In the wake of the October 10th election in Liberia, President George Weah is under scrutiny for allegedly employing “disproportionate” state resources to gain an unfair political advantage, significantly tilting the political landscape.
A report released by the European Union Election Observation Mission to Liberia has revealed that the president’s campaign team made extensive use of state resources to establish a dominant presence in all 15 political subdivisions of the country.
According to the report, this utilization of “state resources” not only provided a substantial advantage to the president’s campaign but also led to significant disparities in the campaign environment.
Andreas Schieder, the head of the EU Election Mission, stated, “The disproportionate spending in favor of the ruling party, the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), distorted the fairness of the campaign. Our observations indicated a glaring disparity in resources available to the CDC for the presidential campaign, including billboards, posters, vehicles, and t-shirts, among others.”
The report also highlighted the widespread use of state resources, such as official vehicles and government buildings, in support of the ruling party’s campaign. Furthermore, it noted that many appointed officials at the county and electoral district levels were publicly campaigning for the ruling party.
Schieder pointed out that while the mission observed a high level of “monetization and bartering” during the campaign, it also found instances in which civil servants were pressured to attend the ruling party’s campaign events in some counties.
The report covered various aspects related to electoral framework and administration. It mentioned that although Liberia’s campaign finance regulations generally align with international standards, the lack of enforcement failed to ensure transparency and a level playing field. It also noted a lack of capacity and resources within the National Elections Commission (NEC), which contributed to a sense of impunity, and contestants’ adherence to campaign finance regulations was limited or poor.
The European Union played a crucial role as an international partner to Liberia’s electoral body and deployed 103 observers from its member states, including Canada and Norway, as part of the mission. The mission aimed to assess the electoral process against international obligations and was joined by a delegation of the European Parliament.
Despite the challenges, the mission commended Liberians for their strong voter turnout and commitment to the democratic process. It praised the technical preparations and the administration of the election day, which was largely peaceful and vibrant, with free press coverage of all sides of the campaign. However, the mission highlighted the advantage gained by the incumbent government through the use of government platforms and state resources.
Leopoldo Lopez Gil, Head of Delegation of Members of the European Parliament, urged all political leaders to accept the election’s outcome and address disputes peacefully through legal channels. The mission pledged to remain in the field to observe the process, including the handling of complaints and appeals.
In conclusion, while Liberia’s legal framework provides a reasonable basis for democratic elections, there are concerns about voters’ access to an effective legal remedy. Campaign freedoms, including freedom of assembly, speech, opinion, and media, were mostly respected, despite some minor incidents.
The EU Observer Mission will present a Final Report with recommendations to the public at a later stage, adhering to its principles of long-term, independent, and impartial observation.