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‘Critical Moment in Liberia’s Recovery’: Carter Center Assessment of Pre-Election Environment

‘Critical Moment in Liberia’s Recovery’: Carter Center Assessment of Pre-Election Environment

Monrovia – The Carter Center has expressed serious concerns regarding Liberia’s post-election 2017 environment if the elections fail to meet international standards.

These will be the third Presidential elections since the end of armed conflict and a key test for Liberians to consolidate democratic governance through peaceful competition for political power at both the Presidential and legislative levels.

There is a strong desire among all Liberians for the elections to proceed smoothly and peacefully. However, there are serious concerns about the post-election environment if the elections fail to meet international standards.”  - Carter Center Assessment

The brainchild of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on Monday released an assessment of the pre-election environment that includes recommendations to help Liberia continue to strengthen its democracy.

‘Historic Opportunity’ for Liberia

“These elections present an historic opportunity for Liberia, and I call on all Liberians to commit to peaceful participation in the democratic process, consistent with the rule of law,” said Jordan Ryan, the Carter Center’s vice President for peace programs and a former United Nations Mission in Liberia deputy special representative.

In its assessment, the center noted that the 2017 national elections represent a critical moment in Liberia’s recovery from war and transition to a peaceful democracy and the first post war transition from one elected President to another through a democratic process.

“These will be the third Presidential elections since the end of armed conflict and a key test for Liberians to consolidate democratic governance through peaceful competition for political power at both the Presidential and legislative levels. There is a strong desire among all Liberians for the elections to proceed smoothly and peacefully.”

In April and July in a bid to assess the current political environment and status of technical preparations in advance of Presidential and legislative elections anticipated in October 2017.

The delegations met with political parties, Presidential aspirants, the National Elections Commission, Supreme Court officials, the Liberian National Police, the Press Union of Liberia, civil society leaders, and members of the international community to understand current dynamics and key challenges.

The Center is calling on Liberia’s leaders and citizens to commit to peaceful political participation to ensure violence-free elections, consistent with the law, and to continue the strengthening of democracy and development in Liberia.

Among the recommendations the center suggested that Liberia strengthen campaign-finance regulations and their implementation; provide adequate funding to the National Election Commission and take immediate action to ensure the equal political participation of women.

The Carter Center, according to the assessment, aims to make additional pre-election assessment visits and issue reports in the coming months.

“These missions are separate from ongoing Carter Center programming in Liberia, which focuses on supporting access to justice, access to information, and mental health.”

The Center which has observed elections held in Liberia since the 1985 elections which transitioned Samuel Doe from a military man to a civilian, says if it is invited to observe the 2017 elections, and depending on funding, it would consider supplementing these short assessments visits with the deployment of a robust election observation mission, starting with the deployment of a team of long-term observers in January in advance of the voter registration period.

The Center noted that International observation can play a critically important role in helping to ensure the success of difficult elections and is most effective when long-term observers help identify potential problems early enough that they can be addressed well in advance of polling day.

The Center added that a critical factor in enhancing the transparency of an electoral process and facilitating the active participation of citizens in the democratic process is an independent and impartial election management body.

A transparent, accountable, and professional body is regarded as an effective means of ensuring that domestic and international obligations related to the democratic process are met.

“The election management body should provide accountable, efficient, and effective public administration of elections, and should ensure that the electoral process is in compliance with Liberia’s national laws as well as its regional and international obligations for democratic elections and human rights.”

Trust for NEC; Distrust for Government

In meeting with the main Liberian stakeholders, the Center’s delegation said the stakeholders expressed reasonable confidence in both the neutrality and capacity of the NEC, though some voiced concerns about the NEC’s ability to overcome anticipated challenges and distrust in the government.

“The NEC should ensure that its actions continue to be consistent with a professional, high capacity, and impartial organization.”

The assessment stated that the 2017 elections offer an important opportunity to advance the NEC’s professionalism and neutrality and to position it to continue to be a foundational institution for a democratic Liberia.

At the county level, according to the Carter Center report recommended, NEC will need to take steps well in advance of the elections to reinforce staffing structures, assess training needs, and determine the status of equipment needed to administer the elections, including computers, printers, generators, and internet access.

