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Barely a year to presidential and representative elections here, the United Nations has released a report in which it says ‘There is no clear frontrunner to succeed President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who is supporting the candidature of her Vice President, Joseph NyumahBoakai.’
The report stresses that the October 10, 2017 elections and the democratic transition that will follow in January, 2018 will be the first handover of presidential power following an inclusive and competitive election since Liberia’s establishment as a Republic in 1847.
According to the document, giving that the President appoints nearly all public officials in the country, it will be seen as a ‘winner-takes-all’ contest which could be highly contentious, as was the case in 2005 and 2011.
The report says the fact that only one electoral round is required for legislative elections, some seats may be decided with slim margins, raising prospects for numerous election-related disputes.
It says a year before elections, 22 political parties have registered with the National Elections Commission and the political environment in the country is dynamic, with party alliances forming and splintering on the basis of personalities and expediency rather than ideology.
The UN indicated that in spite of an assessment carried out by the mission, the National Elections Commission is confident of its readiness to organize and conduct the elections with limited international assistance.
But it observes that the NEC faces numerous challenges, including the Government’s inability to disburse adequate funding in a timely manner; logistical shortcomings; limited capacity to adjudicate election-related disputes; and persistent questions from some stakeholders about its impartiality.
The report further disclosed that international partners informed the assessment mission to Liberia that the 2017 elections can and should be a fully nationally-owned process, pointing to the capacity the Commission demonstrated by conducting elections in 2011 and 2014, respectively with limited international support, and that those partners also expressed regret that political decisions were taken that undermine the ability of the Government to meet its financial obligations for the electoral process, including the non-inclusion of tax increases on luxury goods in the budget for 2016/17, which could affect the partners’ willingness to fill a funding gap estimated at $25 million.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in October 2016 approved a $600 million national budget, allocating $20 million for elections, adding that the UNDP is providing technical support for the elections, in accordance with recommendations of the U.N. Security Council Resolution since 2014 which followed the National Elections Commission’s request for support.
Accordingly, the report says legal provisions that are inconsistent with Liberia’s obligations to protect civil and political rights remain in place though they have been used to curtail fundamental freedoms.
In recent months, the Government has closed or suspended two opposition and independent media outlets, ostensibly for failing to comply with tax and licensing regulations. Members of the political opposition and civil society denounced these actions as an attempt to silence dissenting voices and an independent press, with a view to influencing the elections.
The document noted that the President has articulated an ambitious reform agenda, but many reforms have yet to show an impact, stressing that greater political will is required to expand democratic space and enhance citizen engagement as well as address corruption at all levels of government and society.
The U.N. said impunity for shortcomings in governance has contributed to cynicism, with many interlocutors regretting that a narrow elite is benefiting from corruption, nepotism and cronyism, while the vast majority suffers.