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Bomi: President Weah’s visit heightened elections violence

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Fear and uneasiness dominate the air in Bomicounty. Residents here witnessed recent violence and confrontations on November 9, when supporters of senatorial candidates clashed, leading to several injuries, seven of them in critical condition.

The tensions heightened again over the past few days as a result of a visit to the county by President Weah, who came here to support Alex Tyler, running on behalf of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) party.Riot police made several arrests during the violence that brought the provisional town and nearby neighborhoods to a standstill. Now, voters are too afraid to come out to polling stations of December 8.

Tayler is opposed by incumbent Edwin Melvin Snowe, an Independent. Jenneh Kamara, a shopkeeper in Tubmanburg, said that she had to intervene directly to stop one such fight.

“I saw the City Mayor Obediah Varney telling a disorderly boy named Fasu to pour water on Snowe’s supporters, so I took the bucket of water from him and slapped his back. It did not stay too long, because I saw Obediah taking a rock to hit Snowe’s people across the road. I see more trouble coming in this county during the election.”

Ma’ Satta, whose daughter sustained an injury during a recent violent incident in the county on November 9, believes that the situation will worsen if Tyler’s supporters force people to join their team.

“This other thing in Bomicounty is very bad. How would they force everybody to join Tyler? What trouble is this? I can never vote for Alex Tyler because of what his supporters did to us,” she promised.

Voter rejects politicians that incite violence

Konah Brown is another victim of the recent violence on November 9. She was badly injured on her right arm during the riot. She is so outraged and at a loss of hope, that she had vowed to note vote for anyone that incite violence in her community, no matter what party they come from.

Speaking in anger, she said that she will not to vote for anyone that incites violence and brings trouble the people of Bomi County. Madam Brown believes citizens should be given an opportunity to vote candidates of their choice instead of adapting scare tactics by threatening and intimidating voters.

“I’m saying my own very clear thought so you can hear it: the way they hurt me during the riot, I will not vote for anybody that will decide to bring trouble to we, the people of Bomi County. You must give we the opportunity to vote for the candidate [we want] and not to be threatening and intimidating to us.”

She cautioned that if nothing is done by the National Elections Commission (NEC) and the Joint Security in Bomi, the election day will be riddled with violence and intimidation and voters are already concerned to show up to vote out of fear of getting hurt. This amounts to voter intimidation.

Voters fear they are being spied on

The assistant chairlady for the Joseph Town Market in Tubmanburg, Hawa Thomas, urged residents to remain peaceful during the elections on December 8. She also witnessed the violence on November 9, and sadly, she said, people who were innocent and had nothing to do with politics were hurt. She also stated that certain supporters of political candidates are watching voters closely in an attempt to spy on their moves and then intimidate them.

“If the election continues this way, it will create fear for us because some of us will not leave our children to go sit in line to vote. Because even leaving your house at midnight or by 6:00 in the morning to go and vote, you do not know what will happen there [at the voting center]. The people eyeing people too much in this election and election never happened this way, it’s too worse and some of us are getting afraid.”

Persons living with disabilities fear being caught in confrontations

Sao Joseph Setuah is the county coordinator for the National Commission on Disability in Bomicounty. He called on the central government to empower the Liberia National Police (LNP) and the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) to enable them the people living with disabilities to exercise their voting rights in peace and security on December 8.

He said if any violent act occurred on the day of the poll, there will be no one to help persons with disability. Setuah called on everyone to drop off any thoughts of violence and allow the people to vote peacefully and without fear of retaliation.

“My call to the Liberia National Police, and the Armed Forces of Liberia is for the government to empower them to come outside on that day because, if anything happened, persons with disability will be seriously affected, we will not be able to run away. Even your own parents will not be able to take care of you. Violence is not good. We are urging everybody to carry on the process peacefully. Whosoever wins, becomes our senator.” Sao added.

Religious Authorities must step up

A member of the civil society council of Bomi, Prince Fromoyan, raised similar concerns and called on the religious community to pray for the county. He pointed out that there are certain rumors pointing to alleged voter influx from Monrovia. He called this an “early warning sign” for potential violence and urged the religious community to stand up against it.

“When they talk about early warning signs, that something may happen, we need to do something to prevent it. Those big trucks that used to come, we’re hearing all over the county that at Po-River Bridge, on Election Day the people will stop them, and they will not enter Bomicounty. You know what it will mean for us; it will be heavy confusion.”

He recommended that the religious community and the local authorities should meet with the NEC to have a peaceful dialogue on electoral violence.

Col. Gustine Hallie is commander of the Liberia National Police (LNP) and head of the Joint Security in Bomicounty. “Me and my men are holding meetings with the leadership of the various districts and communities to make sure things are peaceful on voting day. We call on everyone to work along with the police to keep our county safe. Election is not about violence, so we don’t have to fight,” commander Hallie said.

The Civil Society Council of Bomi and local religious group Kondeh United Muslims Organization, organized separate forums on violence-free elections in October.

Five candidates, all male, are running for the Senate on behalf of Bomi county, including incumbent SandoDazoe Johnson, of the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) but Snowe and Tyler, both former speakers of the House, are the main rivals.

Special note: the persons interviewed in this story refused to be photographed, for fear of reprisal, and we respect their request to privacy and safety.

By: Ibrahim M. Sesay(LMD Fellow)

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