“Early consideration should also be given to logistics especially the transportation needs of county NEC offices and security personnel.”

The report also raised concerns about logistics and financing of both NEC and the Liberia national Police.

“NEC, Liberia National Police and others have submitted their budgets related to elections for consideration by the legislature and Ministry of Finance, and timely decisions regarding the best use of state funding must be made.”

The assessment added: “Timely and sufficient funding for the elections needs to be available to the NEC and where appropriate, to the magistrates early in the process to enable it to undertake necessary procurements and contracting in accordance with best practices.

Although the NEC’s budget for elections is currently under consideration, the law requires a biannual allocation of funds to ensure that the NEC is able to move ahead with key components, including preparations for the registration of voters and associated civic and voter education campaigns.”

The assessment also recommended that when planning the calendar and logistics for the voter registration period, consideration should be given to ensuring that the voter registration centers are operational during the same time period for the same length of time so that citizens across the country have equal access to the process and an equal opportunity to register.

“In addition, adequate time should be given for the public inspection of the preliminary voter list, and adequate resources should be dedicated to raising public awareness of the registration process, including the opportunity to verify the quality and accuracy of the list and to seek any necessary changes.”

According to the report, several amendments to the electoral law passed in 2014 will affect the voter registration process, including that voters must now register at a center in the place where the voter ordinarily resides, and must vote at the place established for that center.

“The NEC has begun information sessions on the content of the 201 amended elections act that is currently being codified by the Ministry of Justice.

The 2017elections offer Liberia an opportunity to move beyond a history of political parties centered around individuals to a democracy with political parties based on issues.”

Political Primaries Key

The report also encouraged competitive political party primaries that incorporate the voice of political party members in the candidate selection and nomination process are considered positive signs of a maturing democracy.

“The state is obligated to take measures to prevent corruption, particularly in the context of campaign financing.

The Carter Center’s report on the 2011 national elections in Liberia noted a few important shortcomings, including the lack of any requirement that parties submit an interim financial report before Election Day, which would allow voters to evaluate contributions and spending by candidates and political parties before casting their votes.

In addition, some political parties lack the capacity to prepare and submit a campaign finance report.”

Addressing both of these measures in advance of the 2017 campaign period, according to the assessment, would help ensure greater transparency of political party financing.

“The amendments to Liberia’s 1986 elections law passed in 2014 give the NEC authority to make regulations in the area of campaign finance that specify the form, content, and timing of reports.

To ensure that campaign finance regulations are meaningful, the Carter Center encourages the NEC to establish further regulations that require reporting in advance of elections.”

Rural Areas Security Concerns

Regarding security, the assessment noted that although the Liberia National Police (LNP) are confident they will be able to manage election security, there is concern about their lack of capacity, particularly in rural areas.

“The capacity of Liberia’s security sector has been enhanced in recent years, and the full responsibility for security now lies with Liberian officials, following an official handover from UNMIL.

However, the military and particularly the Police have drawn criticism for their lack of professionalism and independence in certain instances, including their failure to exercise effective restraint.”

The assessment observed that this was tragically displayed on the eve of the runoff in 2011, when an LNP officer fired into a crowd of unarmed civilians at the headquarters of the Congress for Democratic Change political party, leading to at least one and possibly several deaths.

“In that instance the swift intervention of UNMIL troops ended the violence and prevented the development of a security crisis.

Additional robust training should be provided for Police on their role during elections, stepped down across the country.

The Police must also be provided with sufficient equipment including computers, communication equipment, and transportation in order to effectively perform their responsibilities.”

The Center added that sufficient funds should be made available to security forces around Election Day to ensure that they can adequately meet their obligation to provide security at every polling place.

The Carter Center is a not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization that has helped to improve life for people in over 80 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; and improving mental health care. 

The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.

It has been gathered that the National Elections Commission (NEC) and the National
Identification Registry (NIR) are both in discussion over a biometric registration process.

The NIR was established to handle issues of national identification with the issuance of biometric identification cards as one of its main objectives but ahead of the election, there are discussions on the two entities working together but according to information NEC intends to carry out biometric registration of eligible voters without the NIR.

Accordingly, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is pushing for the two entities to work together on biometric registration process but NEC wants to carry out the process all alone.

 

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