Thursday, January 6, 2011


The Politicization of Civic Voter Education Campaign

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

Elections in Liberia are just 10 months way, and the stakes are getting too high, ultimately, there will be huge desperations in contenders for the presidency and legislative seats. Electoral processes with high stakes and uncontrolled desperations are usually characterized by enmity amongst contenders, violence and distrusts. With the dawn of 2011 commencing with a voter registration exercise, one can see that the politicians or interested contenders are not waiting for full certification and declaration of campaign period. The strategy of subterranean campaign activities can now be seen in the ongoing civic education process aimed at increasing mass turnout during the voter registration exercise.

This edition of this series has one major argument: That voter and civic education initiatives during electoral processes are functions of the legitimate electoral management institution, and independent civil society organizations. Unfortunately, the current trend of voter education is being overshadowed by politicians in the name of promoting mass turn out. What is more ironical in this process is that people who are publicly known to have direct vested interest in contesting the elections or are members of political parties are the ones fronting as civic educators and claiming neutrality. Interestingly, the National Elections Commission and the civil society are accepting this, and in some cases, endorsing them.

Some political parties have begun to publicly announce to offer free transportation facilities to voters wanting to travel distances to register. Ministers in government are launching their own voter education campaigns. Incumbent legislative candidates have begun the same. These legislative and cabinet officials claiming neutrality have several advantages over other candidates; this must be seen as the beginning of what is called unfair elections. First, they invite the citizens in the name of their official capacities, and second use the forums to create awareness about their interests in the elections. It is no argument that any citizen has the right to call an assembly of citizen or to canvass for support. But the assumption of the functions of the National Elections Commission and that of the civil society movement by political parties and interested candidates can influence the electoral process in many ways and cast doubts on the credibility of the election.
Contrary to the popular belief that electoral frauds can only be done during voting and counting of ballots, is the fact that frauds begin from the beginning and planning processes of elections. To ensure credibility in democratic elections like the forthcoming one in Liberia, the process must be thoroughly guided from the process of nominating members of the electoral management body – developments have shown that we have an independent and credible NEC in Liberia. Other sources of fraud long before the voting exercise can be the process of registering political parties and candidates; the process of civic voter education, and the process of voter registration, and so forth.

With voter registration being the issue at hand, what political parties and candidates should do is to train their supporters to observe the process and take recorded notes of registered voters, outline successes and challenges. Developments from this exercise will give each party a roadmap to strategizing an effective campaign and will also help to give early warnings to the NEC where challenges are discovered. The announcement of transportations facilities for voter education and distribution of food and water at registration sights are the beginning campaigning with material inducements or vote buying. The NEC must therefore call on the parties and the interested candidates to stay clear of the civic voter education campaign, and the voter registration. Each citizen is entitled to be at the center only on the day he is registering, except electoral workers and observers.

The Liberian civil society movement has a huge challenge. And bulk of the work of civic voter education should be channeled through the CSOs that are in the counties, and this should be done in effective collaboration with the NEC. With the civic voter education being overshadowed by politician using covert-campaign slogans, concerned activists will continue to wonder as to what the civil society is doing in all of these, and what role will the civil society play in the future, and will the parties leave the continue their proclaim ‘civic education campaign’ when political campaign is declared open?

-In the cause of democracy and social justice, the pen shall never run dry