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THE LIBERIAN ELECTIONS OF OCTOBER 2005
THE CASE FOR INTERNATIONAL ASSISTANCE AND OVEERSIGHT.

BY JEREMIAH J. KRINGAR HARRIS

Liberia, our great patrimony, has two great distinctions within the spectrum of its historical sequence. Firstly, as the oldest independent black Republic and the beacon of hope for emerging Africa in its struggles to unhinge the shackles of western imposed colonialism and imperialism. Secondly, and I do not say this in jest, we also bear the distinct honor of holding the record in the Guinness Book of World Record , for the most fraudulent and crooked elections in history. I speak of the Presidential Elections of 1927, in which President Charles D. B. King won by a landslide over J. R. Faulkner. In those elections, although suffrage was constitutionally limited to only 15000 Liberians who owned property, according to the official results, 240,000 votes were cast in President King's favor. This, I should sadly note, was a resounding victory, more pronounced for its paradox than its substance.

Interestingly enough, although the peoples of the Interior provinces constituted more then two thirds of the population of Liberia, they were a non factor, because up to that point, 80 years after the declaration of independence, they were, for all intents and purposes, literarily disenfranchised. What a sad commentary.

Finally, in 1946, at the dawn of the Presidency of William Tubman, the indigenous people and the women of Liberia were accorded suffrage, 99 years after the declaration of independence. This, we must note, for it is very deep and of great historical and political significance, given the trend of events in the recent past in our country.

It is in this vein that I avail myself of this opportunity and privilege to make a case for international assistance for the elections, scheduled for October, 2005, in our nation. Significantly, it would not be too farfetched to assert that, the history of elections in Liberia has, in an overriding fashion, always been one of conflict, fraud, and a government controlled electoral apparatus that was always ridiculously and shamelessly manipulated by the government in power to its advantage. The historicity of this cannot be denied.

In the elections of 1951, the women of Liberia and the indigenous people who owned property voted for only the first time, 104 years after the declaration of independence. But then of course, as had always been the case with elections, the usual pattern was reverted to, with the electoral machinery being grossly manipulated to ensure victory for the True Whig Party and the opposition candidate, D Twe being harassed and threatened when his party, The Reformation Party, had the audacity to dispute and protest the official results as announced by the Elections Commission. To avoid the indignity of arrest and imprisonment on trumped up charges, Mr. Twe was constrained to flee the country and seek political asylum in neighboring Sierra Lone.

The elections of 1955 marked a turning point in the history of modern Liberia, for it led to William Tubman's ruthless consolidation of political power, and the emergence of Liberia as a genuine one party state.

It had been expected that the elections would be closely contested as some of the most powerful elements within the True Whig Party had broken away, formed the Independent True Whig Party, and chosen Former President Edwin J. Barclay as their Standard Bearer. Barclay, in turn, selected the eminent jurist and Former Attorney General of Liberia, Nete Sie Brownell as his running mate. Once more however, history repeated itself. The True Whig Party, being in control of the electoral machinery, juggled and manipulated the tally of the ballots to the extent that WilliamTubman won the elections by a margin of victory that was grossly exaggerated. While I concede that William Tubman did in fact win the elections, given the success and popularity of his Unification and Open Door Policies, and his decision to grant suffrage to women and the indigenous peoples, I harbor serious reservations with the margin of victory.

In keeping with the results of the tally, the National Elections Commissions duly announced the reelection of William Tubman. However, events suddenly took a dramatic twist that would fundamentally recast the landscape of political power in Liberia. At a victory celebration held by the partisans of the True Whig Party, shots were fired at the President who narrowly escaped assassination.

AS an aftermath of this development, several leading members of the Opposition were killed during a shootout with the arresting security forces. Eventually, 30 persons were indicted for treason. In the final analysis two former ministers and five others were convicted. Liberia had now effectively become a totalitarian state, although, I would grant, under the leadership of a benevolent despot.

Although the electoral mechanism under William Tolbert was a virtual duplication of the system of the Tubman era, with all of the fraudulent machinations, the two elections that accelerated Liberia's pace towards the final catastrophe, were the elections of 1955 and 1985. In the elections of 1985, the Chairman of the National Elections Commission deliberately juggled the results of the voting to ensure the election of Samuel Doe, effectively depriving the Liberian people of their constitutional suffrage, because, if the truth must be told, Former Senator Jackson Doe of Nimba was the actual winner.

Before proceeding to further delve into the complexities and perplexities of the elections of 1985, I should note that, many legal experts firmly believe that the Elections Laws of 1985 were primarily designed to accommodate the National Democratic Party of Liberia and ensure the election of Samuel Doe as president.

Samuel Doe had led a coup-d'etat that overthrew the government of William Tolbert and then staged brutal public executions of many prominent officials of the government on charges of rampant corruption. As a standard menu of such developments in Africa, the constitution was suspended and martial law declared.

After 133 years of non military government, a history of free elections with some distinct drawbacks, and an electoral system, besmirched with fraud and outright distortions of polling results as its defining modus operandi, our nation had now descended to the point where the choice of even casting a ballot would succumb to the whelms of the bayonet. The nation would now be governed by men possessed with an overwhelming passion for blindlessly pulling the trigger of guns. But fortunately, this situation would not prevail without a remedy, however painful.

