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Liberia Voter Registrations Short of Expectations

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, during the first session of the 3rd Africa-EU Summit in Tripoli, Libya, November 29, 2010 (file photo)

Voter registration for Liberia's October election has ended, with less than half of the population choosing to take part.

Liberia's national electoral commission reports 1.7 million people have registered to vote in this year's presidential and legislative elections. Election officials had originally anticipated 2.1 million registrations.

Electoral commission spokesman, Bobby Livingstone, said bad roads made it difficult to transport materials to remote counties. Election workers, he said, often had to travel on foot to reach potential voters.

"Where the voters are going to register, somebody has to be there to register them," said Livingstone. "So we have to walk there to go and register the people. In some cases, they had to change their operational plan to do mobile registration so they had to walk to some places to register and then come back to the original site."

The country also is preparing for a constitutional referendum on August 23, when voters will decide on four key provisions, including whether the presidential poll should be held in October, as planned, or moved to November.

Livingstone said the idea of a referendum is still new for many Liberians. "We are putting in the basic operational plan and all the different preparations for our awareness strategy and how we intend to translate the whole message of people voting for issues rather than voting for candidates."

This year's presidential poll is the country's second since 2003, which marked the end to 14 years of civil war that killed nearly 150,000 people and sent 850,000 fleeing to neighboring countries.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is running for re-election despite an earlier pledge to step down after one term. She could face as many as a dozen challengers.

Last fall, the U.N. Security Council renewed the mandate of its 9,000-member peacekeeping force in Liberia through the end of September 2011. The U.N. Mission to Liberia helped election officials deliver voter registration materials to remote districts.

As the registration process ended, U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, said Liberia had a reached, what he called, "a critical juncture" in its post-conflict recovery and stressed the importance of credible and peaceful elections to ensuring further stability.

The U.N. chief said the security situation in the country remains fragile, with land and resource disputes, and ethnic tensions continuing to pose significant challenges.