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Liberian election results questioned

By Peter BlackburnSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / November 1, 1985



Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Liberia's main opposition party has said it will challenge the results of the Oct. 15th elections, describing them as a ``mockery of the law'' and a ``deception of the Liberian people.'' The incumbent head of state, Commander-in-Chief Samuel Doe, was officially proclaimed winner earlier this week with a 51 percent majority. His National Democratic Party of Liberia gained landslide victories in the Senate and House of Representatives.

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The elections open the way for a return to civilian rule in January 1986 -- more than five years after Mr. Doe, a former Army master sergeant, seized power in a bloody coup that ended 133 years of political domination by Americo-Liberians, the descendants of former slaves from the United States.

The election was called by Doe following pressure from the US. Withdrawal of US aid, which constitutes most of the operating capital of the country, was threatened if elections were not held. It now remains to be seen if the charges of election-tampering will affect the flow of that aid.

The chairman of the Special Elections Commission, Emmett Harmon, who had earlier admitted irregularities, appealed to Liberians to accept the results, which he described as ``sincere and just.''

But the presidential candidate of the Liberia Action Party, Jackson Doe (no relation to Samuel Doe), said Wednesday that his party would contest the results in court. ``We do not intend to participate in a government which does not represent the dreams and aspirations of the Liberian people,'' he said.

He added that the committee lacked impartiality -- that 20 of its members came from Samuel Doe's home county and the rest were his professional supporters or relatives of Cabinet ministers.

Some observers were perplexed at why it took 15 days to count only 500,000 votes. According to the election committee, delay was due to ``logistical problems'' and the complexity of counting votes for four candidates.

Among the alleged electoral violations were:

Creation of improvised voting centers at Army barracks and multiple voting by soldiers, their wives, and children.

Interference by county superintendents and election officials, especially in the way illiterate voters cast ballots.

Switching and stuffing of ballot boxes and burning of ballot papers.

Eviction of party observers from city hall and other polling stations when vote counting started.

Opposition parties also complained of two unfair practices during the election campaign: a decree that made criticism of the government a punishable offense and harassment and imprisonment of political opponents.

Those imprisoned were freed before polling day, including former Finance Minister Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (following pressure from the US Congress).

The two most popular presidential candidates, Baccus Matthews and Amos Sawyer, were barred from competing for alleged ``socialist leanings.''