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Liberian voters did not understand the referendum

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Multiple civil society organizations and civic groups expressed deep concerns ahead of the elections that the Liberian voters lacked proper understanding of the referendum and the propositions. Despite the calls, the Liberian government and the NEC went ahead with the organization of the process.

The results now show that the Liberian people profoundly lacked knowledge of the process, as the NEC official data shows that there were more invalid votes than valid cast.

Most of the voters we spoke with said that they voted “No” on the propositions because they could not understand the symbols, or what the propositions were about.

Referendum Results in Bong county show that while most people voted in favor of the propositions, the number of invalid votes was almost double the number of valid ballots. Data Source: NEC The propositions to modify the national constitution included reduction of tenure for the presidency and the members of the House of Representatives from six to five years; reduction of the tenure of the Senate President Pro-Tempore from six to five years; reduction of the tenures for the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker of the House from six to five years, respectively; change of date of presidential elections from the second Tuesday in October to second Tuesday in November to avoid the rainy season; reduction of the time for the National Elections Commission to hear complaints from 30 days to 15 days, and finally, allowing dual citizenship and other citizenship provisions for Liberian nationals.

KorpoLabelah, 34, from Totota, Lower Bong County said, said that “From the beginning, I never had any information on the referendum. I did not understand those things, so I voted ‘no’ to all.”

Like Korpo, 22-year-old Wilfred Loweal, another first-time voter, admitted that he voted “no” to the propositions because he was never educated. “Since this referendum business started, no one has ever convinced me on any of the counts. So, since I came to vote, I [marked] ‘No’ on all,” he said.

Days before the voting, President George Manneh Weah and executives of his ruling Coalition for Democratic Change party had encouraged Liberians to vote “Yes” to all eight propositions of the national referendum.

But the President did not provide sufficient justification why the public should vote “Yes” on everything. President Weah also called on political parties and their leaders to encourage their respective supporters and supporters to remain peaceful during the election period. The President emphasized that peace and stability are paramount to democracy, urging citizens to avoid violence.

However, days before the election, violent clashes occurred in Grand Cape Mount County, where the convoy of the opposition CPP Senator-elect, Simeon Taylor, was reportedly attacked and set ablaze by alleged supporters of the ruling Coalition Candidate, Victor Watson, on Saturday, December 5, in Dambala Town, Porkpar District. The opposition CPP party condemned the attack and urged the government to “stop the state-sponsored intimidation.”

There were no major reports of electoral violence in Bong County, where the Deputy Speaker Prince Moye emerged as winner. Mr.Moye contested on the ticket of opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP).
Lower Bong County NEC election magistrate, Daniel Newland, confirmed there was no violence. Newland added that his office has not received any complaint of electoral violence.

Senator-elect Moye took to his Facebook page to thank the people of Bong for their confidence: “Fellow Bongese […] We feel exceedingly elated, grateful, and humbled by the overwhelming support we received across the county and subsequently becoming the winner in the end.

The election is over. Bong County has won. Let’s put aside our political differences and work collectively for the common good of Bong. Thanks a million, Bongese, we will not fail you!”

A diaspora son of Bong County Mr. Dennis Garsinii, wrote on December 13, 2020 after the pronouncement of Moye as winner, wrote that “Never have I seen this much jubilation by the electorates for victory of their candidate of choice. It indicates that citizens of Bong County have been burdened and frustrated by division amongst the Bong Caucus and underdevelopment in the county. In you, they find a light of change and believe that you are the torch bear of the light.”

As a result of the heavy downpour on polling day, most polling places experienced low turn-out, with an average of 35.98% presence. And while voters faced inclement weather and constraints to come to vote, most of them expressed deep disappointed in the political class which has failed them consistently. Some of those who refused to come to vote explained that they wish to send a strong message to politicians that they will not get the votes anymore.

By J. Peter S. Dennis (LMD Fellow)

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