News / Africa

Liberia Sets Voter Registration for 2011 Presidential Election

Liberia is scheduling voter registration ahead of next year's presidential election. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is running for re-election and is expected to face a repeat of her 2005 challenge from former FIFA World Footballer of the Year George Weah.

Liberian Electoral Commission Chairman James Fromoyan says voter registration, or V.R., is the first indicator of how prepared Liberians are for next year's election.

"A successful V.R. is crucial because it will be a mirror through which the rest of the electoral process will be gauged. It will be transparent, simple, easily-accessible, and scrupulously carried out so as to avoid the inclusion of foreigners and minors," he said.

Fromoyan says it is up to Liberians to actively take part in this registration so the resulting voter rolls will be accepted by everyone.

"The only way this can be achieved is for all Liberians at 18 years or above to participate from January 10 to February 6, 2011 to claim a collective ownership," he said. "When this is done, we all will be proud of the final registration roll that represents the wishes of eligible voters."

Launching her re-election bid, President Sirleaf said she will be a "formidable candidate." Since 2005, her Unity Party has formed an alliance with the All Coalition Party of Liberia. In a repeat of the 2005 vote, she is expected to face a challenge from George Weah. His Congress for Democratic Change party is part of a coalition that includes former president Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Party.

There are several significant changes from the 2005 vote, most notably the disenfranchisement of Liberians outside the country.

"Since 2005, many Liberians have returned to this country. And our law does not allow people in the diaspora outside the country to register," said Bobby Livingstone, the Electoral Commission's communications director. "If you want to register to be included in what we call the final registration roll, or the FRR, you must be at home."

Voter Mariama Massaquoi says four weeks of voter registration are not enough.

"The time is very, very short. My own wish is for more time to be added because it is not easy. The weather is poor," Massaquoi said. "Most people do not even know whether there is an election coming up at this time."

Voter Robert Vesay, Jr. says it is a good start to the electoral process but agrees the timetable for voter registration should be extended to two or three months. "I feel that the time will be short for the process because Liberia is not only Monrovia. We have got other people outside of Monrovia in the counties," he said. "And when you look at road conditions in the rural counties, to get them may be difficult."

Voter Aldous Philip Bunow worries about how the electoral commission will prevent foreigners from registering to vote.

"When you look in the streets, most of these motorcyclists they are not Liberians. But if you ask them, they say, 'I am a Liberian. I am a Liberian.' So that is my worry," he admitted.

The electoral commission says it understands the need to ensure that only Liberians register for this vote, especially with so many people from Sierra Leone living in Liberia. Conversely, Liberians living in Sierra Leone are petitioning the electoral commission to allow them to register to vote outside the country, much as Guinea allowed Guineans living in Sierra Leone to take part in this year's presidential vote to end military rule.

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