BLOCK VOTING (Op Ed)

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By Wade Powell

There’s been a lot of talk about Block Voting (BV) in the last few days. As a matter of fact, it has kicked off a massive debate (a violent fight really) amongst supporters of the CPP. The arguments permeating social and traditional media seems to be centered around sentiments of support for individual political parties of candidates rather than logic and a true understanding of BV and its pros and cons and the impact to our nation’s democratic principles.

So, what exactly is a BV? BV, within the context of our discussion, is essentially a mechanism to strengthen the positioning of a particular political party or candidate, whether fairly or unfairly. BV, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. Its usefulness or danger is really dependent on the hands that are carrying out the process and the intent behind it.

There are 2 main types of BV.

(1) Using BV to have individual voters to cast all their votes in favor of particular candidates: In this instance, it provides an organization, in this case the CPP, an opportunity to lobby for support for their candidates from both within their individual political parties and from among the other constituent political parties (ANC, ALP, LP, UP). Using BV in this manner means that gaining support for your candidate is dependent on what your candidate brings to the table or has to offer the individual voter. It allows delegates to exercise their right to select the candidate that most resonates with them and what’s important to them, instead of simply doing so along political party lines. It also allows the delegates to make use of data gathered from Voter Perception Surveys (VPS) to inform their decisions about which candidate to support. The results in this process are usually much more proportional to the actual value that the candidate represents to the voting pool. This is the principle upon which the CPP is built.

(2) Using BV to have 1 voter cast 1 vote on behalf of multiple voters in favor of a particular candidate: In this instance, BV allows a candidate to attain a vote that is disproportionate to the actual value that the candidate represents to the voting pool because it does not encourage competition and has no reflection on the candidate’s actual abilities. Rather, it is a vote based on a mandate, usually coming from the candidate or those in positions of authority within the party who support that candidate. BV used in this manner is actually a form of vote suppression, which has a very long and ugly history in national politics globally and it is every citizen’s responsibility to fight it on every front! One only has to do a simple Google search to learn about why nations accross the globe are fighting against the use of BV in this manner in their national politics and the danger that it presents to democracy. But let’s bring it right back home. There is a reason why Liberia does not use BV to elect its Representatives, Senators, and Presidents. It is very simple. Our electoral system is one that is firmly rooted in “One Man One Vote” (and I use the term “man” figuratively to mean both genders). The reason we have this system of election in our country is so that each person has an opportunity to exercise his/her constitutional right to select their leaders. If BV was a good thing, within our political dispensation, then we would use it across the board to elect all our government officials.

Follow me on this scenario, if you will: Liberia has a Constitution that prescribes that every eligible citizen has a right to vote. It is inalienable. It is the only medium by which citizens are able to voice their preference of who to represent them based on principles and issues that are important to and affect them. And historically, Liberians have elected national leaders based on how well the candidates have represented and stood for what is important to them. For the youth, it may be access to education and jobs. Or for women, it may be empowerment and SGBV. For religious groups it may be the faith based platforms. For tribal it may be representation. For cultural it may be preservation (these are just examples). One morning you wake up and the leadership structure (Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches) announce they have decided, going forward, that you will not be allowed to cast individual votes for the candidate of your choice and now you have to allow a representative of the leadership structure, chosen by the leadership structure, to cast a singular vote on your behalf.

What would be your thoughts or reactions? All hell would break loose, right? The first thing that comes to mind might be that these people are trying to take away my right! That these people don’t think that I am sound enough to decide what is right for me. That I am not trustworthy and my vote can be easily bought. Now you tell me, would these leaders be the ones you believe have your best interests in mind? Or would you see straight through the thinly veiled attempt to solidify positions for personal interests?

Well, this is essentially the idea that some of our friends in the CPP are trying to peddle as the way forward for the CPP. What is even more interesting is that they are not peddling the idea of using BV in the primaries for legislative candidates. They only want this for the primaries for Standard Bearer of the CPP. They say that how one party chooses to conduct its vote should not be the concern of the other parties in the collaboration. That each party should be allowed to determine how they will vote. Imaging if the leadership of Liberia decided that the counties could pick and choose how they wanted to vote. Bassa can pick BV and Montserrado can pick individual voting. Just imagine that!

In order to see any logic in this idea, one has to ask themselves several questions, among which are: (1) “Why?”, (2) What is the real fear that is driving this need to shift from democratic voting to mandated voting? (3) What kind of precedence does this set for our already-fragile electoral system? (4) What does this action by members of the CPP, who are vying for leadership of our country, say about what they will do if they are given that opportunity? (5) What do the Laws and Rules governing the Republic of Liberia and the CPP say about this? These questions are a mix of social conscience and law. I will leave answering those questions of social conscience to each reader, because it is indeed a matter of individual conviction. For the purpose of this analysis, I will focus on the question of laws and rules.

