ULAA welcomes voting rights for Liberians in the Diaspora

Anthony V.Kesselly
Source: Running Africa

The Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) says it welcomes any and all efforts geared towards getting all Liberians including those in the Diaspora to participate in the economic and political decision making process of the country. “We see this as a very welcome move and ULAA will apply whatever weight is needed.”

The statement was made over the weekend by the President of ULAA Mr. Anthony V.Kesselly when he spoke in an exclusive interview with WRAR-96 Internet Radio/Running Africa from his headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Mr. Kesselly was responding to a legislative endeavor by Lofa County and the opposition Liberty Party’s Representative Eugene Fallah Kparkar aimed at affording Liberians in the Diaspora an opportunity to vote in the upcoming General and Presidential elections in 2011.

Representative Kparkar argues that Liberians in the Diaspora are making significant contribution to the development of Liberia and cites Article 77-B of the Liberian Constitution as the basis for his proposed bill..

“All elections shall be by secret ballot as may be determined by the Elections Commission, and every Liberian citizen not less than 18 years of age, shall have the right to be registered as a voter and to vote in public elections and referenda under this Constitution…”

However, in the Liberian lawmaker has not specifically addressed reconciling the prior Article 77-B with Article 80c of the Constitution which states that “Every Liberian citizen shall have the right to be registered in a constituency of either his Liberian origin or residence, and have the right to vote in public elections only in the constituency where registered, either in person or by absentee ballot; provided that such citizen shall have a right to change his voting constituency only once in every ten years and must have been a resident in the constituency not less than one year.”

Elections scholars argue about the intent of this clause of the Liberia Constitution indicating that in order to address this “vagary” a Constitutional Amendment may be needed.

The ULAA boss says his leadership has articulated their support for the proposed bill for a while now including their stated position at an All Liberian Conference held in 2005 in the USA, adding, “since prior to the 2005 General and Presidential elections in Liberia, that featured prominently on the agenda.”

As part of his visit to Liberia in June, 2009 Mr. Kesselly disclosed that he lobbied for support for such a proposed bill to “enfranchise” Liberians in the Diaspora vote along with the twin issue of dual citizenship for Liberians.

ULAA is the umbrella organization of various Liberian Associations in the US, Canada and Europe and is a voluntary, non-profit and non-governmental organization formed on July 4,1974 in Philadelphia, PA USA. The mission of ULAA is to advance the just causes of Liberians at home and abroad.

Asked about the level of support of member organizations of ULAA for this initiative. Mr. Kesselly said at the last General Assembly of the ULAA in Atlanta, GA , member organizations including delegates from Conference of Liberian Organizations in the Southwestern US (COLUSUS), Canada and Europe embraced the idea. “The Union is unanimous on this issue. Right now, Liberians in the Diaspora only participate in the life of the country by sending money through Western Union,” he said.

On the issue of dual citizenship which is before the Liberian Senate’s Judiciary Committee for public hearing, Mr. Kesselly who referred to the initiative as the “twin sister” said ULAA is also seriously supporting the passage of such a bill.

As part of its support for dual citizenship, he disclosed that his leadership has been working with international partners including successive meetings with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and others. ‘We want to involve international partners and organizations that will help us with their ideas” he further asserted.

He, however, admitted that ULAA is aware of the various issues involved with the passage of dual citizenship but said the umbrella organization is working to conscientize and educate Liberians on the benefit of passing such an initiative.

Asked about what the current Liberian Administration is asking of ULAA, given the sometimes acrimonious and tense relationship the organization has had with prior Administrations in the last thirty years, Mr. Kesselly defended the “approaches” undertaken by prior ULAA administrations with reference to its advocacy for, accountability, democratic rule, press freedom and protection of human rights in Liberia.

” But several years ago, given the demographic changes occasioned by the civil war, the dramatic change in the.quantity and quality of Liberians who are present in the Diaspora, specifically the United States, ULAA started moving towards balancing its approach between advocacy and service delivery. And since then, with the holding of democratic free and fair elections of a government that is accountable to the people, ULAA had to reshape itself to be able to be participatory.”

The ULAA President says his organization and the Government are Liberia are exploring ways in which they can both work constructively in the Diaspora and Liberia itself in a frank manner.

Mr. Kesselly said that ULAA is generally satisfied with preparations for the upcoming General and Presidential elections in Liberia but said there is room for improvement adding, “we are generally following the course of preparation and we know that its is not a perfect situation.”

Given the view held in some quarters that ULAA which was one headed by indicted by insurgent leader, ex-Liberia President and indicted war criminal Charles Taylor that the U.S. based organization was “responsible for the war in Liberia”, Mr. Kesselly went to length to disabuse such views and added that “ULAA has been very cautious in accommodating incremental progress in Liberia; not to agitate too much such that we go back to the position that leads the country back to chaos and ULAA is again blamed.”

The ULAA leadership has meanwhile expressed its appreciation to Representative Eugene Kparkar for his initiative to “enfranchise:’ Liberians in the Diaspora to vote the next Presidential and General Elections.

By Emmanuel Abalo
Philadelphia, PA


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