NEC’S UNDER-AGE REGISTRANTS SCREAM: WHO’S AT FAULT? THE NATIONAL ELECTIONS COMMISSION (NEC) is facing a Herculean task – the toughest of time and pressure in its efforts to conduct the elections of October 10. The latest of its seemingly unceasing pressure is now the registration of over five hundred of under-age Liberians; a situation it is considering dealing with.

Of course, while the latest scream cannot be under-rated, the quest for more financial and logistical support is the pinnacle of the Commission’s tension, considering the body-hugging timetable for the conduct of the elections in a free, fair, and credible fashion, to the satisfaction of the Liberian people and the always suspecting political parties.

THERE IS NO ANY amount of argument about the enormity of extricating and unscrambling the situation as one would say or imagine. Getting rid of over five hundred registrants from the roster is a process of extreme technicality, considering the legality associated with it as well. How lightly the would-be affected Liberians – themselves or their parents- will respond or take the issue is of paramount concern to any Liberian who has deep sense of understanding and reflection of electoral matters in Liberia, fully knowing that elections in Liberia are controversial and highly explosive undertakings.

BE AS IT MAY, the NEC has done excellently well by braving the storm to highlight or bring this issue to public glare, perhaps trying to act smart in order to portray a situation where the public can develop trust and confidence in the process. However, the coming public does not preclude the fact and established understanding that the Commission created the situation for itself and the nation. Before the start and during the Voter’s Registration Exercise, there was an eruption of noise concerning underage Liberians’ quest to get registered as well as the Commission’s own mechanism to deter and stop any kind of unconsecrated sacrilege. Ordinary citizens and politicians cried the loudest that the Commission needed to act swiftly on this issue, but it paid deaf ears and did nothing at all. Here we are today!

NOW, APART FROM NOT acting swiftly to arrest or prevent the situation from occurring, one would want to know how the NEC derived the decision that this particular group of registrants are under-age. What yardstick is being used by the Commission to identify and capture these so-called under-age registrants, people who endured everything to get registered, to enable them to vote in the elections? Instead of just announcing that these people do not reach the voting age of 18, is it possible for the Commission to show an absolute and concrete proof of their findings, the methodology applied to uncover such a miscarriage?

BY ALL ACCOUNTS, THE situation is the making of the Commission because it failed to close or address the loopholes that facilitated such an unwarranted deluge of ostensible under-age registrants on the official Roster. This is a matter of ‘prevention is better than cure’, and the NEC needs to be very meticulous in handling the issue so that it is not escalated to a level of confusion and political protestation. Let it be made clear that had the NEC deployed legal experts, counselors, and psychologists to work along with those who presided over the VRR process, the problem would not have reached to this alarming proportion. While this is about the law, let’s also establish that the registrants in question are not for a particular candidate or party. On the other side, it is possible that a good number of them could support or vote for a particular candidate or party in the elections. How do we deal with the aftermath is another troubling factor worth introspecting?

WE ARE CONVINCED AND can safely say that the Commission is beginning to tread a very slippery and dangerous terrain with the heightening potential to trigger another form of political and social brouhaha and a possibly lengthy legal process. Deleting this group of registered voters from the VRR under the guise of ‘being under-age, could spur unmanageable and uncontrollable tension on the Commission with just few months away from the elections. Though the Commission might be acting on the maxim that ‘anything that was not done properly is not done at all,’ we are equally beginning to sense that the NEC is putting itself in a twisted and torturous situation, wherein it could be demanded or pushed through legal means to undo the entire voter’s registration process. Thus, the entire electoral process would be thrown in jeopardy and tatters.

ALL IN ALL, THE NEC bears the greatest portion of the blame in the registration of supposed underage Liberians under the VRR process, and to extricate itself should not amount to deleting and removing them from the roster. It should not be about avoiding blame; rather it should be about avoiding political tension tomorrow if they wrongfully disenfranchise anyone. As it is known, some of the under-age registrants were led to some of these centers by their parents and were thoroughly quizzed and verified by agents. This is why we think the NEC needs to do due diligence to avoid catastrophic backlashes.

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