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Violating electoral laws with impunity: The case of politicians and pre-campaign in Liberia

The election is a key pillar in every democratic dispensation, and the story in Liberia is no different. 

The Article 83 (A) of the Liberian constitution states, “Voting for the President, Vice-President, members of the Senate and members of the House of Representatives shall be conducted throughout the Republic on the second Tuesday in October of each election year.”

Also, Article 50 of the same constitution states, among other things, that “the president shall be elected by universal adult suffrage of registered voters in the Republic and shall hold office for a term of six years commencing at noon on the third working Monday in January of the year immediately following the elections.”

Upon these constitutional dictates, the country is now gearing up to conduct its presidential and legislative elections come October of this year.

As part of the processes leading to these elections, the National Elections Commission (NEC), the statutory body responsible for the conduct of elections in the country, has released a series of guidelines for the conduct of the process.

According to the NEC’s guidelines issued recently in the country, campaign processes begin on August 5 and end on October 8, 2023.  The guidelines also include the official publication of accreditation of Party Agents, Media, and Observers for Voter Registration which will run from January 23, 2023, to February 20, 2023.

The timetable also indicated that from February 6 to 20, 2023, there will be the publication of Voter Registration Centers. Then February 20, 2023, will be the date for the official launch of the Civic and Voter Education for Voter Registration process. In essence, the Voter Registration process runs from March 20, 2023, to May 11, 2023, among other activities.

But it appears that this guideline, particularly pre-campaigning, has been ignored and brushed aside by political parties. 

As a result, DUBAWA embarked on a journey to ascertain the extent to which some political parties are breaching the election guidelines by organising political rallies and posting political parties’ flyers, stickers, billboards or t-shirts. We also explore the consequences of the breach.

What is pre-campaigning during elections?

According to the National Elections Commission (NEC)’s guidelines, section 2.5 (b) found on page 15 of this document, pre-campaign activities include “forming of a political movement, association, or others to solicit votes and/or promote an individual aspirant or candidate by way of speech, picture, banner, posters or any other printed materials that tend to promote an individual aspirant or candidate for an elective public office.”

It further stated, “holding a march, parade, or other assemblies to solicit votes and/or promote an individual aspirant or candidate by way of speech, picture, banner, posters, placards or any other printed materials that tend to promote an individual aspirant or candidate for an elective public office.” 

According to clause (D) of this same section of the guidelines, “an aspirant or candidate found to have violated any of the herein provisions against premature activities shall be ineligible to contest the election to which the violation relates.”

So which parties are violating the guideline?

DUBAWA observed that throughout the streets of Monrovia, there are billboards, stickers and even t-shirts bearing the photograph of incumbent President George Weah with inscriptions like, “I support Weah 2023,” “In Him, We Are Well Pleased,” and “Friends of Kalasco Support Weah 2023,” among others as in these pictures.

DUBAWA cannot independently confirm if these posters and billboards were published or mounted by the candidates themselves or were sanctioned by them, except to say the sight of these before the opening of the campaign period is a violation of the election law.

Even more grievous is the poster of Sekou Kalasco Damaro, the Special Aid to President George Manneh Weah. Mr Damaro was appointed by President Weah in 2018 and has since held the position. 

According to Part-V, section 5.1(A, B and C) of the Code of Conduct, “all Officials appointed by the President of the Republic of Liberia shall not:

a) Engage in political activities, canvass or contest for elected offices; 

b) Use Government facilities, equipment or resources in support of partisan or political activities;

 c) Serve on a campaign team of any political party or the campaign of any independent candidate.”

The clarity of the law notwithstanding, Mr Damaro has been using his official Facebook page to propagate campaign messages for President Weah’s 2023 bid ahead of the official campaign period, as seen here and here

As a result of this action by Mr Damaro, a senior executive of the main opposition and former secretary of the immediate past ruling Unity Party (UP) led regime, Mohammed Ali, popularly known as Mo Ali too, took to his Facebook page with a threat: “The CDC has declared official campaign opened. They are posting billboards and flyers all over the place. We will follow suit, and that compromised NEC will not do fwen (nothing). Dear Liberian people, VOTE for JOSEPH NYUMA BOAKAI for president in the October 10, 2023, Presidential election,” he wrote.

These pre-campaign violations have become the centre of discussions in the country. A Liberian journalist, William Lloyd, took to his Facebook page and had this to say “UPHOLDING THE RULES, STRENGTHENING OUR DEMOCRACY: LET’s ENSURE A FAIR AND LAWFUL 2023 ELECTIONS.

Sekou Kalasco Damaro, the violation of National Elections Commission rules regarding campaign activities by the CDC is detrimental to President Weah’s re-election efforts. According to the NEC revised timeline, campaign activities are only allowed from August 5 to October 8. Wearing campaign materials and holding political gatherings outside the designated campaign period blatantly disregards the 2023 elections schedule and violates election law.”

DUBAWA reached out to Mr Damaro via his Facebook page for a response but is yet to respond.  

The nomination rally

Interestingly, DUBAWA has been informed of the successful holding of the nomination process of President Weah by the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC). The nomination, expected to be held in December last year, was eventually held on Saturday, February 4, 2023, at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium (ATS) in central Monrovia. 

After the nomination, a mini rally was held with hundreds if not thousands of supporters and partisans of the ruling CDC taking to the streets of Monrovia and within some counties like Lofa, Bomi, and Nimba to pledge their support to President Weah for another six years term.

Persons believed to be supporters of the ruling CDC were also seen in their party’s regalia bearing the image of President George Weah and the Party’s logo and a red and blue beret bearing the party’s emblem.

As a result of this nomination rally, some businesses within central Monrovia and its environs were closed, with huge traffic seen all over the streets. Some ordinary citizens told DUBAWA they were left frustrated after long hours in the traffic while going about their everyday activities. 

During the official program, President Weah accepted to contest for the second term of the Liberian Presidency after being asked through a petition by his supporters and partisans.        

President Weah voiced, “fellow partisans and supporters, I have accepted your request for me to contest for the second term and to be your leader for the next six years. If the Liberian people grant me a second term, they should be prepared to grace another leader when that term ends. Our constitution does not permit a third term, so I will gladly stand down in 2030.” 

As a result of this alleged violation and many others by political parties and independent candidates in the country, the Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC), a leading civil society network responsible for promoting electoral integrity in Liberia, issued a statement.

According to ECC’s statement, the action of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) was a complete violation. Thus, the violation undercut the principle of what the ECC termed a level playing field required for the conduct of free, fair and transparent elections in the country.  

ECC said in her statement, “The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) observed that the political rally organised by the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) on February 4, 2023, is a campaign activity. It is a flagrant violation of Section 12 of the National Elections Commission’s (NEC) Regulation on the conduct of political parties and coalitions. The rally was characterised by wearing T-Shirts and printing banners depicting the picture of the President when the official campaign period outlined in the election timeline had not started. This violation undercuts the principle of a “level playing field” required for the conduct of a fair and credible election.” 

Meanwhile, the National Election Commission (NEC) on Wednesday, February 8, 2023, warned against political parties of independent candidates acting outside of the just-released timetable for the upcoming elections in the country.

According to NEC boss Madam Davietta Brown Lansanah, “all political parties, coalition, collaboration and independent candidates must respect the scheduled for the campaign, which is from August 5 to October 8  for this  year’s presidential and legislative elections.”

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