Archbishop Francis Outlines Conditions for Free, Fair Elections in Liberia
By S. Togba Slewion
"With the prevailing situation we find ourselves in today, it seems to us the following conditions are the minimum that should be put into place, if we will have free, fair democratic and transparent elections thus forestall any dissatisfaction that might arise due to the elections not properly prepared for," says Archbishop Michael Kpakala Francis, Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Monrovia.
According to Archbishop Francis' recipe, the war must come to an end because with an on-going war it is practically impossible to have free, fair, and democratic elections in Liberia. He said the Government of Liberia and LURD must come to the negotiating table to declare a cease-fire and start the necessary peace talks, adding " we are fed up with armed conflicts; our people want to live their lives in peace concord, security and stability."
The Catholic prelate made his observation on Saturday when he delivered the keynote address at the two-day symposium on Liberia's Political Future organized by the Movement for Democratic Change in Liberia (MDCL) in collaboration with the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA) and the Ralph Bunche Center for International Affairs of Howard University held at the University of Maryland in Maryland, USA. The symposium was held on Friday, February 28, 2003 and Saturday, March 1, 2003.
Addressing an audience of representatives of political parties, officials of US State Department, including John Blaney, US Ambassador to Liberia, and prominent Liberians, Archbishop Francis said security and stability in the Nation is a "condition sine qua non and the Government should and must restrain the security apparatus, roaming the country, torturing, raping, looting and harassing the people; LURD must do likewise in areas under its control."
Sharing his views on the issue of Census before elections, he explained that Census must be taken to determine the number of Liberians for a just distribution of seats in the House of Representatives, noting, "an estimation is unacceptable, " considering the creation of two new counties-River Gee and Gbarpolu.
The renowned human rights advocate, in a serious mood, told the audience that "we need an external force, a stability force which will protect all Liberians" during the elections because this force will reassure the electorates of their physical and psychological freedom from intimidation and coercion, adding that it will also enable those who seek presidential, vice presidential and other elective positions to freely and without fear crisscross the country to campaign for votes aware that they are secured and will not be molested.
He went further to say that it is evident that most of the insecurity in Liberia is the work of our security and para-security forces. "It is very clear that the security and para-security forces are very loyal to the person of the President to the extent that acts of brutality are rained on opponents of the President," the Archbishop averred.
Archbishop Francis observed that suggestion by the opposition to recompose the make-up of the present Elections Commission of Liberia (ECOM) should be given serious consideration because it casts a negative perception on the Commission and will impact negatively on the acceptance of the election results, adding, " hence the elections will not be seen as free, fair, democratic and transparent and this of course will have untold repercussions on the acceptance of the results."
Regarding voters' registration and absentee ballots, he intimated that voters need as a matter of urgency to be registered because many young potential voters have come of voting age since the last elections five years ago. "In this election I would suggest that all of those of voting age in the Diaspora and refugee camps, etc be allowed to cast their votes as is done in all democratic countries, he pointed out.
The Archbishop concluded his outline by indicating that there must be a level playing field in the elections and all public facilities should be put at the disposal of all candidates, including radio, public buildings and newspapers, etc, noting that voters education is vital to the electoral process and there should be training of monitors and election officials.
The Archbishop, pointing to Journalist Hassan Bility in the audience, expressed disappointment over the ploy by the Government to implicate him as a supporter of LURD during interrogation of Bility at the home of President Charles Taylor and his subsequent detention and tortured in various government cells. "It is frustrating and disappointing that I, through the Inter-Religious Council, is mediating between LURD and the Government to stop the war, and the Government is trying to name me as a supporter of LURD," he said.
He then finished his speech with the familiar song: "What a friend we have in Jesus," with the audience joining the Archbishop and singing with vigor every stanza of the song, while some people shared tears in the audience.
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