The Chairman of Liberia’s National Elections Commission (NEC) says both houses of Liberia’s legislature have told his commission to hold next month’s special senatorial election as scheduled.
Jerome Kokoya said he had written the legislature asking for a postponement of the October 9 election to December this year, saying his commission could not hold a free, fair, and credible election because of the ongoing deadly Ebola crisis.
Liberia has been under a state of emergency since August, closed its borders and schools, quarantined some communities, and placed all non-essential government workers on compulsory leave because of Ebola.
The country’s Constitution mandates the holding of elections on the second Tuesday of October.
Kokoya said some legislators expressed concern that not having the elections could create a constitutional crisis even bigger than Ebola.
“They have decided that we must hold elections. The question they are working on now is the technical side of it. The Judiciary Committees of both the House of Representatives and the Senate were meeting, and we were told by the Speaker that by early next week, we’re going to have some information from the with respect to the date. Like us, they too want election to go on this year so as to avoid any serious constitutional issues comes January,” he said.
Kokoya said his commission hopes to begin publishing the final listing of candidates by next week.
“It was not prudence to have election on the date on which it was originally scheduled. As elections commission, we are not only required to just put ballot boxes around and people will vote. We are required to conduct free, fair, and credible election. That means people have to be free to make selections, to move around, engage their candidates, and supporters. We could not do all of those under this situation of fear and emotional confusion,” Kokoya added.
He said the commission would face many challenges under the current Ebola crisis, including low voter turnout, which could further undermine the credibility of the vote.
“The greatest challenge is if we don’t hold the election. I think that will be the talk of more complex issues than if we were to go for the election this year,” Kokoya said.
He said with most of the electoral materials still to be brought into the country, the suspension of flights due to Ebola could make the special election even more expensive.
He also said that in the Ebola environment of fear and emotional confusion voter turnout could be “very low”, thereby further undermining the credibility of the election.
Kokoya appealed to Liberian voters to be understanding and strong in the midst of the Ebola crisis and exercise their right to vote.
“You have to first make them to believe that while the Ebola is a very, very dangerous disease that has engulfed our country, the worst attack we could have would be to lose our democratic governance based on civil liberties and the rule of law. So because of that we ask them to be strong in the midst of all these difficulties to go the poll and elect a new senate,” Kokoya said.