Liberia’s electoral body – the National Elections Commission or NEC, recently issued a statement in Monrovia, warning against early campaigning across the country ahead of the forthcoming Presidential and Representative Elections.
The Commission had issued the warning against the backdrop of the engagement of some political parties and individuals seeking political offices in pre-campaign activities for ‘2017’ in violation of Chapter VI, Section 6 of the 2014 Guidelines Relating to the Registration of Political Parties and Independent Candidates.
According to the Elections Commission, self-styled groups – under the banners “Movements for… .., Friends of… ..” and others in support of political parties, individuals and/or independent aspirants desirous of contesting the elections were also engaged in activities contravening the aforementioned guidelines – activities it is yet to declare, re-emphasizing that engaging in any activities outside of the campaign period such as political rallies, political broadcasts, statement and messages in the print and electronic media, use of posters, fliers, buntings, advertisement on Billboards, public and private buildings, light poles, the internet, T-shirts, caps and other promotional items and Individual Promotional stickers on vehicles, are strictly prohibited under Section 24.3 of the Election Guidelines.
However, the National Elections Commission reminded political parties and individuals seeking electoral offices that activities such as political party membership drive, establishment of party offices (both national and local), Fund-raising, use of logos/emblems on offices, vehicles and other party properties, holding of national and local conventions, party meetings, as well as representational activities, including receiving and responding to petitions from constituencies, as stipulated in Chapter VI of the Guidelines, are permissible during non-campaign periods, strongly warning such parties, independent aspirants and groups to immediately desist or it will not hesitate to take punitive actions against violators to include decertification or suspension.
And barelt a few days following the issuance of the warning, Liberia’s main opposition Congress for Democratic Change or CDC, through Vice Chairman Mulbah Morlu, publicly issued a challenge, describing warning as a clever attempt to scare its partisans from exercising their constitutional rights as enshrined in the 1986 Liberian Constitution.
The party claimed that the warning is targeted at it and its political leader, especially ahead of the April 28 ceremony for Senator George Manneh Weah, to declare his intention to contest next year’s Presidential election, and that it will not honor or be intimidated by such warning, but will go ahead with its ceremony.
With all sincerity, the decision by the National Elections Commission to delay the implementation of the election laws and guidelines at the moment may just be too belated and little far from being a serious regulatory institution.
Considering the fact that unauthorized pre-election campaign activities have been ongoing for the past three years in the presence of and with the conspicuous silence of NEC until now, one can only point to its weakness and inability to establish absolute control over its regulatory authority.
It is no secret that Presidential aspirants Joseph N. Boakai (also Vice President of Liberia), J. Alex Tyler (also Speaker of the House of Representatives), Charles Walker Brumskine, as well as other presidential and representative aspirants have, for the past years and months, been across the country on pre-election campaign activities in the absence of any reminder, warning or threat by the Commission of executing electoral guidelines, leaving many to wonder as to why would it choose to do so now, especially when the opposition Congress for Democratic Change is poised for a ceremony for Senator Weah to declare his intention for the presidency on April 28, 2016.
Even if the Commission’s warning may in no way be targeting the CDC, the timeliness of the warning, as well as the manner and form may lend credence to the claims by officials of the CDC. Facing the fact, it was incumbent on the Commission to always monitor to ensure adherence to all provisions of the electoral guidelines, even before and after all elections, including the 2017 Presidential and Representative elections.
Giving room to political parties and spirants to denigrate it only because of its inability – whether intentional or not, to properly regulate their activities, only exposes the weakness of the National Elections Commission.
While the Commission may be in error for its lackadaisical posture in regulating the activities of political parties, as well as aspirants, among others, the defiant attitude being exhibited by the opposition Congress for Democratic Change must be properly re-examined.
As the “biggest political party” in Liberia in terms of numerical strength, the CDC and its executives must always led their partisans in exercising political maturity and patience to demonstrate some sense of political education and leadership among Liberian political parties, other than their normal political attitude.
Regarding the recent warning by the National Elections Commission against early political campaigning, it was a matter of reminding the former of its role at all times at all levels of Liberian politics, other than being defiant and out of order.