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Liberia’s 2011 Elections

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Looking at the turnout figures from the just ended runoff elections, one might think that the turnout was low – a situation which favors the called boycott of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC). However, this only shows a low turnout if one looks at the results in the context of the total number of registered voters, which was announced as 1,799,882 by the National Elections Commission (NEC).

While that figure was announced as the number of registered voters, it actually doesn’t reflect what the actual number should have been. A lot of shenanigans happened during the registration process. For starters, people were trucked from one part of the country to other parts to register to vote, because certain individuals who were contesting for legislative seats wanted to tip the vote balance in their favors. There were even reports of underage children being allowed to register.

During the first round of voting, turnout was 1,288,716, representing 71.6% of registered voters. This turnout might be attributed to several things. Some people shifted their locations, while others might have being in the death rate stats.

The fact that about 500,000 people who registered to vote failed to participate in the first round of voting even though the political environment was so charged and it appeared like the entire population was going to turnout, does not show any voter apathy. This might be due to the factors enumerated above!

After the first round of voting, about 94% of those who voted gave their votes to only 4 of the 16 candidates that participated. Of those four, 2 candidates received over 77%, with the candidate in first place getting nearly 44%.

What this meant in real terms for the runoff was that only 77% or 992,310 of those who voted in the first round where definitely expected to show up. This scenario favored the incumbent if both the parties in the second round went in and only their respective voters came out to vote.

With a turnout of 694,412 voters, as has been announced by the NEC as the final vote count, the actual percentage turnout for the second round, if the first round figure of 1,288,716 is considered as the threshold, would stand at 53.88% and not the 38.6% that is arrived at when the entire voters’ registration numbers are considered.

Further, if only the first round votes received by the runoff candidates are considered as the maximum threshold figure, the runoff turnout would stand at about 69.98%.

Generally in runoff elections, people who didn’t vote for the surviving candidates easily stay away from the poll. If the 2005 presidential (http://www.necliberia.org/results/) elections were to be considered, this pattern stands out. There was a 74.9% turnout in the first round, while the runoff recorded 61% even without a “boycott”!

The numerous by-elections runoffs that happened over the past 5 years further show this pattern. So in the case where one of the contesting candidates in the runoff tells his partisans not to turn out to vote and follows this up with violence, it is obvious that the turnout would further be lowered. Not only because his people would stay away, but because some of those of his rival would deem participating in the process pointless especially as was the outcome pretty certain!

Calling the CDC Bluff

And the fact that the CDC went the extra mile to attempt to violently disrupt the process further account for the lower participation. Some might argue that there’s no proof of this, but the events of November 7, 2011 points in only one direction – attempt to violently disrupt the process!

But what the current numbers suggest is that the CDC bluff might have been called and it most likely backfired. Some of the party’s supporters even ignored the boycott call and voted, while others spoiled their ballots by writing profanity next to the UP box (http://www.scarlettlion.com/invalid-votes/)!

As the elections drew nearer the CDC decided to employ a lot of different tactics to tip the balance in their favor, including fear. One thing they failed to factor in these tactics was that most of the population were unlikely to take heed of the subtle hints of violence if they didn’t win. If the CDC had an army and had been carrying out brutal attacks against the population, perhaps most people might have taken heed. Remember Taylor in 1997. People paid attention to his threats because he had a means of carrying them out.

Another sad elections footnote from history comes from neighboring country of Sierra Leone. The Revolutionary United Front (RUF), in that country embarked on a limb cutting expedition against their own people when they defiled the organization and participated in elections in 1996. Hope the CDC and its leaders do not have the same terror plans for Liberia.

CDC made some outrageous claims in the months leading to the elections. They consistently said that they would not accept a result which didn’t give them victory. This was like Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast. They were willing to participate in the election, but not prepared to accept the fact that they could lose!

If it wasn’t the party’s chairperson claiming that it had 5million partisans in a country with a population of 3.5million, it was some other party leaders saying that they had 2million registered voters as their partisans, though the official number of registered voters was a little over 1.7million. The party’s leaders even said they were going to monitor the voting and announce their own results! This they never did!

The campaign process went on, polling day came and passed and the results announcement started. In the initial hours following the balloting, votes were not being announced by the CDC or NEC, but by media institutions and the Liberia Media Center (LMC) which had monitored voting in about 61% of polling precincts across the country. Those results, from organizations and people who had no direct interest in who won the elections, consistently showed the CDC in second place. Notwithstanding, the party insisted upon making claims of fraud.

CDC Vacillation and the Prince Johnson Tipping Point

One minute the CDC was charging that results were being announced from parts of the country that didn’t reflect their strength, in order to demoralize them. Childish! How could such an announcement pattern suggest fraud? Then the results of their “stronghold” – Monrovia – came in and it showed that it wasn’t their stronghold after all. More people voted against them, than for them in the area!

Then, without warning, the CDC announced that it was withdrawing from the process, but as soon as the NEC announced that there was going to be a runoff, the CDC announced that it was reentering the process and was prepared for a runoff.

At the time this was ongoing the CDC had in its corner about 8 of the other candidates that participated in the first round of the elections. These 8 included Prince Johnson who placed 3rd with about 11% of the vote which he mainly got from his home area of Nimba County.