In 1980, the cold war between the Americans and the Soviets was at its height. At this time, Liberia still enjoyed the privilege of being the fulcrum of American strategic interests in Africa. The Americans, in turn realized that their strategic interests dictated stability in Liberia.

Under pressure from the United States and many of its Western Allies, Samuel Doe was forced to lift the ban on political parties and political activities, however grudgingly. When the new constitution was announced on July 26, 1984, this marked the beginning of a multiparty election campaign after more then 4 years of military dictatorship.

Liberians were elated over this development but with a muted euphoria of hope for the future, which, for some reason, lacked the frenzy celebrations seen in the streets of Monrovia after, what is now considered, the unfortunate events of April 13, 1980. This can be seen as an act of divine providence as events now prove that the elections of 1985 were a harbinger of the ill fortune that would shortly befall the nation.

In an abrupt turn around, Samuel Doe, who had pledged to return to the barracks, suddenly announced his resignation from the army. Doe then established a political party, the National Democratic Party of Liberia, and presented himself as a candidate for the Presidency. Doe's NDPL was a constituency composed of ethnic groups and individuals who were dependent on him, such as his own ethnic group and members of the Mandingo tribe. Another component of his constituency were certain elements of the Americo-Liberian minority which had been ousted from power in the coup of 1980.

The Presidential Elections of October15, 1985, featured five political parties, with televised debates involving all five candidates. After the final counting of the ballots, The Chairman of the Elections Commission, Emmett Harmon, declared Doe the winner, with 51% of the votes, with the combined opposition sharing the remaining 49%. However, one is constrained to wonder what course the results would have taken had a truck full of cast ballots from Margiba County not mysteriously disappeared on the Monrovia -kakata Highway. After all, Margibi County, like Montserrado County , was an overwhelming hotbed of anti Doe activities, a fact not lost on the overly partisan National Elections Commission. Strangely enough, this incident was never seriously investigated.

From the moment of Mr. Emmett Harmon's appointment as Chairman of the National
Elections Commission by Samuel Doe , rumors began to spread that there was a master plan and that Harmon had guaranteed Doe the elections. The evidence now seems to justify the rumors. After Doe's assassination, many former members of the Elections Commission confided to close friends and family that Jackson Doe had, as a matter of fact, won the elections.

The elections of 1985 were characterized by extraordinary fraud and widespread rigging. A whole series of roadblocks were used by the NDPL, through the Monthly and Probate Court of Monrovia, to prevent and /or delay the registration of other political parties. Amos Sawyer, the head of the Liberian Peoples Party, who enjoyed great popularity because of his unwavering criticism of corruption and other illegalities, was barred from engaging in political activities.

As befitting the pattern of most prior presidential elections in Liberia, there was a marked increase in human rights abuses and corruption as Doe sought to consolidate his power. However, the most dangerous element in the sequence of events following the elections was the emergence of a new and potentially destabilizing force in Liberian politics, ethnic tension. Many analysts have concluded that the resulting civil war was the reaction of the Liberian people to three distinct factors: (1) the rigging of the elections. (2) The resulting denial of the Office of the Presidency to the rightful winner, Jackson Doe. (3) Bad blood between the peoples of Grand Gedeh and Nimba Counties.

As a consequence of these developments, there were widespread calls for American intervention to remove Samuel Doe from power after the election. On November 12, 1985, General Thomas Quiwonkpa, who hailed from Nimba County, invaded Liberia and almost succeeded in toppling the government. The revolt was eventually crushed by the
Armed Forces of Liberia, which was completely dominated by soldiers from
Grand Gedeh County. General Quiwonkpa was murdered and his body dismembered and abused in a display of cannibalistic frenzy. This fueled intense hatred between the ethnic groups and had all of the makings of a blood feud with Doe's brutal purge of the members of the Gio and Mano ethnic groups.

Charles Taylor, who was related by marriage to General Quiwonkpa, benefited immensely from the alienation of the population of Nimba County which became willing recruits to his cause. Thus developed the nucleus of the Patriotic Front, a formidable guerilla urban warfare fighting machine, which played a major role in the eventual fall of Samuel Doe from power.

This approach of using a historical analysis of Liberia's electoral system, I believe, is absolutely necessary in building the case for international assistance for the elections scheduled for October, 2005. It conveys a clearer picture of the inability of past Liberian governments to conduct free and fair elections and the problems that this creates. Of course, one can easily deduce, based on the havoc created by the blatant failures, that the need for international assistance in the forthcoming elections is urgent, given recent machinations of the Bryant infected National Elections Commission to deny George Weah's party the opportunity to registered. Fortunately this asinine and ill advised effort was defeated by the timely intervention of the U. S. State Department, ECOWAS, the United Nations and other influential forces within the international community.

