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Liberia's Ruling Party Denies 'Connections' to Elections Commission

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Unity Party chairman Varney Sherman says suggestions of any connection to the elections commission are intended to smear the party

The chairman of Liberia’s ruling Unity Party (UP), Varney Sherman, denied the party has “connections” with the independent National Elections Commission (NEC).

The denial followed an article in the online version of FrontPage Africa which reported that a U.S.-based campaign strategist identified as Larry Gibson warned the party in an analysis that its chances in the October “elections will be a tall order and we should not take any chances. We have to keep our connections at NEC.”

While admitting Gibson contributed to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s election in 2005, Sherman said the party did not hire him for this year’s election.

“The fact of the matter is that Mr. Larry Gibson, who is alleged to have conducted some polls and made what he calls a first-round analysis, does not work for the Unity Party, [is] not employed by the Unity Party, not by the party as itself or any functionary or organ of the party. I’ve talked to the president of Liberia; she knows Mr. Larry Gibson, but she never contacted the services of Mr. Larry Gibson,” he said.

Sherman said he was told that some information might have been presented to Elva Richardson, assistant to the president. But, he said Richardson has indicated she did not receive any information.

“It is my information that he (Gibson) sent this first round analysis to Mrs. Elva Richardson, who is executive assistant to the president of Liberia. But, we’ve inquired of Mrs. Richardson, [and] she said has not received such information,” Sherman said.

He also said he has been told that Gibson did contribute to the election of President Sirleaf in 2005 (when he, Sherman, was not with the Unity Party) but not this year’s election.

“It is also my information that sometime in 2005 Mr. Gibson was brought in by some persons who were in the inner circle of the Unity Party then and offered services for pay to conduct polls. In 2011, I think the earlier part of 2011 or sometime late 2010, he was back in Liberia again and offered his services and this time President Sirleaf rejected his services,” he said.

Sources said the party, or the government, offered as much as $200,000 to Rodney Sieh, editor and publisher of FrontPage Africa, to remove the article from his website and to not run it in the publication’s Monday print edition.

Sherman said his party did not offer money to Sieh to remove the article from his website.

“We did not do that; I know about the article and I did not do that, and nobody from our party has done that. Why would somebody from our party do something like that? Many people, many Liberians, those who read the newspapers also go on the Internet every day. They read the FrontPage the day before it comes out. Now, it is already out on the Internet. Why would somebody pay him not to print it?” Sherman said.

In the article, Gibson is quoted as saying “this election will be a ‘tall order’ and we should not take any chances. We have to keep our connections at NEC” (National Elections Commission).

Sherman said the ruling party has no connections at the National Elections Commission.

“It is not true that we have any connections in the National Election Commission. This is a small country called the Republic of Liberia. Many of the members of the Elections Commission are people we knew before they became members of the National Elections Commission. That’s the extent of our relationship. The fact that a lawyer and I practice law before he ascended to the Supreme Court of Liberia does not mean that I have a connection with him,” Sherman said.

He said suggestions of the ruling party having connections with members of the commission are intended to smear the party.

“These kind of things are said perhaps to malign [the] Unity Party, to make us look bad or to set the stage so that tomorrow after we have won on the first ballot, somebody will say, ‘Wait a minute! This is not fair; this is not transparent; the election is fraudulent because some Larry Gibson had a poll back then that said ABCD,’” Sherman said.

Sherman said, even though President Sirleaf enjoys the power of incumbency, the Unity Party is working hard to win the October elections on the first ballot.

Gibson was not immediately available for comment.