On March 5, 2017, the ECC from its offices in Sinkor, issued a major statement on final voter registration observation with issues bordering on the conduct of the October 10 election.
“ECC final Press Statement on voter registration observation and other issues bordering on the conduct of the 2017 Elections.”
The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) shared its final findings today on the voter registration process (February 1 to March 14) and highlights other issues that have implications for the conduct of the 2017 elections.
The ECC observed 849 Centers and the Secretariat received a total of 849 reports from its 89 trained and accredited observers deployed in all of the 73 electoral districts.
Election Administration: The ECC observed that there were no trends of fraud or systematic exclusion of particular social or ethnic groups from the process. The Voter Registration exercise was generally peaceful. At the same time, there were some administrative lapses:
- Mal-functioning of cameras at some VR Centers
- Late opening and early closure of some centers 20% of centers opened between 8-10:00 am while 2% of registration centers never open as scheduled.
- Poorly recruited or poorly trained election workers
- The recruitment of election workers who did not reside in the counties or districts created communication barriers between them and local residents in the registration of applicants.
- Election workers not properly uniformed
- At a couple of centers, we observed that political parties’ agents were helping with the registration of applicants rather than playing their observation role.
- In the counties, registration centers were too far from communities
With low voter apathy and with the pace at which citizens turned out to vote, the ECC is unsure that the NEC will reach its projected target of 2.5 Million voters. Of the Centers observed, there was on average 46 applicants who successfully registered. Women represented 45% of successful registrants observed by the ECC.
The ECC observed that the ordinarily resident clause intended to prevent the “trucking” of voters was difficult to enforce at all times because the election workers did not have means to certify who ordinarily resided in a given location.
At the same time, the Voter Registration Regulation did not clarify how registration officials were to determine if an applicant ordinarily resided in a particular location.
The Constitution (Article 77b) states that every Liberian Citizen not less than 18 years of age shall have the right to be registered as a voter and to vote in public elections. This requirement excludes Liberians who turned 18 after the end of registration but who qualifies to vote on October 10, 2017. If registration had been done based on the applicant’s age on the date of the election, then the NEC would register all Liberians born on or before October 10th, 1999. This approach would have given more young people the opportunity to register and vote.
The Voter Registration Regulation has no timeframe set for the processing and collation of VR forms so this makes the processing period discretionary to the NEC.
Presence of Political Parties’ Agents: It was generally observed that the presence of agents of political parties increased as the VR process progressed. 52% of reports received indicated that the agents of political parties were present at VR Centers.
Security: Some VR Centers in and around Monrovia had the presence of some security personnel but generally, security personnel were absent at VR Centers across the country.
For the Government:
- The ECC calls on the Government of Liberia to accelerate the operations of the National Registry for the issuance of National Identification cards that can be used for Voter Registration purposes.
- The ECC calls on the Ministry of Justice to provide an update on the status of the case involving Mr. Amos Siebo, accused of being in unlawful possession of assorted election materials including cameras, printer and blank voter cards.
- Apply due diligence in the recruitment of election workers who have knowledge of the local context and are properly uniformed during electoral activities.
- The NEC should consider increasing the number of VR centers to facilitate citizens’ participation in the process.
- The ECC calls on the NEC to refrain from making public pronouncement on the number of citizens it intends to target during the registration process. Projected target number should be for internal planning purposes.
- Set a reasonable timeframe in the VR regulation for the processing of all VR forms and the pronouncement of preliminary numbers.
- The NEC should explain to the Liberian people the amount of the total election budget spent on the VR process and to let the public know if it has the needed resources from the government to conduct the remaining activities of the elections.
- Learn from the challenges of the VR process including planning and logistics in preparation for Election Day because there can be no extension of the day of voting.
For Political Parties:
- Political parties should actively participate in the exhibition process including the education of party agents on when and how to file complaints. By observing the exhibition, it will help to give legitimacy to the final voter list.
- Political parties need to invest time and resources in the recruitment and training of agents to observe the remaining activities of the electoral cycle particularly election day.
OTHER ISSUES OF CONCERN TO THE ECC:
- Appointment of the Office of the Ombudsman
The ECC is deeply concerned with the appointment of certain individuals by the President of Liberia to enforce the implementation of the Code of Conduct.
The Code of Conduct falls short of stating the qualifications, competencies, experience and tenure of individuals to run the office of the Ombudsman and how they can be removed. The President has used her Executive Power, and rightly so, to address this gap by issuing Executive Order Number 83.
However, Section 4 of the Executive Order gives additional power to the Office of the Ombudsman that is not prescribed in the Code of Conduct (Section 12.2) formulated in keeping with Article 90 (c) of the Liberian Constitution. The additional power includes the ability to investigate on its own initiative violations of the Code of Conduct.
The office of the Ombudsman is an independent autonomous body in keeping with Section 12.1 of the Code of Conduct. Cllr. Christian Massaquoi, who was appointed as a member to the office of the Ombudsman has held several high top security positions in the current government and is considered to be a confidante of the President. Atty. Edward Dillion, another appointee, has close ties with the Liberty Party. He is a brother to the Vice Chairperson of the Liberty Party (LP) and previously worked in the law offices of Brumskine & Associates/Pierre, Tweh & Associates Law Firm. The LP is on record for saying that it has in no way violated Section 5.2 of the Code of Conduct by the selection of Harrison Karnweh as its Vice Standard Bearer. Atty. Dillion’s presence on this body poses a risk of conflict of interest.
It is the view of the ECC that the closeness of these two individuals to the ruling establishment and to an opposition party undermines the “spirit and intent of the independence of the office of the Ombudsman and therefore they are not the most suitable Liberians to occupy these positions.
Given the sensitive nature of the implementation of Sections 5.1 and 5.2 of the Code of Conduct and their implications for the peace and security of the country during this electoral process, we call on the President to withdraw or recall the names mentioned above and undertake a wider consultative process with diverse stakeholders in nominating names to fill the Office of the Ombudsman. In the event where this call is not considered, we urge the Senate not to confirm them for the same reason provided above.
- Code of Conduct:
The ECC respects the opinion of the Supreme Court regarding the legality of the Code of Conduct. At the same time, given this country’s history of political and socio-economic exclusion and in the spirit of consolidating our democracy and increasing citizens’ participation as well as strengthening the Constitutional provision of all persons being equal before the law (Article 11 c) and equal opportunity to for work (Article 18), we call on the National Legislature to amend Section 5.2 of the Code of Conduct. While this process would take some time, the ECC is calling for a national conference to look at the modality in the implementation of the Code of Conduct particularly around Section 5.2.
- Compliance of political parties with the elections laws and regulations:
Official campaigning has not yet been declared by the NEC. The ECC is of the view that the mass mobilization of some political parties in the name of presenting their running mates to their supporters is a form of campaigning and the NEC is under obligation to hold parties accountable in keeping with the law if and when they engage in pre-campaigning activities.
Download version of release here: ECC_Press Release_VR _2017_finalpdf