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Outside Monitors Say Liberia Unprepared for Elections


Monitors and outside observers say Liberia is going into the October 11 presidential and parliamentary elections unprepared. The observers have expressed serious misgivings about security and openness ahead of the polls.

About two years after former-rebel-turned president Charles Taylor was forced into exile in Nigeria, Liberians are experiencing a vibrant electoral season, with more than 20 presidential candidates to choose from and over 1,000 candidates seeking a seat in parliament.

U.S. election monitors say they have concerns over plans to guarantee security at the polling places, specifically coordination between Liberian police and the 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers on the ground.

The National Democratic Institute and the Carter Center are also worried that Liberia's National Election Commission has not clearly outlined how it will deal with complaints and the announcement of results.

A U.S.-based Liberian activist, Bodioh Siapoe, who runs an Internet radio service called "Radio Free Liberia," says preparations have been insufficient.

"Our citizens have yet to focus on reestablishing security, holding constitutional conventions, organizing real political parties, restructuring administrative bodies and bringing the military under civilian control. None of these have really been done yet and we're rushing into elections," said Siapoe.

George Fahnbulleh, another U.S.-based Liberian activist, expresses his views in Internet chat rooms and says there has been a lack of transparency in applying election rules. He says the current front-runner and former soccer star, George Weah, may have adopted French citizenship during his playing career and may not even qualify.

French diplomats in West Africa have confirmed Mr. Weah approached them to revoke his French citizenship so he could be a candidate.

But Mr. Fahnbulleh says when the issue arose in Liberia, Mr. Weah's candidacy was accepted without questions.

"The law says everybody who takes a second nationality automatically loses their Liberian citizenship," Fahnbulleh said. "You are no longer a Liberian when that happens. Whether or not I agree with the law is immaterial at this point. It is the law," he said. "The problem in Africa, constantly with regards to governance, has always been that the laws are not followed through. How do you make a distinction that you're going to apply some laws and you're not going to apply others? The very definition of rule of law says that the laws that you have on the books you agree to follow. So making these compromises will eventually lead us down the road where we're going to have a crisis again," Fahnbulleh said.

Mr. Fahnbulleh says when the problem of Mr. Weah's citizenship was raised, his supporters threw gasoline bombs at the cars of election commission members. He says there is an atmosphere of intimidation surrounding the upcoming elections.

"We're coming out of a devastating civil war and democracy has not yet taken hold," said Fahnbulleh. "People don't understand the whole concept of having an opposite view and not being enemies," he said.

Other concerns are that Mr. Taylor, who was accused of running Liberia like a personal fiefdom, has been interfering in the elections by giving money to most candidates to buy his immunity.

It is expected the next Liberian president will decide whether Mr. Taylor, who says he is innocent of any wrongdoing, should face charges in Liberia or should be handed over to the special war crimes court in Sierra Leone, to face charges there of backing rebels.

In addition, one of the leading presidential candidates, Varney Sherman, is facing accusations of corruptions in his dealings with transitional leader Gyude Bryant. Both have denied any wrongdoing.

Despite what he calls all "these dark clouds, dangers and imperfections," Radio Free Liberia founder, Bodioh Siapoe, says it is a time of hope for Liberia.

"This time around we are hoping there will actually be free, fair and transparent elections in the country because Liberians are sick and tired of war," said Bodioh Siapoe. "If the right person is not elected there's bound to be confusion, there's bound to be more wars in our country and no one wants that. If we want peace, we have to learn how to fight for justice," he said.

Observers agree the stakes for Liberia and West Africa are high. A Brussels independent research institution has warned Liberia could drag the unstable Mano River Basin region, including Sierra Leone and Guinea, back into war, if this election does not succeed to create a legitimate government.

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