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Liberia Elections: Read Pre-Election Statement, Election Watch Reports

Pre-Election Statement on the 2005 Liberian National Elections, Aug. 28, 2005

In Monrovia, Ashley Barr: + 231 (0)6 452 022
In Atlanta, Jon Moor: + 001-404 420 5107

MONROVIA…A Carter Center staff team conducted an assessment Aug. 11-17, 2005, of electoral conditions at the start of the campaign for Liberia's Oct. 11 elections. The team found that despite enormous logistical challenges and post-conflict conditions, electoral preparedness appears good at this juncture and the prospects for a competitive election seem high. A number of concerns, which should be addressed, were raised about each stage of the process to date. However, there are real prospects at this time that the will of the people may be accurately and peacefully reflected through these elections.

Security remains a concern, and it is encouraging that the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) will have a sustained and strong presence throughout the campaign and election period, assisting Liberian police and other agencies. It is encouraging also that candidates have made clear public statements calling on supporters to campaign in a non-violent and respectful manner. We urge all parties and their followers to conduct themselves in a way that will bring pride to their country and ensure that winners and losers can work together for a better Liberia.

The team's assessment coincided with the final approval of candidates by the NEC and the official beginning of the campaign period on Aug. 15. The team met in Monrovia with senior National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) officials, senior National Election Commission (NEC) officials, UNMIL election leadership, political party representatives, civil society groups, and the international community. Given the number of political parties and candidates, it was impossible to meet with all candidates during this assessment.

Carter Center staff in Monrovia are, however, continuing with such meetings so that all stakeholders are properly consulted. The team consulted with the Carter Center's long-term observers, who have conducted preliminary observation visits to 13 of 15 counties in the past month. We would like to thank all individuals with whom the delegation met for generously sharing their time and insights about the electoral environment.

Consistent with the spirit and intent of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Accords of 2003, and the NEC Guidelines and Code of Conduct for Observers, the Center's international observation activities are intended to provide neutral and accurate reporting to help Liberians determine whether the elections are conducted in a manner acceptable to all. This statement reflects preliminary observations and concerns brought to the attention of the Center's staff and long-term observers.

1. Election Preparedness: The prospects for competitive elections in Liberia are high. Overall, the parties and other stakeholders told us that there is no systematic bias in the preparation or administration for elections and that parties and candidates will be able to compete against one another more openly and securely than in past elections.

A critical element in ensuring the transparency of any election process is the neutrality and professionalism of poll workers. Local NEC officials have, on the whole, performed extremely creditably during the registration and exhibition processes. Shortly, recruitment and training will begin for election day poll workers. It is essential that the county NEC and local UNMIL elections offices cooperate fully and professionally to ensure that local election workers are impartial, familiar with local conditions, fully trained, and have sufficient resources to perform their jobs.

2. Security Concerns: We heard consistently that Liberians do not want a return to violence and that all stakeholders recognize that violence or the threat of violence must not be allowed to influence the election process. Despite some minor acts of violence and intimidation at the start of the campaign - the most serious being the arson of an election commissioner's vehicle - all parties are publicly committed to a campaign free from violence. It is most encouraging that all registered political parties voluntarily have signed an historic "Political Parties' Code of Conduct," aimed at ensuring fair play during the campaign. The code includes enforcement mechanisms that should be fully applied. If there are any further acts of violence during the campaign, it is essential that they be investigated fully by the appropriate law enforcement agencies before accusations are made by politicians or the media regarding who might be responsible.

We welcome UNMIL's commitment to assist the Government of Liberia in providing security on election day to the maximum extent possible. Members of the Liberian National Police and other agencies under the umbrella of the Ministry of Justice are mandated to provide security at all polling places. Liberians will welcome also UNMIL's commitment to deploying mobile forces near all polling places.

3. Political Party Issues: The Carter Center encourages parties and candidates to continue to discuss publicly the issues they judge most relevant to Liberia's future through the publication of platforms and participation in debates.

