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Gbarpolu: Paramount Chief not held accountable for election violence and threats

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Uncertainty and anxiety looms in Gbarpolu County over the recently held Special Senatorial Election on December 8, which remain unconcluded as of December 22.

The elections in Gbarpolu hang in uncertainty after a local paramount chief in Normondatonu, Chief McgillWleh, confiscated the ballot boxes on the morning on the elections, leaving voters stranded. His justification was that he believed citizens from Sierra Leone planned to cross the border and vote in Liberian elections, an information that has not been proved to be real.
Law enforcement arrested seven, however, the Paramount Chief remains untouched.

The National Elections Commission (NEC) tried to organize a rerun on December 15, but that plan was aborted following more violence on December 14, during which supporters of Independent candidate, KannehBotoe and locals in Normondatonu clashed in multiple acts of violence that targeted NEC staff as well.

Alleged Sierra Leonean citizens with voter’s registration cards for Liberian elections. Photo taken on Dec. 15, 2020 in Nomodatanau town, Kongba District, Gbarpolucounty, Liberia. Photo Credit: Solomon By D. Solomon Tayblah

Following renewed violence on December 14, town residents and supporters of KannehBotoe took refuge in the bush when the local town chiefs brought out the “country devil,” also known as the chief of the Poro secret society.

Security forces deployed and assured people to return to their home while the NEC takes time to set up a new date for the election rerun.

KannehBotoe, who ran as Independent, is opposed by ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) Candidate, incumbent Representative Alfred G. Koiwood who is seeking to transition into the Senate.

Preliminary results released by the NEC put Kanneh, a businesswoman trading dried meat goods, in the lead with a total of 4,767 votes, representing 25.79% of the total valid votes, followed by Rep. Alfred GayflorKoiwood with 4,281 votes, representing 23.16%.

Women leaders and campaigners have condemned what they see as a “hijack” of the poll by local chiefs because they did not agree that the voting results are not in favor of the ruling party candidate.
In fact, based on official NEC data, ruling party candidates have performed extremely poorly with the voters, with just 4 seats confirmed out of the 15 that were in play. The majority of the seats were won by the CPP with 6 seats out of 15.

BenduJah, president of Rural Women of Gbarpolu, said the current state of tension and violence is because the traditional leaders are bent on denying a woman access to leadership positions.

BenduJah, Rural Women Gbarpolu President
Jah provided her own independent account of recent clashes in Gbarpolu as they tried to support independent candidate, BotoeKanneh.

“I was in Monrovia when Madam Kanneh called me and said, Ma Bendu, I want you to escort me just to go over there to be around me. And who am I to say no, as [leader] for the women. That’s how I followed them, and we came [here]. When we came, the next morning we slept in Kongbor and passed went to the place where they [were] supposed to have the election. We took some food with two motorbikes and went.

But when we got there, this is my first time to see this kind of thing. The security that was present told the children to offload the motorbike and put the food down. We told him that we brought some food for our people who were coming from far off for the election. So he said we were not allowed. So I took my ID card and said I am the head of the women, I want to enter there to speak to other people. So he said for that I was not even entering. We were taking it to be fun. The people kept us in the sun from 2 to 3pm without water to drink. Others wanted to force it to go, but I told them no; we are here for peace, wait the people will allow us in.”

They were never allowed into the town; instead, country devil chased them into the bushes, Jah said.

Joint security forces arrested seven persons, who were allegedly involved in electoral violence in Normondietono on December 15, 2020 and dispatched them to Monrovia for investigation. However, Paramount Chief McgillWleh, who seized the ballot boxes and disrupted the poll remains free.

By D. Solomon Tayblah (LMD Fellow)

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