In a Democracy election imposes great responsibility upon the individual voter, as well as those who serve in the capacity of organizers, overseers and sponsors. Many have given life, limb and fortunes that we may have the opportunity to be heard, counted and recognized as persons of substance, regardless of birth, economic standing or social status. So whether one is an ordinary voter or a candidate for high office, it must be understood that in an election decisions at every level are bound to impact the lives not only of contemporaries, but also that of generations yet unborn. To the one who votes; know that it is a test of your character, values and conviction.
As a Presidential aspirant, I am excited Liberians soon will have the opportunity to yet again choose the men and women who will lead our nation! However, I am deeply concerned that the entire election process may not in any way alter the course of events, nor will it lead to improvements in living conditions for the majority if we do not address a number of issues before going to the polls. Topping the list are the following: Screening of Candidates; Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report; and, Funding the Opposition.
Screening of Candidates
The internationally supervised elections of 1997 were supposed to usher in lasting peace following the long brutal war that saw more than a dozen failed peace accords and the massacre of tens of thousands unarmed civilians. But this did not happen; simply, because no one – not even the international partners that funded the election – felt it necessary to screen the candidates as a means of protecting the embattled population.
Knowing full well the warlords and their co-conspirators had perpetrated unspeakable atrocities against the citizenry; the international partners allowed them to participate in the election. In the highly charged atmosphere where warring factions were heavily armed, holding on to their respective enclaves; Liberians were told to vote without any guarantees of protection in the aftermath. As would be expected, they voted overwhelmingly for the most vicious warlord, and he was declared President. Within two years of his election the regional peacekeeping force (the people’s only security blanket) had been driven out and the nation again was at war.
Peace eventually was restored to Liberia in 2003 following the indictment of the warlord President, ironically, for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the neighboring country of Sierra Leone. This brought to an end the disaster created by the poorly planned elections of 1997.
Without taking into account errors of the 1997election, the international partners again in 2005 funded and supervised Legislative and Presidential elections that yielded the exact results in terms of the final outcome. Since the dreaded warlords and their co-conspirators were not prevented from participating, the founder of the most vicious warring faction became President, while others known to have committed heinous crimes were also seated as Legislators.
Arguably, the reason Liberia has not yet returned to war since 2005 is due in large part to the presence of United Nations Troops on the ground. And though the international community has sponsored two major elections and a transitional government within the past 13 years; Liberia, according to the UN Secretary General, is still a fragile state. Perhaps it’s time we revisit the recovery agenda.
To prevent yet another false start and ensure that the era of war has finally ended, no one connected with the 14-year carnage should be permitted to seek elected office without a thorough background investigation. The international partners must not continue to raise the hopes of the Liberian people by funding elections without giving consideration to the realities at hand. Liberians in general live in constant fear of the warlords and their co-conspirators and they will not confront them. It will take more than elections to address the problem.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission‘s report – an invaluable tool for nation building – has been hijacked by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. This is a clear indication of her intention to hold on to power by any means necessary, even if it causes a return to violence. In light of this behavior, is it possible to have transparent elections where Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the incumbent, the overseer, and a war crime suspect? What is there to believe the process will be fair and transparent?
Madam Sirleaf has claimed consistently that she had no role in the war that maimed and killed more than 300,000 Liberians and destroyed the country’s entire infrastructure. Yet she refuses to deal with issues of Healing and Reconciliation that are critical to stabilizing the nation. And knowing it is widely believed she was the mastermind behind the 15-year carnage, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will not recuse herself from the reconciliation process. Rather, she has used the Presidency to strangle the TRC report, again placing the entire nation at risk.
There is no doubt integrity of the 2011 Presidential election will be seriously compromised with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the race while the TRC issue remains unresolved. Please note the Truth Commission has recommended, based upon review of the evidence, that Madam Sirleaf not hold public office for a period of 30 years. Steps, therefore, must be taken now to address this issue so confidence may be restored to the electoral process. Liberia cannot afford yet again another disputed election.
Funding for the Opposition
As we prepare for next year’s historic election, there are questions for which we must seek answers: 1. Will results of the 2011 elections be credible if only Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s party is financially capable of conducting an effective national campaign? 2. Will investment in the 2011 election serve its purpose should the very individuals who destroyed the country return to power once again because the opposition is under funded? 3. Will the results of such an election truly reflect aspirations of the Liberian people? 4. Is it possible an election lacking credibility could end violence in Liberia?
These are issues the Loyal Opposition will be discussing with the international partners that are currently investing Millions of Dollars into the electoral process. Because political fundraising in Liberia is nonexistent, due to high unemployment and extreme poverty. Therefore, under the prevailing circumstances, only Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s ruling party has access to money, as custodian of the national coffers and sole negotiator of all commercial contracts. It is no secret the opposition has no reliable source of income and, therefore, cannot compete effectively against the ruling party. Together we must find a practical solution to leveling the playing field.
If Liberia’s nascent multiparty democracy is to survive, the international partners must address the issue of campaign finance as it relates to the current depressed economic environment. Money must be provided for the opposition in order to create balance and fair play; otherwise, the incumbent is certain to prevail. Even with the formation of a single unified opposition, the lack of funds will continue to be a major handicap; because merger in and of itself is not the remedy. The merging of ten political parties, as an example, which individually has no money will in no way ensure financial viability for the newly created entity.
Without proper funding for the opposition, results of the 2011 elections will not reflect the collective will of the people, especially where candidates that have money are generally individuals who have pillaged the nation’s resources and dehumanized the population.
I would like to conclude by saying Liberians no doubt are excited about the upcoming election. Personally, as a Presidential aspirant, I also am looking forward to a vibrant contest that will usher in lasting peace, security, and raise the living standards of the Liberian people. However, lessons of the recent past must be heeded in order to end the era of violence which continues to plague this nation.
Under no circumstance must warlords and their co-conspirators dominate the 2011 elections. The TRC Report is an invaluable resource for determining the best way forward; therefore it must not be ignored to the detriment of the larger population. Also, the issue of funding for opposition parties must be addressed so that the final results of the election may reflect the will of the Liberian people. Otherwise, there is no need for yet another election where fear, intimidation and poverty are the determining factors, as witnessed previously.
The Author: T. Q. Harris, Jr. is a member of the Free Democratic Party (of Liberia). He is expected to be a Presidential candidate in the 2011 Election. Mr. Harris in 1997 was the Vice Presidential nominee of his Party. He’s currently the Chairman of Liberian Contemp UPS. For more information: http://www.tqharrisforpresident.com; http://www.friendsoftq.org; firstname.lastname@example.org; and Phone: (562) 256-4271