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Liberian Voters Reject Proposed Referendum

Liberian voters have rejected four proposed changes to the constitution, including one that would have delayed next month's presidential poll.

Liberian lawmakers had proposed moving national elections back one month, from October 11 to November 8, to avoid the country's rainy season.

But the electoral commission announced Wednesday that voters rejected that proposed delay along with three other changes to the constitution in last week's referendum. None of the proposed amendments won the two-thirds majority needed to pass.

The outcome is seen as a victory for the top opposition party, the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), which called for a boycott of the referendum.

CDC official Steve Cooper said the process was flawed. "We saw the need for our members to stay away from the process. We don't trust the process. We don't trust the National Elections Commission authorities," Cooper stated. "That is why we keep calling for a change in the leadership of the National Elections Commission. We have no regrets in telling our people to boycott the referendum. We are happy that Liberians were able to say no to all of the proposed changes."

Opposition leaders argued that certain provisions were designed to favor the ruling Unity Party, which supported all four reforms.

The most controversial amendment would have cut the number of consecutive years a presidential candidate must have resided in Liberia from 10 to five. Opponents of that measure argued it would split the opposition vote by increasing the number of candidates and make it easier for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to win re-election.

Failure to pass this change could now mean that some would-be candidates are ineligible to run.

The other proposed constitutional changes would have increased the retirement age of Supreme Court judges and eliminated expensive run-off votes in legislative polls.

The electoral commission said only 34.2 percent of registered voters turned out for the referendum, and that approximately 13 percent of ballots were deemed invalid for each proposed amendment.

The electoral commission blamed poor roads and logistical challenges for low voter turnout.

However, problems with the referendum, including a printing error on the ballots for one provision, have prompted concern as to whether the electoral commission is up to the task of organizing the general elections in October.

The polls will be the country's second since 14 years of civil unrest and war ended in 2003.