YARPAH TOWN, River Cess – Citizens in River Cess have called for changes in the country’s electoral laws in order to improve future elections. The citizens made the recommendations recently during two separate community media forums organized by the Liberia Media for Democratic Initiative.
The forums were part of the Internews’ Citizens in Liberia Engaged to Advance Electoral Reform or CLEAR project [Disclosure: The Bush Chicken is one of the implementing partners of CLEAR]. Internews is the implementer of the Liberia Media Development Program funded by USAID.
The citizens’ recommendations included a change in the electoral date, election dispute hearing structure and processes, tackling voter trucking, and pushing for a reduction in the tenure of elected public officials.
Participants advanced that the election date is moved from October to December to allow for adequate campaigning and civic and voter education, in an effort to limit hindrances created by the rainy season and bad road networks.
They also recommended that the judiciary should be placed directly in charge of election dispute cases and that the National Elections Commission be relieved of all judicial powers and responsibilities.
The citizens also complained of the current tenure of elected public officials – nine years for senators, and six years for the president and the members of the House of Representatives. According to them, the time provided for public officials to be voted out in elections when they are not performing is too long and can cause citizens to get disgruntled when they become impatient.
Citizens in Yarpah Town suggested that senators be elected for six years, and the president and members of the House of Representatives for four years. However, at another gathering in the capital of Cestos, citizens coalesced around the idea of all elected public officials having an equal tenure of three years.
Participants at both forums also stressed the need for an appropriate legal framework for voters’ registration to be put into place to minimize the duplications of voters’ identification cards.
River Cess’ former Civil Society Organizations chairperson, Charles Harrison Tieh, recommended for a framework to prevent sitting elected public officials from contesting for another elected position without first resigning their incumbent post.
“If you are in an elected position and you want to contest for another position, you must resign first,” Tieh said. He said the current system allows a waste of public funds because of the prevalence of by-elections caused by already elected public officials being elected to another post.
According to LMDI’s legal analyst, Tonia Gibson, the recommendations made in River Cess were not far from what has been proposed by the local and international organizations which observed the 2017 general and presidential elections.
Following the first and second rounds of the 2017 elections, which were generally certified as calm and orderly by NEC and international observer missions, the Elections Coordinating Committee, a consortium of civil society organizations working on the elections in Liberia and International observer missions, led by organizations such as the Carter Center, the European Union, the African Union, ECOWAS, and the National Democratic Institute also put forth recommendations for electoral reform.
Gibson said some of the recommendations will need constitutional reform while others will have to do with statutory and policy reforms.
“If you say the tenures of elected officials should be reduced, then you have to go for [a] referendum,” Gibson said. “And to change anything in the constitution, you have to go to Article 92 of the constitution which talks about amendments.”
NEC’s assistant magistrate for River Cess, Isaac Williams, also admitted to challenges during elections, such as the deployment of polling staff.
“We ourselves always faced the challenges during elections. Rivers get flooded and sometimes we find it difficult to get to some of the voting areas,” Williams noted.
Commenting on the issue of trucking, he said it would be difficult to prevent the act because according to him, the constitution gives every citizen the right to ‘Freedom of Movement’.
This article was produced with funding from Internews for the Citizens in Liberia Engaged to Advance Electoral Reform (CLEAR) project.
Featured photo by Lloyd Massah