MONROVIA-As the President Pro-tempore of the Liberian Senate, Albert Tugbe Chie outlined numerous difficulties that befell the just-ended biometric voters’ registration (BVR) process that caused many Liberians not to register; the National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL) has renewed calls for the extension of the process in all counties.
As he delivered the charge for the Senate’s upcoming businesses on the official opening of the second segment of the 6th session of the 54th Legislature on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, Pro-Tempore Chie indicated that final results of the BVR process may not be as anticipated in some of the counties due to the challenges of having limited centers far away from towns and villages.
According to him, many citizens were not able to reach to voting centers, which in many instances, are miles away; at times three to four hours walk.
“Cognizant of elections being a nationally owned process, we commend the efforts and contributions of our local and international partners in ensuring a successful election, however, their assistance should take into consideration the aspiration and the real needs of the voting population,” he stated.
“Over and over, our citizens in the rural areas had asked us to request NEC to create additional voting centers to enable them to register and exercise their rights to vote. Unfortunately, NEC informed us that it was unable to create additional voting centers due to financial constraints. In view of the above circumstances, these challenges may have a negative impact on the outcome of BVR process compared to the recently held census, through which enumerators reached every nook and corner of the counties and counted all persons. Despite improvements that have been made in strengthening the electoral systems through reforms, we engaged our partners (local and international) to consider contributing financially to buttress our efforts of increasing these centers in enabling easy access for our people in rural parts to register without the torment of traveling far to locate centers in order to register,” the Pro-Temp asserted.
Accordingly, the admittance to these challenges by one of the lead decision-makers of the country has further supported earlier debate by the CSO Council for an extension to the entire process so as to afford eligible voters the opportunity to register.
It could be recalled that following the completion of the much-publicized BVR process across the first six counties, NCSCL craved the indulgence of the National Elections Commission (NEC) to provide additional time after the entire process so as to afford others the opportunity to get registered, due to uncountable challenges along the way during the process.
And so with the latest report provided by the Senate Pro-Tempore to the Plenary of the Liberian Senate, NCSCL maintained its stance for additional time to be allotted on grounds that several persons were left out either due to technical problems that occasioned the process or due to low publicity/CVE.
NCSCL, which is the apex body of all civil society organizations in the country, noted that the BVR is a key step to the voting process as eligible Liberian voters get set to go to the poll on October 10, 2023 in consonance of Article 77(b) of the Liberian Constitution.
The Council in a statement carved under the signature of its Chairperson Madam Loretta Alethea Pope-Kai, urged the NEC to provide additional time to the BVR owing to its significance to the entire electoral process.
The Council’s call has been informed by recent reports by two renowned election observatory bodies, the Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) and Liberia Elections Observation Network (LEON).
ECC, for instance, in its report, stated that the process was generally well conducted, but with some challenges during the initial phase of the exercise.
The group (ECC) pointed out that that there were some late openings of centers primarily due to the lack of printer cards, electricity to power the equipment and the late arrival of some of the NEC registration teams.
For LEON, the group noted marginal increments in the number of registered voters in Montserrado, Margibi, and Grand Cape Mount counties, but raises concern over decline in numbers from Grand Bassa, Bomi, and Gbarpolu Counties as compared with the 2020 numbers released by NEC.
LEON believes that such could be an outcome of low civil and voters’ education and as such, it calls on NEC and CSOs groups to do more in this area.
“LEON would like the NEC and other civil society groups in Liberia to step up voter education to bring more numbers out during phase two of biometric voter registration, which runs from April 21-May 11, 2023,” LEON noted.
NCSCL maintains that these predicaments along the way should necessitate the need for additional time after the entire process.
The Council points out that owing to the critical nature of political participation to the growth and development of the country, the Commission should see reason to give ample time that would allow Liberian voters take up the responsibility to form part of the ensuing political activities.
On Elections Day, Liberian voters will troop at all 2,080 voting precincts or 5,911 voting centers to vote for a President/Vice President, 73 Representatives and 15 Senators, whose tenures of offices would expire.
“The National Civil Society Council hereby calls on the NEC to ensure that the process is holistic, participatory and void of interference. Therefore, we hereby call on the Commission to add at least a week or two for the BVR process,” the statement pointed out.
NEC is the body clothed with the responsibility to conduct all electoral activities for all elective public offices within the territorial confines of Liberia.
At the same time, the Council also lauded all of the development partners for standing with and supporting Liberia does-far most especially the European Union (EU) and others for supporting the NCSCL.