Lofa Citizens Want Constitution Amended to Reflect Change in Electoral Date

VOINJAMA, Lofa – Joining the calls of many others from across the country, citizens in Lofa are calling for amendment in the 1986 constitution to change the current date of elections.

The constitution provides for elections to be held on the second Tuesday in October of every election year. But the citizens said the date makes campaign season fall in the peak of the rainy season, which reduces their participation.

At two recent separate community media forums organized by the Liberia Media for Democratic Initiative, the citizens called for a change in election day. The forums are organized as part of Internews’ Citizens in Liberia Engaged to Advance Electoral Reform or CLEAR. Internews is the implementer of the Liberia Media Development Program, with funding from USAID.

Emmanuel Cooper, a graduate of Lofa Community College, said a change in the current election date to a time in the dry season will enhance increased citizens’ participation and contribute to other positive improvements in elections.

“Changes within the current electoral timetable [of Liberia] will help to ensure massive turnout during elections,” he said.

He said changing the current date will also lead to increased political campaigning by political parties and candidates, and increased civic and voter education by the National Elections Commission. He believes that the bad road network during the rainy season not only impedes effective campaigning and civic voter education, but also poses logistical challenges to NEC, candidates, and political parties.

At the forum, other citizens also called for the extraction of NEC’s judicial power and reduction in the tenure of elected public officials from six to four years for the president and representatives.

Cecelia Kollie, who was present during the gathering, recommended that the commission’s judicial power be transferred to the courts, to avoid having NEC be both a player and a referee in the electoral processes.

“There’s also a need for the judicial branch of government to be in charge of all elections-related disputes or cases, and not the National Elections Commission or NEC,” Kollie said.

The Lofa citizens also recommended the establishment of a suitable legal framework for voters’ registration, in order to guard the voter roll against duplications of voter identification cards and preventing non-Liberians from participating in elections.

For his part, LMDI legal analyst Tonia Gibson said the recommendations advanced by the Lofa citizens were consistent with earlier recommendations made by local and international observer missions in the 2017 general and presidential elections.

The Elections Coordinating Committee, a consortium of civil society organizations working on elections in Liberia, and had the highest number of observers deployed previously recommended that the constitution gives a timeframe that allows for flexibility to react upon political developments, to respond to electoral petitions in a timely and impartial manner, and other emergencies such as the 2014 Ebola health crisis, instead of indicating a specific day for election.

“The specifics of election timeline should be elaborated in the electoral law and ensure that current inconsistencies and conflicting deadlines are eliminated,” the ECC said in its recommendations.

International observers also recognized the need for change to the voter registration system and suggested using the nascent National Identification Registry for the voter roll. The European Union’s mission emphasized the need for this system to be passive as a means of “enhancing participation in elections and addressing uncertainties inherent to active voter registration.”

The LMDI legal analyst said some of the recommendations would require constitutional reform while others will have to do with statutory and policy reforms.

“So, if you say the tenures of elected officials should be reduced, then we need to have a referendum,” he said.

For his part, NEC’s senior magistrate for Upper Lofa, Albert Smith, acknowledged challenges face by the commission during elections on the current stipulated day, including civic voters education and the deployment of polling staff and voting materials as well.

This article was produced with funding from Internews for the Citizens in Liberia Engaged to Advance Electoral Reform (CLEAR) project.

Featured photo by Tokpa Tarnue

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