- Published on Saturday, 22 September 2012 11:23
- Written by Leo Platvoet
On Wednesday 19th of September 2012 NDI organized a Policy Seminar on Elections Law Reform in Monrovia. Presentations were given by Representative Gabriel Smith, Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor and Josiah Joekai, of the National Elections Commission. In the afternoon the role of political parties in elections laws reform was discussed by Wilmot Paye UP), Nathaniel McGill (CDC), Melee Kermue (NUDP), S. Ciapha Gbollie (NDC) and John D. Gray (NPP).
Special guest was Olufunto Akinduro, from the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), who gave her presentation through a video-call from Johannesburg (South Africa). She highlighted ‘: Suggestions for Liberia.
She addressed the following aspects of the Liberian elections process and made suggestion for improvements, based on best practices from other African countries.
The Board of the National Elections Commission and its Executive Director are currently appointed by the President with consent of the legislature. In a deeply divided society such as Liberia where ethnic and political affiliations are key considerations, it is important that the composition and mode of appointment of the commission should be designed in a manner that would engender trust across these lines of division. Some countries have Elections Commissions that are composed by party and civil society representatives. E.g. The recently reconstituted Malawi Electoral Commission.
Some countries have Commissions recruited through a public process e.g. South Africa where positions are publicly advertised and the recruitment process is open to public inputs.
There is currently no state-funding of parties in Liberia. Though the legal framework provides ceilings on expenditure and empowers NEC to regulate party and campaign finance, it is not clear on the details of how NEC would do this. The framework is however not explicit in its demands on disclosure by parties. It also is not clear on provisions on use of state resources
It is important to note the use of money in politics is central to the creation of a level playing field in an election. In a post-conflict democracy, where access to resources is largely uneven and the state is the main source of resources, it is important to create a platform of equitable access
A number of African countries provide state funding along different lines, some provide an equal amount to all registered parties to support the operations of the party and provide campaign funds in proportion to the number of seats held by parties in parliament. (e.g. Uganda, South Africa)
On the use of state resources, countries such as Uganda have provisions that clarify the use of state resources such as vehicles by officials of the state during campaigns. Though the Ugandan case may not be best practise, Liberia could draw on the need to clarify on the use of state resources during campaigns.
During the 2011 elections, the political deadlock that followed the announcement of the results of the first round and boycott of the runoff elections were unfortunate, but they also draw attention to the need for improvement in consultations and dialogue by NEC.
The electoral commissions of Ghana and Nigeria have developed successful dialogue mechanisms that helped in preventing political deadlock during the 2008 Ghanaian elections and the 2011 Nigerian elections.
The current framework for election dispute resolution provides for NEC as the starting point of complaints and the Judiciary for appeals.
During the 2011 elections, there was a challenge with the timelines provided for announcement of results and the filing and resolution of complaints. A number of observer groups recommended a review of the timelines to provide enough time for complaints to be resolved before the runoff elections. There were also proposals for the setting up of constitutional courts for resolution of disputes
Countries such as South Africa have adopted the use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation for the resolution of election-related conflicts. South Africa also has a Electoral Court responsible for resolution of cases contesting election results and infringement of the code of conduct. These mechanisms have proven to be timely and effective
In the case of Liberia, it is important to note that such changes would require constitutional amendments but on the short term, the NEC could consider the establishment of Conflict Management Panels which would involve parties and CSOs.
The timelines for cases to be filed was reviewed in the 2010 electoral reform process in Nigeria. Liberia could draw lessons from Nigeria’s unfortunate experiences in 2003 and 2007
Following the outcome of the 2011 referendum, a number of constitutional issues remain outstanding e.g. the 10 year residency clause, terms of office of elected officials, an alternative electoral system, etc
There is need to commence a national debate around these issues, especially considerations for an alternative electoral system that would provide for wider representation of parties, women and minorities
Lesotho and South Africa are examples of countries that design an electoral systems to address deep divisions in a post conflict democracy. South Africa adopted a Proportional Representation system and Lesotho a Mixed Member Proportional system.
Uganda and Tanzania, on the other hand, did not adopt a PR system, but developed mechanisms for the election of special groups such as women, youth, persons with disability, trade unions under the First Past The Post system.
In line with the Constitution, constituencies should be defined in line with recent census figures. This was not the case in 2011. In a post-conflict setting like Liberia with an ongoing resettlement process, it is important to consider, over the coming years, the conduct of a national census and the development of a civil registry. This needs not be an expensive undertaking.
Olufunto Akinduro finished her presentation with the following recommendations for the Liberian Legislature:
That relevant committees should commence deliberations with NEC, NEC technical partners and Civil Society Organisations on electoral reform; Set timelines for possible constitutional amendments ahead of the next general elections and work with relevant stakeholders to implement these reforms; Commence grassroots level deliberations on Constitutional and electoral reforms with constituents; Draft a harmonised election legislation taking into consideration the many guidelines and codes of conduct. Such a bill should be drafted with inputs from NEC, the Judiciary, Civil Society Organisations and political parties.
Leo Platvoet is Resident Senior Program Manager Legislative Strengthening
National Democratic Institute for International Affairs