The turning point in the CDC boycott came when Prince Johnson suddenly broke ranks with the party and declared publicly that he was throwing his lot with the Unity Party. Immediately this happened the CDC renewed their threat of withdrawing from the process, claiming that “massive” fraud had taken place. The CDC standard bearer is on record as saying that their claims were an exaggeration (http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/11/06/uk-liberia-election-tubman-idUKTRE7A52OQ20111106), but yet he clings to them!

Though all other independent grouping – both local and international – acknowledged that the process was credible, the CDC stuck to its claim of fraud and then started proffering outrageous demands!

The bottom line – the party knew once Prince Johnson abandoned their cause it was a lost one and that there was no way they could have won the elections. Respected analyst Stephen Ellis makes this point in an Al Jazeera interview (http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/11/201111814940358585.html).

It makes little sense for people to resort to extreme tactics simply to get into power. I have never understood this! If you seek to simply serve your people, you won’t resort to extreme measures to ensure that this happens even though you have no tangible claim of fraud!

Some of these guys have gone to the extent of mortgaging the country’s resources without even getting into power. I just did a little search on one of them the other day and came across this link (http://information-internet-marketing.com/is-any-investor-from-malaysia-interested-in-investing-in-the-mineral-rich-country-of-liberia.html) through which he is seeking Malaysian investors to exploit resources in Liberia. Remember OTC? These guys are looking for unscrupulous investors!

Liberian Civil Society Remains Mute

Why local civil society organizations have remained tightlipped in rebuking the CDC and explaining to the Liberian people that the party has no case remains a point to baffle. This silence has only helped to embolden the group and, most likely, undermine the credibility of these organizations that have made their name by preaching transparency and accountability.

Civil society organizations run the risk of appearing lame if they fail to come out strongly and tell the Liberian people that the case for fraud is nothing more than the CDC being bad losers. The fact that these civil society organizations monitored the elections process makes it unimaginable that they would have found fraud and not made it public.

However, if civil society remains silent in the face of the CDC’s challenge to the process, they stand to be accused by posterity of not forcefully standing on the side of right when there was a need. Failure to act on their part would also suggest that they are a party to the imaginable fraud the CDC claims because as time passes, people’s memories become blurred and conspiracy theories move into the realm of reality.

This interview with George Weah (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xW5Zqyppmpc) makes the point. Mr. Weah says in his interview that the NEC admitted in 2005 that there was fraud, but that the fraud could not affect the process. He obviously misunderstood what the NEC finding meant, but he still holds unto it as reality! Coming from George Weah, that’s understandable!

So the CENTALs, AGENDAs, LDIs, FORHDs, etc can keep quiet, but eventually when they decide to come out, there would be a million conspiracy theories that would shoot down their every word as not being real! The silence also seriously undermines their credibility on the global stage!

Apart from some of the leaders of these organizations raising issues about the NEC’s failure to state the total number of voters during the vote tabulation process after the first round, they have all remained staunchly silent regarding the claims of fraud from the CDC. The world and the Liberian people are looking at them to come out and make a definitive call on this issue. There can be no middle ground on this. It is either that massive fraud happened or it didn’t. It now behooves the Liberian civil society to come out and strongly make a call on this situation!

In Conclusion

The turnout in the runoff may appear low if one considers the entire number of people who registered to vote. But if that number is discarded and only the turnout figure of October 11 is considered along with other factors, including the unjustifiable withdrawal/boycott, one would see that the process turned out as expected. Now Liberia has to get from these elections and continue down the path of progress. The country wants to continue having growth.

The government over the last 6 years comprehensively failed in transforming the way Liberian people think. Now more than ever, it has to put into place policies and measures that won’t just teach people what to think but how to think. The best way to do this is by taking the educational system from basic rote learning to teach people how to think at all levels!

Our school system has to be reformed, substance wise. The reason why a lot of young people have gravitated towards the CDC’s call is because they lack the ability to form independent opinions of their own from information that is provided to them.

If most Liberians were able to make judgment based on information provided them, they would have seen by now that the CDC is simply making claims without showing any proof of their claims. These people would also be able to see that every other person or group has given the elections a clean bill of health, but yet the CDC still staunchly claims massive fraud!

Finally, we must all support this process and reject any and all calls for a government of inclusion. As I told a CDC fellow the other day, if the CDC wanted to be in the UP people’s government, there was no need for them to have put us through the last several months of an electoral process! They should have simply merged with the UP and that would have definitely guaranteed them positions in government!

This should not be construed to mean that the Liberian people should not have the choice of a multiparty system. But people who want to be opposition people should be principled enough to remain in the opposition and avoid calling for their inclusion in government. If they are not principled enough to be opposition people, they should just join the ruling bandwagon! They shouldn’t be allowed to have it both ways! They can’t eat their cake and have it!
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Lamii Kpargoi is on a State Department sponsored Community Solutions Program (CSP) fellowship in the United States. CSP is run by IREX USA. He currently covers the mayoral elections and public transportation in San Diego, California for Voice of San Diego (voiceofsandiego.org). Mr. Kpargoi is the author of numerous political commentaries. He’s never shy of making his views known on serious issues. He’s also a licensed attorney-at-law in Liberia. Lamii.Kpargoi@voiceofsandiego.org or lkpargoi@yahoo.com.

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