One of the presidential candidates in Liberia’s October elections says he does not think the National Elections Commission (NEC) has the competence or objectivity to conduct the poll. Charles Brumskine of the opposition Liberty Party says he has taken the commission to court because of its makeup.
Elections Commissions Chairman James Fromayan says Brumskine and other candidates should spend more time nationwide courting voters who, he says, are going to make the ultimate decision in the election rather than criticize the commission's composition.
Brumskine says the commission has shown favoritism in the past toward the ruling Unity Party.
“We do not believe that the elections commission as constituted has the requisite competence or objectivity to preside over this most critical election in Liberia. As you may know, the Liberty Party has already taken the commission to court on its composition. The law provides for five commissioners; we have seven commissioners,” he says.
Brumskine says the commission has, at times, shown bias against the Liberty Party in favor of the ruling Unity Party.
“For example, [the] Unity Party had a convention in October of 2010 in Monrovia. There was no comment, no outburst on the part of the elections commission. When Liberty Party had its convention in January of this year in the city of Gbarnga, Bong County, the commission’s chairman was on the media threatening to bar the party from taking part in elections and banning myself and others. This is a man who certainly can preside over the elections,” Brumskine says.
But, Fromayan says the composition of the commission is a matter of statute, not the constitution.
“Counselor Brumskine is a lawyer, and I’m glad that he said he went to court with respect to the composition of the commission. In the first place, the composition of the commission is not determined by the constitution of Liberia, but by statute,” Fromayan said.
He says the statute changing the number of commissioners from five to seven was enacted during the administration of former Liberian President Charles Taylor.
“There was a time when the membership of the commission was five commissioners with a chairperson and a deputy chair. In 2002, I believe, under Charles Taylor, a request was made by Mr. Taylor to the legislature to the effect that the composition of the commission should be increased from five to seven,” Fromayan says.
Fromayan says, rather than criticize his commission’s composition, Brumskine and other candidates should spend more time nationwide courting voters who, he says, are going to determine the outcome of the elections.
Results from the voter registration for this year’s election show the elections commission failed to achieve its projected estimate of 2.1 million voters.
Brumskine says the low voter registration was the result of voter apathy.
“We intend to do a sampling of those names that are on the registrar list to make sure that those are people who actually registered because we are aware that the voters’ apathy in Liberia is extremely low, and that would account for people not turning out to vote,” Brumskine says.
He disagrees that the apathy could be the result of the disenchantment of the voters with the apparent lack of viable opposition candidates.
Brumskine says voter apathy is the result of the failure of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to provide the leadership that Liberians have been yearning for after 14 years of civil war.
“I think it’s more so with regards to the incumbent. Remember, we come from 14 years of civil war, several interim governments, and Liberians have been looking for leadership that will move us from where we had been unto a new plain, but they don’t see it. The only reason why someone like me remains a viable candidate, I believe, is because Liberians are still looking for leadership. So, it is more so that they are so displeased and dissatisfied over the fact that their plight has not changed over the last six years,” Brumskine says.
There have been constant talks among opposition candidates of a possible coalition or merger before the October poll.
Brumskine says those discussions may be more about how the various candidates can work together to face Sirleaf in a possible runoff election.
“The discussions are being held along two lines. One, there are still discussions with political parties and politicians with whom we may all work together to face President Sirleaf in the second round. There are others that we are talking with now that we hope to be able to come together on the second round,” he says.
Citing a recent reported police attack on protesting students in Monrovia, Brumskine says Liberia is gradually slipping back into a situation of a collapse of law and order.