OPEN LETTER TO NATIONAL ELECTIONS COMMISSION OF LIBERIA
J. Aloysius Toe
REMEMBER THE TRAGIC EXPERIENCE OF LAURENT GBABOE’S COTE D’VOIRE
Attn: Mr. James Flomoyan, Chairman, National Elections Commission of Liberia
Dear Mr. James Fromoyan:
I write you this letter firstly, because, I am a Liberian citizen who cares about the peace and security of Liberia. Secondly, because, as one of your former students of political science, I’ve observed that your recent announcement of the preliminary results of the 2011 general and presidential elections is at odd with international best practice of electoral democracy which requires that the total number of persons who voted in elections must be announced before votes announced.
Thirdly, because the manner and form in which the preliminary results are being released create more doubt about the transparency of ballot counting. Fourthly, because, I see a threatening and devastating parallel between your approach of announcing election results and Laraunt Gbagbo’s elections commission announcing unsupported election results that eventually engulfed that nation into a bitter bloodshed that led to deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.
It is welcomed news that Liberians have conducted themselves peacefully during the casting of ballots. That Liberians have remained peaceful now places responsibility upon each and every one of us, especially the National Elections Commission. The NEC must handle current counting of ballots and public pronouncements with prudence, impartiality, honesty and transparency so as to maintain peace and stability in Liberia. Remember Emmet Harmon (1985) election of Samuel Doe and G. Henry Andrews (1997) election of Charles Taylor. Liberians have suffered too long and deserve the best from you.
Post election violence usually comes after the votes are tallied, collated and released. The manner in which results are released can cast doubt on the transparency of the process and throw out of the window all the gains made to maintain peace during the voting process. Greater care needs to be exercised by the NEC, as the releasing of the results of most sensitive and tension packed process that must be seen by all reasonable persons as being fair and transparent. The release of the NEC results on October 13, 2011 fell short of being transparent and fundamentally fair.
Recommendation: Please, please, please, for the sake of peace in Liberia and for the honor of your name, be honest and transparent.
International best practice of electoral democracy demand that the total number of votes cast during any elections must be announced before counting the ballots. This would immediately unearth any discrepancies if ballots counted are less or more. I am afraid that if this is not done, the possibility of arbitrarily and fraudulently announcing numbers in favor of one party is high.
Recommendation: Immediately halt the announcement of preliminary results until you declare how many persons voted in the October elections nationally, by County and by District. These total numbers should reflect summary of all tallies from all polling stations across the country.
NEC preliminary announcements raise more doubts and questions than desired. For instance, you are announcing preliminary election results without giving a breakdown by county and voting precinct, indicating where the announced results are coming from. Example, as you have said, if you say 100 votes came from Montserrado County, fairness demand that you also mention which of the over 500 voting centers in Montserrado County those negligible number of 100 votes came from. This would allow independent observers and parties to cross check your numbers with their own tallies.
Furthermore, NEC is based in Montserrado County. So it is expected that ballot boxes from Montserrado County will be in at the NEC before any other county. So I don’t understand why the NEC would count results from few voting centers in Montserrado County and move to, say, faraway area like Maryland County (thousands of miles away) and count results from few additional voting centers to declare preliminary results? It seems this selective picking of ballot boxes to count is unfairly favoring the ruling party with an early lead.
If not done deliberately by you to influence public opinion and build an impression about early lead by the ruling party, your ballot box selection process is magically attracting ballot boxes from areas where the ruling party appears to be stronger, while down playing the stronghold of the opposition. Already, opposition forces have started to complain and it has been widely speculated both in Liberia and among Liberians in the diaspora that you intend to continue with your selective ballot counting and announcement to imprint an early lead impression and eventually declare a win for the ruling party without fairly and completely counting all ballots.
Recommendation: Immediately halt the selective counting of ballots. Count ballots and announce preliminary results county by county and voting center by voting center. This will avoid a repeat of a 1997 scenario where Mr. Charles Taylor was declared winner by a 72% lead when results from over 110 polling stations and ballot box were not counted. President Sirleaf, as opposition candidate in 1997, opposed such selective reporting of results.
The experience of the recent Ivorian election is fresh on your minds. The people of Cote D’Ivoire were peaceful until the senseless blunderings of their electoral commission brought mayhem to visit upon them. Without equal treatment to the opposition party of Mr. Alassane Dramane Ouattara, the electoral commission of Ivory Coast proceeded by falsely giving Mr. Laurent Gbagbo a 55% early lead. You know the consequences and later results. The strategy was to create an early lead impression for a falling Gbagbo. Gbagbo used this to make demands when he realized that truth and justice were rising up against him.
Monrovia is full of rumors and gossips. Some say that 90% of the time a rumor or gossip is true and 90% of the time it is a lie. The rumors coming from Monrovia are that there was a national security meeting yesterday, Wednesday, October 12, 2011 by the government with the following outcome: support and protect the leads announcement at all levels so the opposition will explode in riotous violence; then the Nigerian special forces will clamp down on them and in the process declare the ruling party the winner. This could be true and this could be lie. But the fact of the matter is that these rumors are playing on the emotions and sentiments of many in Liberia. I am afraid, Sir. Let not your actions plunge our country into violence.
It is reported in local and international papers that the entire NEC was barricaded today by Special Unit of the Police and the UNMIL, (with large machine guns??). This is scary and only feeding into the rumor that permeated throughout Monrovia last night about the joint National Security Meeting to twist the results of the elections. Could it be that the release of the preliminary result was a foregone conclusion that the initial release of the results would be against the opposition, thereby proven that it was selective to create an emotional impact to get opposition into action?
Recommendation: 1. Announce the election results without fear or favor. This may be hard for you, but do your best.
The United States, AU, ECOWAS, EU and the International Contact Group on Liberia must intervene immediately and ensure that the NEC observe international best practices of vote counting.
UNMIL cannot be manning Executive Mansion and NEC for the next 6 years. This is not a scenario any well meaning Liberian want. So the best way to maintain peace and national reconciliation is to ensure fair and transparent counting, collating and releasing of results of the elections. Let’s not repeat Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe and Kenya. Peace and stability in Liberia is more important than a President. NEC has a historic responsibility to avoid 1985, 1997 and 2005. It is hard to imagine a stable Liberia at peace with itself and with its neighbors when politicians believe they were cheated. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf rejected elections in 1985 and 1997 and we all know the result of such rejection. Transparent release of elections will decrease tension and allow all to accept final result.
J. Aloysius Toe