Nearly three months after the 2014 mid-term senatorial election that elected hordes of senators for an insane nine-year term ended, Liberians are still reeling from the decisions of the non-independent National Elections Commission that elected those legislators.
Even though Liberians were unprepared to vote at the time because of the gravity of the Ebola virus that killed their relatives and loved ones, they participated anyway and chose their legislative candidates.
The National Elections Commission believing that the Liberian people did as they were told accepted the people’s electoral verdicts and certificated the winning candidates.
After the NEC certificated the candidates, the defeated candidates, citing voting irregularities ran to the Supreme Court to have the election results overturned.
Like the LACC, which waited until after the mid-term senatorial election to pursue or talk about pursuing those allegedly corrupt legislators (who won their seats anyway), the NEC did not wait at all but certificated the winning candidates before the candidates could ever garner the courage to run to the Supreme Court of Liberia to overturn the winning results.
The court did listened and put a temporary hold on the certificated legislators from taking their seats; even though it was crystal clear that the Supreme Court’s decision was way too late, since the winning candidates were already green-lighted to take their legislative seats. After hearing the complaints from the loosing candidates, the Supreme Court allowed the elected senators to take their seats.
The question now is, why did the NEC rushed to certificate the new legislators when there were lingering doubts about electoral fraud? And why did the Supreme Court intervened knowing that the NEC already signaled through the certification process that the elected legislators were cleared to resume their official duties? Could the NEC have waited until after the end of the electoral challenge before allowing the newly elected legislators to take their seats?
Well, this is the body according to its website “that is responsible to conduct election for all elective public offices and to administer and enforce all elections laws throughout the Republic of Liberia.”
This is also the same “autonomous public commission” or agency that conducted the 2005 and 2011 elections, when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was a presidential candidate and later president – even though Madame Sirleaf appointed some of the Commissioners who presided over the 2011 presidential election.
With the latest blunder starring at us, and even as previous electoral blunders continued to remind us of the past, questioning the current and twisted electoral setup in this supposedly ‘democratic’ republic undermines the central tenets of free, fair and uninterrupted elections in a democratic society.
How fair is the current setup when a presidential candidate or an incumbent who happens to run in an election appoints the electoral commissioners who supervises and coordinates the same election?
Aware of the ambiguous role, the National Elections Commission (NEC) want the Liberian people to believe members of the Electoral Board “consists of a configuration of men and women of trust and principle appointed by the President of Liberia,” the agency’s website added.
That’s exactly the problem with the National Elections Commission.
The NEC is not an independent and neutral body.
The idea that the President of Liberia oversees the NEC, and not an independent and neutral civic group is troubling.
Influencing electoral results through lies, intimidation and harassment is nothing new in Liberian politics. Swapping electoral results to favor a sitting president is not unheard of in Liberian politics either.
During the 1985 presidential elections, former President Samuel K. Doe’s Special Elections Commission (SECOM), chaired by Emmett Harmon announced that some of the political parties and their representatives not be allowed to participate in observing and counting the ballots.
When Mr. Doe realized the hard facts that he wasn’t going to win the election, the ballots were mysteriously set ablaze by his henchmen, and he (Doe) was declared the winner.
During the 2011 general and presidential elections, James Fromoyan, who was appointed by incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to head the National Elections Commission, allegedly swapped the results to favor Madame Sirleaf.
The incident occurred after a mysterious letter Mr. Fromoyan claimed he never read but signed surfaced after Fromoyan declared the Congress for Democratic Change party’s candidate the winner.
At the end of the day the decision was reversed, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was declared the winner of the 2011 presidential race. Madame Sirleaf was later sworn in for a second term.
President Sirleaf will not be on the ballot in 2017, but her Unity Party holds a clear advantage because it is the ruling party; and until another candidate from a different political party wins the presidency.
As the 2017 general and presidential elections loom, it is crucial that the Liberian people lobby to change the entire setup of the National Elections Commission to not favor the incumbent and the ruling party.
It is unfair for an incumbent or the President of Liberia to appoint the Commissioners of the National Elections Commission, who are in charge of overseeing the nation’s elections.
Liberians just cannot sit back comfortably and continue to allow this electoral charade to happen in 2017 and beyond.
A government-run and manipulated National Elections Commission is not the answer. An independent and neutral elections commission is what we need.