ECOWAS and EU Long-term Observer Teams have identified the non-release of the National Elections Commission’s (NEC) approved budget for the October 10 Elections by government as a setback to the commission’s ability to prepare for a possible runoff and execute an effective civic and voter education.
Of the total budget of US53 million approved for the conduct of the October 10 polls, the government had provided a little over US$49M to the Commission representing 80 percent. With less than two weeks to the polls, NEC has maintained that the remaining US$3M plus is needed to conduct possible run-off elections.
In their press release issued Wednesday, September 27, ECOWAS and EU LTO Teams reminded the government saying, “As noted by the NEC Chairperson, the non-release of the balance of the funds will affect the planning for a second round of the election and this may become a controversial issue.”
The two groups have, therefore, pledged to follow up with NEC on the issue and also engage in backchannel advocacy with the government to release the required funds.
This, the release stated was the outcome of a meeting when the ECOWAS Long-Term Elections Observers (LTO) Monrovia team received the EU Long-Term observer mission to Liberia on 22 September 2023 at the ECOWAS LTOs Observation Technical Centre in Mamba Point Hotel.
The ECOWAS team was led by Mr Serigne Ka, the Coordinator of the ECOWAS LTOs, while the EU team had Jarek M. Domanski, the Deputy Chief Observery, as its leader. Issues discussed include mission deployment methodology and major findings from the joint ECOWAS-AU Fact-finding mission.
Civic and Voter Education
On the issue of civic and voter education, the two teams noted that it remains a critical challenge to NEC, partly due to the insufficient funds made to it from the government, although international partners (ECOWAS, EU, UNDP etc.) partly closed the gaps by providing some funding to support NEC’s civic and voter education.
ECOWAS, EU, and other observer missions continue to observe increasing levels of incendiary and divisive speeches from some political actors that can heat up the political environment and threaten peace and security.
ECOWAS assured that there is a conscious effort to counter any incendiary and divisive speech by political actors and constantly calls the candidates and parties to their commitment to peaceful elections.
Another concern is the absence of issue-based campaigns and citizen engagement as well as the lack of commitment by the major political parties to participate in the debates scheduled for the first week of October.
To address and mitigate the impact of the worrisome levels of disinformation, misinformation and hate speech, ECOWAS and EU teams call on all partners to speak up and call political actors to order when they share fake news or spread hate speech.
In addition, ECOWAS informed the EU that it had trained some media practitioners and the goal is to constantly reach out to media houses to be responsible in their reportage of the elections.
The ECOWAS and EU agreed to continually provide NEC with the needed support for it to adopt a more rigorous communication strategy which is an important communication tool that can dispel disinformation and misinformation ahead of the elections.
Regarding the deployment of both sensitive and non-sensitive electoral materials to hard-to-reach counties during this rainy season which is one of the utmost challenges to NEC, both ECOWAS and EU noted the need to support NEC in the timely deployment of the logistics.
This requires ECOWAS and EU to work behind the scenes with NEC to identify areas of support in the deployment of materials and personnel before election day. -Edited by Othello B. Garblah