Chapter VII of the Liberian Constitution sets out the laws for “Political Parties and Elections”.
– Article 1 states that, “All power is inherent in the people…In order to ensure democratic government which responds to the wishes of the governed, the people shall have the right…to cause their public servants to leave office and to fill vacancies by regular elections and appointments.
– Article 77 (b) states that “All elections shall be by secret ballot as may be determined by the Elections Commission…”
– Article 79 (e) states that, “The constitution and rules of the political party shall conform to the provisions of this Constitution, provide for the democratic elections of officers and/or governing body…”
– Article 80 states that, “Parties or organizations which, by reason of their aims or behavior of their adherents, seek to impair or abolish the free democratic society of Liberia…shall be denied registration.”
– Article 82 states that, “Any citizen, political party,…shall have the right to canvass for the votes for any political party or candidate at any election…”

Article 9 of the CPP Framework Document outlines the “Governance Structure” of the CPP.
– Section 9.2 specifically speaks to the “National Assembly”. In our common political term, this is the equivalent of the CPP Convention.
– Section 9.2.1 (c) specifically states a duty and function of the National Assembly as “Convene to endorse candidates for the offices of President…in conformity with the Liberian Constitution, the New Elections Law, and other applicable Laws and Regulations of Liberia.”
– Section 9.2.2 specifically prescribes that “The National Assembly shall be composed of equal number of delegates chosen by the Constituent Political Parties…The composition shall be…Three (3) Delegates per Electoral District to be selected by each Constituent Political Party…Five (5) Delegates per county…Fifteen (15) Delegates selected per NEC and The Political Leaders of the CPP Constituent Parties”

Article 11 of the CPP Framework Document prescribes the “Rules for the Elections of Candidates”.
– Section 11.4 specifically speaks to the “Nomination Process”
– Section 11.4.8 specifically prescribes the mechanism for the establishment of the rules for “Primaries”.
– 11.4.8 (a) states that “The Alliance National Executive Committee shall appoint an ad-hoc body to …the nomination processes for the Presidential and legislative tickets of the CPP and other elections. The membership of this ad-hoc body shall comprise reputable and experienced individuals and also representatives from the Constituent Political Parties.”

Now what does this mean as it relates to the issue of BV within the CPP? In the simplest of terms, this means the following:

1) The laws of the Republic of Liberia provides that (a) every eligible person shall have the right to vote, (b) votes shall be by secret ballot, (c) the laws of political parties, in this case the CPP, shall conform to the laws of the Republic, (d) any political party not in compliance shall be denied registration, and that any political party is allowed to canvass for support from any eligible voter.

2) The laws of the CPP Framework Document, which are very much in compliance with the laws of the Republic of Liberia, provide that (a) the rules for primaries must be agreed by and applied to all, (b) all officers of the CPP shall be elected by primaries (in the event of failure of consensus) and endorsed at its National Assembly (Convention), (c) all of the processes by which the CPP shall conduct its primaries shall be established and agreed upon by the National Executive Committee, which has representation of all 4 of the Constituent Political Parties and that the rules, once established, shall apply to all, and (d) that the election/endorsement of officers shall be carried out by delegates to the National Assembly.

So you see, both the laws of the Republic of Liberia and the laws of the CPP, leave no room for individual political parties to take away the right of eligible voters, the delegates to National Assembly in the case of the CPP, and replace that right with an instruction/mandate to vote at the CPP Primary. As such, the idea being peddled by some members of the CPP is in complete violation of both the laws of the CPP and the laws of the Republic of Liberia. One must be very careful of setting these sorts of precedents that allow fundamental rights of eligible voters in political parties to be arbitrarily taken away. If our history has taught us anything, it is that some people have always tried to circumvent the laws to gain power and authority, not to do what is right but to do what is personally beneficially. As a group of people presenting ourselves to the citizens of Liberia to be elected as their next leaders, we also must be very careful in the character of ourselves that we project. If we are circumventing the laws of the land and our own Political Party, at a time when we do not yet have state power, what does that say about how we will conduct ourselves once we do get state power?

This, my fellow Liberians, is the reason why we must never allow this idea of BV to permeate the CPP. It is simply unconstitutional and only serves to benefit the personal interests and ambitions of specific individuals who are not interested in democratic principles and practices but rather in dictatorial and imperialistic ones. Do not allow anybody to muddy the waters on this issue and tell you that this is about support for a political party or candidate – it simply is not.

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