Liberia’s 2017 Election: Not Only Be Free And Fair, But Also Transparent
Days and hours leading to and after the July 19, 1997 Liberia special election that ushered in the mis-rule of Charles Ghankay Taylor, were filled with news of widespread cheating, such as 250 ballot boxes with no tally sheets in the possession of the Charles Taylor-led NPFL-NPP operatives, the crashing of a Cessna helicopter in the Lofa forest with thousands of ballots boxes on board, and that ballot boxes in far to reach places around Liberia were left un-collected, not for getting allegations leveled against Alhaji Kromah and his ULIMO-K /All Liberia Coalition Party trucking into the country thousands of Guineans to augment his support, in addition to violent attacks by NPFL against their party NPP political opponents, and many, many more. However, during all this all the international observers, including former Ambassadors from European countries who once served in Liberia, in addition to the Carter Center, who led the chorus, all declared the Liberian 1997 special elections as free and fair. A declaration that was purely based on the peaceful and dignified way the people of Liberia conducted themselves, not about the UN-transparent way the process handled.
This tactic of Liberia’s international partners, using their prestige and appeal, to quickly declare the 1997 election free and fair even while the votes were still being counted was interrupted days later by Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who came second to Charles Taylor. Madam Sirleaf said the election results were rigged. To re-enforced Madam Sirleaf complaints was her campaign manager, Dusty Wolokolie, who, among other things said he had audio and video tapes evidence that will proofed the results being announced were fake. Mr. Wolokolie made a stunning revelation on national radio that drew the irk of ECOMOG, the West African Peace keeping force that was stationed in Liberia.
Wolokolie went on to linked some members of the peacekeeping force to various aspects of the cheating that went on, including directing many elderly Liberians to vote for Taylor. To which ECOMOG field commander at the time, Maj Gen Victor Malu, issued a strong rebuke of Mr. Wolokolie’s accusations. The Carter Center, along with its international counterparts, without rescinding their early declaration of a free and fair elections, only added that there were some irregulates, however, these irregularities were not enough to change the results of the elections. Since then this has been the standard applied every Liberian election. Taylor was initially declared the winner at 87.7 percent of the vote, then it came down to 75%. Reginald Goodrige, who later became the Taylor regime minister of information, said Taylor was winning so much that the votes counting had to be halted. In the 2005 first post-war Liberian election, especially, in the days leading to the second round, the Liberian election commission, headed by Madam Frances Johnson Morris-Allison, was seen effectively as an extension of the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s presidential campaign.
It became very cleared when Madam Morris-Allison, on the heels of the second round voting described George Weah, the winner of the first round, as a threat to national security. Madam Morris-Allison description of Weah should’ve disqualified her from presiding over a process in which George Weah was involved. That description of Weah at that point darkened the transparency standard that is required in every election. Not one international group or observer took issue with such unfair behavior. A week later, Madam Frances Johnson Morris-Allison declared Ellen Sirleaf the winner and was appointed Justice Minister by Presdent Sirleaf. Besides Madam Morris-Allison behavior and her very bias attitude towards George Weah, Mr. Weah pointed out serious balloting problems during the second round, but with the international observers declaring the second round free and fair, the Liberian election commission used it as a way to suppressed Weah’s complaints without any investigations. Of course, there was the 2011 presidential campaign during which, the Liberian election commission, this time, led by Mr. James Flomoyan, the former principle deputy to Frances Johnson Morris-Allison, was ready from the get go to hand the election to Madam Sirleaf with the international community, led by the Carter Center, willing to sanctioned that. James Flomoyan was completely a tainted individual whose presence on the election commission did not give George Weah and his party any chance of winning the Liberian presidency. Besides assisting Frances Johnson Morris to undermined the integrity of the 2005 presidential election, Flomoyan had a thing against George Weah and his CDC when he said in 2009 during the Montserrado County by-election that CDC wanted to burn his house down to killed him. Now how can a person that harbors such negative perception of a political party, be a fair judge in an election process that involves such party. Flomoyan’s biasness of course was overlooked and he continued to serve as head of the election commission. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that, with Flomoyan still at the helm of the election commission, the commission was compromised in favor of Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
However, the various international observers, including the Carter Center, declared in their usual pre-election assessment of the election commission that the commission was good to go. The 2011 Liberian electoral process was a great disaster and filled with mockery of the Liberian people. With additional help from the international community awarding Madam Sirleaf the Nobel Peace Prize on the heels of the elections, the Flomoyan-led Liberian electoral process became a carefully crafted and unstoppable effort to ensure Madam Sirleaf got re-elected despite many errors that were glaring in the eyes of the public. Then, as they say, the shit hits the fan, when it came down to exercising due diligence by the election commission. Under the signature of Hon. James Flomoyan, Chairman of the National Election Commission of Liberia, a letter dated in 2005, addressed to George Weah, was sent again to George Weah in 2011, congratulating him for winning the first round. The problem with the letter was that Weah was not a presidential candidate in 2011 for his party, it was Winston Tubman. Before the letter came out, the election commission had already announced that Madam Sirleaf won the first round. So, the letter was treated as a mistake that was caused by failure to exercise due diligence while updating a form letter template.
However, it was a mistake that was too much to overlook since it happened amid another barrage of CDC allegations of votes rigging which created an additional pressure on the commission forcing Flomoyan to resigned. Despite all this, the international community, along with the Carter Center, declared the 2011 Liberian election as “free and fair” and fell short again of saying the process was transparent despite allegations of votes rigging. While acknowledging that there were votes rigging, members of the international observers described the votes rigging as not “wide-spread” and so it did not have any significant impact on the elections results. From 1997 to 2017, twenty years later, the Liberian national elections commission is still in the same deeply bias and compromised position. However, based on the current ongoing pre-election assessment, led by the Carter Center and the National Democratic Institution, or NDI, praises of high marks are being lavished on the Liberian national election commission, like in the past, that the commission has in place a credible process, despite the fact that the current election commission is headed by a member of the ruling Unity Party, and was a candidate for office on the Unity Party ticket against candidates of the political parties which are and will be campaigning against the Unity Party in a process that in which the chairman will exercise ultimate power. This is a glaring conflict of interest that once again will cast doubts over the integrity of the 2017 Liberian electoral process during this very important election.
While human error is inevitable in every process, the rush to judgement by international observers to quickly declare an election free and fair without a thorough investigation of all the complaints continues to undermine Liberia’s democratic efforts, and leaves lingering doubts in the minds of Liberians as to whether their current leader was elected based on their votes or was imposed on them due to foreign interests. At this point in the history of Liberia, there is no election that has seen unanimous acceptance among the people of Liberia as being free, fair and transparent. Something wrong always happened, especially, when the conditions leading to these wrongs have always been there and deliberately overlooked.
2017 will be different, it is a year when the vote of every Liberian should be counted with evidence to proof through an unhindered process. In other words, Liberians will not fall for the usual “free and fair” limited standard in characterizing the 2017 election. It is a standard that has become too subjective, too questionable. A standard that said the end justifies means. In characterizing the 2017 elections, the means should justify the end by adding transparency to the free and fair standard following the thorough review of all complaints where applicable, in the first and second rounds.
—P Nimely-Sie Tuon