen, was it a printers error? So we need to zoom on the problem and if we don’t do that.


By the schedule, exhibition should have ended yesterday but based on what we are seeing and hearing, that needs to be extended.


If he doesn’t have a credible voter roll, that needs to be corrected and resources need to be found because we are going to be courting with danger if we go to the election with the kind of statement that Korkoya is giving. It is very worrisome.”


Preliminary numbers from the recent voter registration have at least five counties with the most votes on the table. Montserrado County has the highest number of registered voters with some 733, 312.


Nimba County is next in line with 257,780 followed by Bong with the third highest number of registered voters with 195, 407.


Grand Bassa County is fourth with 139,833 and Lofa County with 149, 902(one hundred, forty-nine thousand, nine hundred and two.


However, Cllr. Korkoya has assured Liberians carrying legitimate voters registration cards, full participation in the electioneering process.


Cllr. Korkoya, addressing reporters, said: “People with the issue of unavailability of photos during these exhibition periods should go to the various magistrates for photo taking and every Liberian who has voter card will vote.


The errors wouldn’t affect you. There is nothing to be worried about. People should stop creating unnecessary alarm.”


“Please help us to explain to the people the only reason we are holding exhibition is to correct the errors.”


“We are working hard to ensure a credible election that will be acceptable. We have a fine process we are working under extreme circumstances we don’t say don’t criticize.”


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