The just ended presidential runoff election in Liberia was marred by low turnout during the entire voting hours due to multiple factors ranging from the failure of elected and defeated candidates who vied for the representative, senatorial and other positions during the first round of voting to foot the transportation cost to and fro their respective voting precincts and disappointment in the manner and form in which past and current governments have failed to improve the living conditions of the masses.
Liberians went to the polls in a runoff election on Tuesday, November 14 to elect a new president to steer the affairs of the country for the next six years.
The runoff was necessitated due to the failure of the 20 parties and independent candidates that contested the elections to obtain 50 percent plus one vote in keeping with the 1986 Liberian Constitution.
However, the entire process was characterized with poor turnout because many electorates could not “gamble or sacrifice” their meager finance resource to transport themselves to various voting precincts in the midst of severe hardship and economic constraints.
Many polling precincts were almost empty, making electoral workers to busy themselves by engaging into extra activities, including playing games on their respective mobile phones or holding discussions with their colleagues during the voting period.
At many polling precincts on the Bushrod Island, outside Monrovia, eligible voters were not seen standing in long queues to cast their votes as compared to the first round of voting on October 10. Similar situation was also reported at various polling precincts across the country.
Speaking in an interview with FrontPage Africa, the Chairman of the Nelson Mandela Intellectual Forum, Abubakar Dukuly, attributed the low turnout to the failure of those who contested for the representative and senatorial seats to play leadership role by providing allowances or buses to transport those who voted for them during the first round as was done in the past.
He said many citizens are unwilling to spend their little or huge sum of money as transportation fares to cast their votes at various precincts to vote for someone, who they believe, may not change or improve their current living conditions.
“The turnout here is very low; people are coming one after the other and not compare to the first round. But what we can confirm is that, the process is very peaceful for now and we have not observed anything fishy happening. The last elections, we have about 35 representative candidates that contested in district # 17, Montserrado County. All of them brought people from different localities to vote here. Since they are not contesting this runoff, they don’t have interest again. And so, the people are not coming. Voters trucking is no longer happening and this is what causing the low turnout.”
Thwarting their decisions
Dukuly claimed that many Liberians still have the perception that the casting of their votes would not reflect the decision or their choice during the counting process by the National Elections Commission (NEC).
As a result of this, he added, that many Liberians are reluctant to abandon their normal routines to cast their votes for the contenders for the presidency.
He emphasized that though the decision by these citizens is wrong, they care less of the aftermath of their actions.
“Many of the people do not have interest because they believe that whether they vote or not, the people will still make their decision. There is this perception in Liberia that ‘it is their business; whether we go there or not, the people will still decide for us.’ This is very wrong and this is one of the reasons why people are not coming to vote.”
Nothing has change
Dukuly maintained that many Liberians are convinced that “nothing has changed for the last 18 years”, and as such, they feel disappointed and frustrated in casting their votes to elect a presidential candidate.
According to him, the voters are sick and tired about the manner and form in which past and current governments have led the country, with no sign or hope of improving their lives and transforming the nation.
“Those who were in power for 12 years are criticizing those who have been in power for six years and so, nothing has changed. The people are just tired about this because, for each time they elect people; they come and do the same thing.”
Dukuly emphasized that tuition fees for students continue to skyrocket, while the prices of basic commodities are astronomically high, something which makes voters to loss appetite in exercising their political franchise of constitutional rights, noting that, “people are just sick and tired about the entire voting process.”
He, however, underscored the need for Liberian politicians to desist from “trucking” eligible voters into their respective districts or counties to register and vote for them during electioneering period in Liberia.
According to him, the move does not augur well for the nation and its people, adding that, those involved or contemplating on doing so, should desist or have a second thought for the sake of the country.
“We want to call on Liberian politicians to be honest with the electorates because, when they are not honest with them, trust me-this low turnout during runoff election will continue to happen. These trucked voters come and make decisions and those decisions will not be in the interest of the citizens that reside in those districts and counties.”
Dukuly maintained that those vying to become representatives or senators in their respective districts or counties must work with their domiciled constituents, instead of trucking others who would not legitimize their elections in the future.
He said Liberians too should be honest to themselves by rejecting offers or financial inducement that would persuade them to leave their districts and counties to go elsewhere to register and vote for politicians who they do not know in particular.
He indicated that many citizens may not have the moral ground or rectitude to question the workings of their elected officials who are poorly performing because, they didn’t stay in their constituencies to register and vote.
Dukuly, however, pointed out that the decision taken by thousands of Liberians to stand in the rain and sun to vote for the candidates of their choice during electioneering period is to improve their living conditions and transform the country, but the failure of these elected officials to do so would lead to the loss of “voting appetite” during future elections.
“The process today was ok but the turnout was not packed as compare to the first round. During the first round, many people went out of town (Monrovia) to go and vote. Maybe other people are waiting for last-minute-to-time to cast their votes,” Doris Hinneh, 28, stated.
“It’s very bad for people to leave from where they are staying to go and vote elsewhere. You live in Montserrado, you should vote in Montserrado. You should not go out of town to vote. People took people and carried them out of town to vote. Right now, there is no transportation for them to come and vote.”