There is not a great need to dwell too much on the elections of 1997, though I would admit there were instances of irregularities, because they were the most internationally monitored and supervised elections in our history. Charles Taylor won the elections mainly due to the factor of fear among our people. The Liberian people were very wary of revisiting the disruptions and great loss of life, 250,000 plus, that ensued from the civil war. Our focal point therefore is the electoral event, scheduled for October, 2005.

Just prior to the fall of Charles Taylor, a meeting was held in Accra, Ghana, comprising the Warring Factions, Political Parties, and other prominent Liberian interest groups, under the auspices of the United Nations, ECOWAS, and the African Union. An Accord was signed, under the terms of which an Interim Chairman was elected and an Interim Government formulated. Taylor's controversial asylum in Nigeria was negotiated during this period with the full fledged support of the United States, ECOWAS, and the United Nations. This, the international community felt was essential to an orderly and peaceful transition in Liberia.

The Liberian paradigm has been radically altered with the signing of the Peace Accords. Now the emphasis has shifted from one of conflict, to one of stabilization and transition to democracy. The question that rings in one's mind here is, does the Interim Government and its electoral apparatus, the National Elections Commission, have the capacity to conduct elections devoid of an atmosphere of fraud, poor organization, and mismanagement? Frankly, I think not and there are several warning signals to that effect.
1. The attempt by the Commission to deny the CDC the opportunity to register. As noted earlier, pressure from the international community forced it to devise a face saving solution.
2. The poor organization and management of the voter registration process by the National Elections Commission. The decision to limit the period of registration to one month, although the Commission is fully aware of the logistical difficulties posed by the rainy season, making the Registration Centers greatly inaccessible to many of the people of rural Liberia. As a consequence, the likelihood exists that thousands of citizens in rural Liberia may be disenfranchised. The fact that the NEC would remain adamant that the process of registration has succeeded, defies the logic of even the most blatant simpleton.
3. The foolhardy attempts by the Commission to minimize oversight of its activities by the UN Authorities in contravention of the stipulations of the Comprehensive Peace Accord. UN oversight of the Commission is paramount to the prevention of fraud, dishonesty and favoritism during the course of the election;
4. Bryant's deliberate appointment of a Chairperson and members who would be inclined to support the Candidate of his choice. This fact should not be overlooked..


The Organization for Human Rights and Democracy (FORHD), has concluded that the national elections are being hamstrung by undue delays and centralized support from the National Transition Government. This, the organization says has set the stage for makeshift elections, a formula for the creation of another electoral upheaval, and a despotic regime. FORHD emphasized that early support institutions are vital to the successful conduct of elections. In a statement several months ago, the Executive Director of FORHD stressed that "the enormity of the NEC's responsibility is expressed in the conduct of electoral preliminaries, such as, establishing sub offices around the country, training of staff and poll workers, and civil education, among other things." It is unbelievable that with barely4 months to the holding of elections, the NEC still has not demonstrated that it has the ability to independently coordinate the strategies and management techniques that would ensure elections devoid of fraud and questionable results. I do hope that the demands of the job have not overwhelmed the Chairperson and her members, because flawed elections have the potential to create bottlenecks that could eventuate in the reemergence of conflict in Liberia. I do not believe that Liberians would look forward to living through the nightmare that this portends a second time around.

This is an alarming development; I am completely befuddled and nonplused by the Interim Government's lackluster attitude towards the process, being fully cognizant of the crucial role that the success of the elections would play in ensuring post conflict peace and stability in Liberia.

Supplementary to the foregoing, I would hate to countenance that the whole scenario is not a cleaver ploy by forces within the government to extend its tenure with the hope of satisfying compelling economic interests.

In order not to delay the elections and continue the culture of corruption that has apparently permeated the very core of the Interim Government, it is now time for the U. N. and other international organizations to assume a more vibrant role in the preparatory and organizational phase of the electoral process. There is a need that this be done with undue haste and extraordinary vim and zest, for the National Elections Commission, as presently constituted, lacks the independence, experience, and the political will to set the stage for free and fair elections in Liberia..

The United Nations, The African Union, and ECOWAS, have the ultimate mandate to conduct the elections, and they must rise to the occasion. Article IX, 4a of the Accords fortifies this theory. "The parties agree that the Transitional Government provided for in this Agreement shall request the United Nations, The African Union, ECOWAS, AND OTHER MEMBERS OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY as appropriate, to jointly conduct, monitor, and supervise the next election in the country." Section b of the Article also stresses that "voter education and registration programs shall be organized by the newly reconstituted NEC, in collaboration with other national and international organizations." There is a need for more UN oversight of the activities of the Commission, irrespective of the obvious and subtle attempts by Chairman Morris to minimize UN supervision.

The die has been cast; The United Nations has the mandate and must now move into the forefront to ensure that the elections are inherently free and fair. This concern, given recent attempts by the heavily partisan NEC to delay the registration and certification of a certain political party, is valid without a modicum of doubt.

In today's world of high technology, when the marvels of science translate eons into split seconds, Liberia must ride the wave of progress into the future of the age of cyberspace and not slide into the darkness of modern day primitivism. Liberia's success will be a rebuke to the neo racist who equate intelligence with pigmentation of the skin. Failure cannot be an option.