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Voter Registration Low In Liberia

  • Gabi Menezes

People stand in line to register for Liberia's elections, in Monrovia
Liberians continue to register for presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for October. Although registration turnout in Liberia's capital Monrovia has been low, the U.N. refugee agency says displaced Liberians are eagerly registering in camps, in order to vote when they go back to their home counties.

The United Nations expects more than 1.5 million Liberians to register for October elections, but numbers registering in Monrovia were still low. The U.N. spokesman for the Liberia mission, Paul Risley, said he expects an increasing number of people to register throughout the four-week registration period, as they find out about the process.

"Communication and information is one of the greatest challenges faced in Liberia coming out of conflict as it does," he said. "The best way to reach the most people is through radio, but even with radio many people do not have radios, there is no electricity, so even radio is quite difficult to listen to."

But many Liberians believe that neither the interim government nor the United Nations has carried out adequate information campaigns to let people know about the electoral process.

A new election information campaign has begun, which targets the 350,000 Liberian refugees who fled civil war to other West African countries.

A spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees in Liberia, Francesca Fontanini, says the refugee agency began a mass information campaign in Guinea, which will move to Sierra Leone, that explains to Liberian refugees they must go back to Liberia in order to register.

Ms. Fontanini says that returning refugees have been given an extra two weeks to do so.

The UNHCR also looks after more than 300,000 people displaced by fighting in 14 camps within Liberia. These people can register as voters in the camp, but have to return to their home county to vote.

Ms. Fontanini visited a displaced persons camp and said there were long lines of people at the registration center.

"People are eager to register, people are eager to participate in the election and to vote for the new Liberia," she said. "They are really, really excited in the camp with a lot of questions and they really want to know all the proper steps that they have to take to register properly."

At registration each person is given a photo identity card that they will show at election time, and their thumbs are dipped in indelible ink which is meant to last for thirty days, to show they have registered. The October election will be the first to be held in Liberia, after 14 years of conflict that killed more than 200,000 people.