Doris further recommended that laws should be enacted and enforced to discourage citizens from being trucked from their residential counties or districts to vote elsewhere.
Though the new elections law of Liberia prohibits the trucking of voters during electioneering period, the National Elections Commission (NEC) has miserably failed to implement it.
“During future elections, the NEC should ensure that people from Montserrado do not go anywhere to vote. They should remain in Montserrado, Bomi or other counties to register and vote. They shouldn’t go anywhere.”
Emmanuel Crawford, 49, stated: “The runoff voting was very calm, no problem and I really enjoyed it. We suffered too much during the first round on October 10, but this second round, many people did not turn out.”
Like others, Crawford blamed the situation on the interest of citizens to only cast their votes for representative and senatorial candidates during the first round.
According to him, many Liberians do not care more about who heads Liberia as president.
He attributed the consistent trucking of Liberians to register and vote elsewhere to the huge financial constraints they are faced with.
Crawford observed that some citizens are willing to travel long distances, without knowing the names of candidates who have hired them, to vote during the elections due to hardship.
“Financial influence is encouraging many people to go different places to vote. People have the way of saying and doing things because they feel that they are making their choice. They do not care about what the person who they elected will do to the other people. Liberians need to desist from this.”
He made specific reference to the abandonment of residents of district # 17 by Representative Hanson Kiazolu of the Unity Party (UP).
He claimed that Representative Kiazolu has consistently reminded residents of the district that “his money made him a Representative,” and as such, he has no regret for neglecting them and contesting for the senatorial seat in Grand Cape Mount in the just ended presidential and legislative elections, noting that, “Liberians need to shine their eyes.”
Jebeh Sambolah, 20, noted: “I came here to vote around 2:28PM and went straight to get my ballot paper. We are voting for only the presidential candidate. First, we were voting for so many people and the process was delayed. Other people may not come because they are coming from faraway places and they may not have money to transport themselves.”
Many citizens did not show up to cast their votes due to the consistent habit of past and current government to renege on fulfilling promises made to them during the campaign periods of past elections.
They feel and believe that the “same story” will continue to persist year after year due to the lack of patriotism, sincerity and integrity among those steering the affairs of the state.
“During campaign time, you will hear them saying I will do this or that. But when they are elected, they forget those promises and turn their backs on the people who elected them. As a result of this, the people are getting frustrated on a daily basis to elect people. They prefer going to sell their markets to put food on the tables for them and their children, instead of going to vote to make few people rich while they continue to live in poverty. People are just tired of listening to the same old story,” Ezekiel Wesseh, 35, stated.
Wesseh observed that the fulfillment of campaign promises made by candidates appears like a “taboo” after their re-election.
He added that these elected officials blacklist or go against some of their constituents who continue to keep their “feet to the fire” to ensure that they fulfill those promises.
According to him, many Liberian politicians do not live up to promises or commitment made to their people and as such, the poor turnout will continue to be a factor to tackle during every election in the nation.
Cianneh Bonnah, 30, stated: “I observed that the place is empty because of the trucking; people that were brought in our district during the first round are not here to vote. People should not be fooled; it is their right to vote.”
She, however, encouraged citizens not to deprive themselves from exercising their constitutional rights just to satisfy or accomplish the ulterior motives of politicians.
Using Mega to Call Voters Out
During the early stage of the run-off Presidential election, Momo Kamara was one man who used a megaphone to call people out of their homes to vote. Kamara, a resident of Montserrado County District #7, resides in the Township of West Point. During a tour taken by FrontPage Africa in the early morning hours, Kamara was observed with a white megaphone speaker, calling on voters to turn out and vote as part of efforts to increase voter turnout.
The October 10 election had a significant turnout, but from the look of things, the run-off may suffer from low participation. Kamara explained to FPA: “This morning when I woke, I noticed that there was a low turnout. I went to the polling center, and the place was empty. When I finished voting in the CK Johnson area where I registered, the place had very poor attendance.”
He added: “When I finished voting, I said to myself that the way people were turning out for the first election, this time around people are not coming out.” Kamara further explained: “So, I decided to use my megaphone to go around and encourage people to vote. Now, I am going around and telling people to vote. When I reach out to them, if they are washing or doing something else, I will ask if they have finished voting. If they say they have not voted, I tell them to go to the place they registered and vote. I inform them that the process is very easy, and they will not stay long.”
According to Kamara, nobody gave him money or told him to do what he was doing. He added that he felt moved when he went to vote and noticed the low turnout. “Nobody gives me a dime; nobody talks to me to do what I am doing. As a patriotic citizen, I took the initiative to go around and talk to people to vote because the election is about everybody and not just one person’s business. For every yard I entered and talked to people, some of them would leave what they were doing and go vote,” he said.
Kamara added: “If it causes me to pass around the whole day, I will do it because the election is everyone’s business. If you want better healthcare, if you want a good education, please come out to vote because we don’t want you, after the process, to not vote and then try to shift blame.”
Source: Frontpage Africa