The team was informed by the political parties that communication with the NEC and compliance with regulations was not always straightforward. We encourage the NEC to continue to strengthen its good efforts to disseminate accurate and timely information to all concerned parties.

The Center strongly welcomed the effort by certain of the political parties to ensure that 30 percent of its candidates were women. Some parties clearly made a strong commitment to this target, while others seemingly did not.

4. Campaign Finance: We were told it is an "open secret" that government resources are being improperly used to support particular parties. These allegations have been strongly denied by both the government and party leaders. Campaign finance regulations now exist, and the NEC requires that all parties and candidates fully comply. Campaign finance disclosures, and any breaches of campaign finance regulations that the NEC may determine, should be brought promptly to the public's attention so voters may have the maximum amount of information possible to make their electoral decisions.

We have been informed that it has been common practice in Liberia in previous elections for candidates to offer potential voters incentives to hear their campaign messages, including preparing meals or offering cash or gifts of rice, cement, or other goods. While these practices are not specifically outlawed in the 2004 Election Reform Law or campaign finance regulations, many Liberians told us that receiving such gifts implies a promise of loyalty, or in an election context, vote buying. The best protection against such efforts to influence voters is the secrecy of the ballot and strong voter education.

5. Election Observation: The team was encouraged that some political parties are focusing seriously on getting their party agents accredited to observe at all polling stations. The parties did note, however, the considerable logistical and financial obstacles to achieving this important goal and requested additional international assistance. Having multiple political party agents present at all polling stations helps guarantee that polling day procedures will be conducted transparently and builds confidence in the election results.

In addition, three coalitions of domestic observers will operate during the election, and domestic observer groups already have issued reports on the registration process and are currently deployed to observe the campaign period. Their participation and presence should be an additional reassurance to Liberians that there will be fair play. Also, a number of international observer groups will be present before and during the elections, including, but not limited to, teams from ECOWAS, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and The Carter Center, International Republican Institute, the European Union, and a number of embassies.

6. Civic Education and Election Day Procedures: Holding elections in countries with high illiteracy rates can pose particular challenges. Because October's election is for president and vice-president, Senate, and House of Representatives, Liberian voters will be voting on three separate color-coded ballots that will be placed in three corresponding color-coded ballot boxes. Each ballot will include a photograph of each candidate, along with his or her name, party name, and party symbol. Given the large number of candidates and the relative complexity of the procedure, we encourage the maximum amount of pre-election civic education for voters so they have the best chance to know how to register accurately their preferences for each office.

7. Sustained International Support: It is important for the international community to continue financial support for all activities that could have impact on the election environment. This includes ensuring that demobilized ex-combatants receive their disbursements and training packages in a timely manner. Also, support to assist internally displaced persons to return to their home counties should be accelerated. Many of them elected to register to vote in their home counties, believing that they would be assisted to return before the election. Under the current arrangement, if they are not able to return, they will not be able to vote. The Center regrets that more policy options were not pursued in order to maximize the participation of refugees in the election.

Read the companion document (PDF):

First Carter Center Pre-Election Report on Liberia National Elections, October 2005
Read Liberia Election Watch

This series of reports is being compiled jointly by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and The Carter Center on Liberia's electoral process. (All reports PDF, posted in descending chronological order.)


A fuller report will be available on the Carter Center's Web site later this week. The Carter Center and NDI jointly will be sending a pre-election delegation to Liberia in the first week in September for a comprehensive pre-election assessment. NDI and The Carter Center are jointly producing a "Liberia Election Watch" newsletter that is available at

The Carter Center is a not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, committed to advancing peace and health worldwide. In Liberia, The Carter Center is supported by the Government of Ireland and USAID. In addition, the Carter Centre U.K. is implementing an electoral assistance program along with Electoral Reform International Services, supported by the European Commission. For more information please visit and

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