Liberians await presidential election results after low turnout on polling day
A combination of violence and an opposition party poll boycott may have contributed to low voter turnout on Liberia's presidential election day Tuesday.
Liberia’s second round vote went off peacefully yesterday, just a day after violent clashes between police and opposition protestors in the capital on Monday. But international monitor groups are concerned that a visibly low voter turnout could undermine the perceived legitimacy of the elections and the leadership of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is expected to claim victory.Skip to next paragraph
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Liberia’s National Electoral Commission has said it will begin releasing preliminary results tomorrow.
The streets of Monrovia, the site of massive political rallies by supporters of both parties just days before the first round of elections held in October, were quiet and queues at polling stations were notably thin, with some of them empty. Dan Sayree, the chief of the Liberian Democratic Institute and Liberian Democracy Watch, said that the group’s election observers had reported a low voter turnout in all 15 counties, but said the group was yet to come up with an estimate of the percentage of registered voters who went to the poll.
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“On the reports we got from the field the turnout was low,” Mr. Sayree said. “When I spoke to monitors, the concerns seemed to be issues of security, the pronouncement by CDC [for a boycott]. Other factors could possibly be due to the fact that the people who were trucked in to vote weren’t trucked back.”
Sayree added that he thought the violence during Monday’s demonstration had played a role in the low voter turnout. “It is because of the violent incident yesterday – people didn’t want to go because security was the factor,” Sayree said.
On Monday the opposition party the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), headed by Harvard-educated former Justice Minister Winston Tubman and his vice presidential candidate running mate, soccer legend George Weah, called for a peaceful demonstration and boycott of the run-off elections, claiming that the first-round election results were fraudulent. The protest that attracted over a thousand CDC supporters quickly became violent, leaving two demonstrators dead and five in the hospital with bullet wounds.
Protesters crammed into CDC headquarters as tear gas was fired outside the building and UN helicopter gunships flew overhead and tanks surrounded the compound. According to Mr. Weah, the Liberian National Police Force and UN peacekeepers had urged protestors off the street and into the compound at the time of the protest, and that, while they were in the process of talking, started firing live bullets and tear gas.
“I’m very disappointed with Madam Johnson’s decision to shoot live bullets on a peaceful rally,” Weah told The Christian Science Monitor inside the compound on the day of the incident. “The international community needs to question why this happened. It is our right to assemble and do a peaceful rally. It’s war when they try to shoot bullets at peaceful people.”
Under Liberia’s electoral laws campaigning the day before elections is illegal. Justice Minister Christiana Tah said in a news conference on Monday that investigations were underway and that those who were responsible for the incident will be held to account. Yasmine Bouziane, the spokesperson for the Special Representative of the Secretary General, has said that no shots were fired by UN peacekeepers.