Monrovia, Liberia – Liberia is in the thick of uncertainty after its Supreme Court ruled in November that a presidential run-off vote cannot proceed until a complaint of fraud and irregularities in the first round has been investigated.
An investigation has been completed by the National Elections Commission (NEC) as per constitutional rules. The Supreme Court is now hearing an appeal lodged by the Liberty Party and the Unity Party against the outcome of the NEC’s investigation.
A ruling is expected Thursday.
The vote, which had a first round in October, was expected to result in the first peaceful handover of power from one democratically elected leader to another in 73 years.
Sahr Michel runs a hardware business in Monrovia’s Clara Town slum.
“Let the country go ahead,” he says, a large Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) poster taped to the door of his kiosk. “People are not coming by my shop because they are scared. They are only coming to fix small things in their homes. They know that confusion can break us.”
Sahr is talking about Liberia’s civil war, which ran from 1989 to 2003 and killed around 250,000 people.
We Liberians have been in war for so many years and have suffered a lot. So when things like this are going on, we worry about this country.
The uncertainty is also affecting larger scale business in the country as investors wait to see the outcome of the election. Outgoing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has said that “our economy is under stress” as a result of the delay.
In rural Buutuo in Nimba County, where the former Liberian rebel leader-turned-president Charles Taylor led fighters over the border from Ivory Coast to overthrow Samuel Doe – thus starting the Civil War, the memories have yet to fade.
Muttes Maimen sells handmade soap and dry goods at Buutuo’s weekly market.
“We Liberians have been in war for so many years and have suffered a lot. So when things like this are going on, we worry about this country. We pray for God to intervene for us,” she said when asked about the current impasse.
A run-off was originally scheduled for November 7 between former international footballer George Weah of the CDC and Vice President Joseph Boakai of the ruling Unity Party, who ranked first and second respectively in the October polls.
A new date has yet to be set and the third-placed Liberty Party, which filed the complaint of electoral fraud before taking the case to the Supreme Court, is calling for a re-run of the first round as well as the recusal of the electoral commissioners.
The Unity Party has joined the Liberty Party’s complaint which also has the support of two parties whose presidential candidates did not secure enough votes to reach the run-off.
There were some lapses which every election will have, but does it call for a re-run of the entire process? I say no.
Jewel Howard-Taylor, Weah’s running mate and Taylor’s ex-wife, was not impressed.
“I wish I had an explanation for why the Supreme Court acted in the way it did,” she told Al Jazeera, referring to the Supreme Court’s decision on on November 6 prevent the second round from going ahead while the NEC’s investigation was under way.
“The laws were not intended at any point in time for a hold to be put on the electoral process and do not provide for a political vacuum. We see the system being dragged and the worst case scenario is that we could go into a constitutional crisis.”
On alleged electoral fraud, Howard-Taylor said: “There may have been a few problems here and there but if the international [observers] … did not see what the Liberty Party is talking about, why should one person who came in a distant third hold up this entire process? There were some lapses which every election will have, but does it call for a re-run of the entire process? I say no.”
Sirleaf remained quiet throughout the electoral campaign period.
She broke her silence, however, to refute allegations that she had interfered in the election, calling them “completely baseless, and … an unfortunate attempt by agent provocateurs to undermine Liberia’s democratic process”.
The investigation by the National Elections Commission concluded that irregularities did not affect the outcome of the first round.
President Sirleaf has made it clear that she wishes to hand over power to a democratically elected president when her time in office comes to an end on January 15. Should the electoral process not be completed by then she would be required to hand over to a transitional government, placing a severe dampener on her legacy.
Speaking recently at a lively pro-CDC meeting in New Kru Town on the outskirts of Monrovia, Jewel Howard-Taylor was adamant that it should not be allowed to reach this stage.
“We will not accept an interim arrangement … People suggesting an interim government are the ones who do not love Liberia,” she said, to cheers.
One thing is for sure: the vast majority of Liberians are desperate to ensure the preservation of peace and all political leaders are continuing to stress their commitment to this.
Mary Lato, superintendent of Buutuo market who voted for Boakai in the first round and remembers the horrors of the civil war all too well, said: “If they go through the case and the Liberty Party wins, it’s OK. If the other party wins, it’s OK. I only want peace in this country.”