By Mullar P. Pantoe
This marks the beginning of a long march to the presidential and Legislative elections slated for October 10, 2017. Some of the candidates had been in the race before; other will be trying their luck for the first time. It is through elections that citizens are able to choose who best stands for their needs, but the environment under which they make such decision must be conducive.
The National Electoral Commission and the police must ensure that the competing political parties and candidates have freedom to campaign, to hold rallies and communicate with voters. The Electoral Commission must also ensure that the rules in place are cleared and known to all participants such as the campaign code conduct, and the coordination of the campaign process. In terms of campaign coordination and by international best practices, two competing political parties are not allowed to campaign in a specific area within a political district/county at the same time. It is intended to avoid conflicts and elections violence
The Commission must exhort political parties and candidates to abide by the campaign code of conduct/ethics to avoid unhealthy campaigning. The campaign code of conduct should guide all candidates and their supporters, enabling campaigning to proceed and all voters to cast their ballots in a free and fair process. Candidates must respect the rules so that we have a clean campaign and non-violent process. Meanwhile, stakeholders and Liberians in general must be reminded to take interest in these elections, reinforcing the Nation’s democratic processes and ensuring that the rules concerning the conduct of these are obey at all times.
I like to appeal to our international partners, the Economic Community of West African States ECOWAS, EU and the United States Government to ensure that candidates stick to the rules to avoid violence and bribery of voters. As such, the elections are crucial to the consolidation of the peace process. Their conduct is a further test of the Commission’s operational capacity to conduct election in a professional manner. Most important, the Electoral Commission must make sure there is enough civic education so that the people know about their choices – who to vote for and how to vote. It is only through this medium that the elections will have legitimacy and credibility.
Another pertinent issue is that all the candidates would want to get their messages across to the public. These messages should be channeled through the media. However, I appeal to the candidates to ensure that journalists covering these elections do not become unfairly targeted by their supporters. Media have long been recognized as a cornerstone of democracy and played an important role in influencing political discourse during elections. Free, balance and traditional media (print and broadcast) foster transparency and play an indispensable role in the proper functioning of a democracy.
Discussion of the media’s functions within electoral contexts often focuses on their “watchdog” role: by unfettered scrutiny and discussion of the successes and failures of candidates, government, and the electoral management body. Yet the media also have other roles in enabling full public participation in elections: by educating voters on how to exercise their democratic rights; by reporting on the development of an election campaign; by providing a platform for the political parties and candidates to communicate their messages to the electorates; by providing a platform for the public to communicate their concerns, opinions, and needs, to the parties/candidates, the electoral management body, the government, and to other voters, and to interact on these issues; by allowing the parties and candidates to debate with each other; by reporting results and monitoring vote counting; by scrutinizing the electoral process itself, including electoral management, in order to evaluate the fairness of the process, its
efficiency, and its probity; by providing information that, as far as possible, avoids inflammatory language, helping to prevent election-related violence.
Therefore, the print and electronic media must stop the negative media effects that have the proclivity to degenerate these elections into violence. For example, many observers often point to the role media played during the 2007 Kenyan presidential election and subsequent outbreak of violence, which led to 1,133 people killed and more than 600,000 Kenyans driven from their homes, as a prominent example of the negative effects media can have during elections. A private or a biased media can shape election and issue coverage to support corporate interests or provide propaganda for authoritarian regime, subverting important democratic principles like freedom of speech and the press.
This must be avoided as we move into the conduct of these elections. In many ways, the October 10 2017, elections are most important to the country, as the representatives elected will be the people who will lead district/community development. The candidates elected will be responsible for the economic, social and infrastructural development of the country. Their decisions will affect the lives of the people on the daily basis. Therefore, political parties and individual candidates must focus their campaigns on critical issues such as socio-economic development, health, education and the general good of the people.
We should follow the good examples of other countries that conducted their elections without violent. For example, in 2014, India registered 1,703 political parties. However, only 464 political parties contested the elections, with 814 million registered voters and 930,000 polling stations. The elections were managed and coordinated peacefully by the Electoral Commission of India without any form of violence simple because of respect for each other and obeying the rules. We can do the same provided the rules in place in these elections are carefully observed by all political parties, candidates and their supporters.