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Liberia Discusses Special Senatorial Election Amid Ebola Crisis

Health workers carry load the body of a woman that they suspect died from the Ebola virus, onto a truck in front of a makeshift shop in an area known as Clara Town in Monrovia, Liberia, Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014.

The chairman of Liberia’s National Elections Commission says consultations are continuing on the timing of this year’s special senatorial election, which the constitution says must be held on the second Tuesday in October.

Chairman Jerome Kokoya said he wrote both houses of the legislature suggesting an adjustment be made to the October 14 date because of the ongoing -- and deadly -- Ebola crisis.

Liberia has been under a state of emergency since August. It has closed its borders and schools, quarantined some communities, and placed all non-essential government workers on compulsory leave to help halt the spread of the disease.

Kokoya said some legislators expressed concern that not having the elections at all could create a constitutional crisis.

“They have decided that we must hold elections. The question they are working on now is the technical side of it. The Judiciary Committees of both the House of Representatives and the Senate were meeting, and we were told by the Speaker that by early next week, we’re going to have some information from them with respect to the date. Like us, they too want the election to go on this year so as to avoid any serious constitutional issues come January,” he said.

Newly elected senators and representatives are supposed to be seated when the legislature resumes at the start of the new year.

Kokoya said his commission hopes to begin publishing the final listing of candidates by next week.

He said NEC had suggested an adjustment be made in the October 14 date because in the current Ebola climate, the commission could not hold a free, fair, and credible election.

“It was not prudent to have the election on the date on which it was originally scheduled. As the elections commission, we are not only required to just put ballot boxes around, and people will vote. We are required to conduct free, fair, and credible elections. That means people have to be free to make selections, to move around, engage their candidates and supporters. We could not do all of those under this situation of fear and emotional confusion,” Kokoya said.

He said the commission would face many challenges under the current Ebola emergency, including low voter turnout, which could further undermine the credibility of the vote.

“The greatest challenge is if we don’t hold the election. I think that will [lead to] talk of more complex issues,” Kokoya said.

He said most of the electoral materials still have to be brought into the country, and the suspension of flights due to Ebola could make the special election even more expensive.

Kokoya appealed to Liberian voters to be understanding and strong in the midst of the crisis but at the same time to exercise their right to vote.

“You have to first make them to believe that while Ebola is a very, very dangerous disease that has engulfed our country, the worst attack we could have would be to lose our democratic governance based on civil liberties and the rule of law. So because of that, we ask them to be strong in the midst of all these difficulties [and] to go the poll and elect a new senate,” Kokoya said.

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