|A man holds a voter registration message in the Northern town of Voinjama, Liberia - File Photo|
Saturday marked the last day for Liberians living in the country to register to vote in the first elections since President Charles Taylor fled in 2003 ending 14 years of civil
war. Elections officials are calling the registration drive a success, but some Liberians say the time allowed has been too short.
Officials from the National Elections Commission say that after the last day of the voter registration period, more than one million Liberians will now be able to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for October 11.
The process began on April 25. More than 1,000 voter registration offices were set up across the country.
Before registration began, officials estimated the total number of Liberians eligible to vote at around 1.5 million. The closing figure on Saturday means that nearly one third of those have not come forward.
Liberian journalist Samuel Pergaud visited registration centers in the capital Monrovia, where some people waited in long lines to add their names to voter lists. He says some
people found it difficult to register before the deadline. "A lot of people are going to the places to put their name down, because today is the last day and they have the problem even to reach the centers. For instance, with a lot of people, they went to the center, they wanted to put their names down, but they couldn't find anyone [there]," he said.
One man at a registration center in Monrovia says he believes, though things may have gone smoothly in the capital, Liberia's battered infrastructure means the process in remote parts of the country is much more challenging. "The electoral process for this country is fine. The Liberians should be given the right to choose who to elect. But most of the Liberians don't have the opportunity to register. Monrovia is not Liberia," he said.
In an effort to include more people in the election process later this year, some lawmakers in Liberia's transitional government had pushed for and extension to the deadline.
But the head of the National Elections Commission, Frances Johnson-Morris says registration has already been successful compared with previous years. And she says an extension of the deadline is not something that is permitted by the nation's constitution and peace agreement. "I think the process went very well. We're impressed by the figures. We have a process that is governed by certain things. We have legal constraints as well as material constraints," she said.
The October elections will choose a new president to replace current interim head Gyude Bryant and a new legislative body to take the place of the caretaker government that was set up under the peace agreement that ended fighting two years ago.
Refugees returning home from abroad have been granted an additional two weeks to register to vote in the polls.