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Liberian Elections:  Will There Be A Level Playing Field? - 2003-01-30

Liberia is scheduled to hold a presidential election in october. Although the vote is eight months away, campaigns and preparations are already gearing up.

When Liberians go to the polls October 14th, they'll decide whether to give incumbent president, Charles Taylor and the National Patriotic Party, another six-year term.

The country's electoral commission has released a timetable for the election, which shows activities began early this month. At the moment, the commission is receiving applications for accreditation of local organizations wanting to conduct civic and voter education campaigns. Officials say every effort is being made to ensure that the timetable is upheld. But some are not so sure. Critics say the necessary conditions to conduct free, fair and transparent elections have not been put in place.

They say the lack of a level playing field is something the government's political opponents are not taking lightly. They are calling for the deployment of a so-called international stabilization force that will ensure that opposition politicians are not intimidated during the four-month campaign period, which commences on June 20th.

Already, several members of the opposition have complained of state security harassment and intimidation. Most of these incidents have been reported outside Monrovia.

Ordinary Liberians are eagerly awaiting the October 14th balloting. A poll conducted on a popular radio talk show put veteran Liberian Lawyer turned politician, Charles Walker Brumskine, far ahead of other presidential hopefuls including incumbent President, Charles Taylor.

Almost all of the callers said Mr. Brumskine can deliver Liberia from its present state of isolation and economic stagnation. Domestic and diplomatic analysts warn that Liberia’s electoral process could be marred by violence. They say mechanisms must be put in place to address rising security threats against the government’s political opponents.