UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
LIBERIA: Fraud claims sully peaceful poll
MONROVIA, 16 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - Allegations of widespread electoral fraud by football hero and disappointed presidential hopeful, George Weah, were brought before officials of the Liberia’s electoral commission on Wednesday.
The Weah camp launched accusations of fraud the day after Liberians voted in a run-off ballot for the presidency on 8 November, prompting rock-slinging youths to take to the streets and schools and businesses to shut.
On Tuesday night, the government announced an immediate ban on all street demonstrations not authorised by the ministry of justice.
“The government will not under any circumstances accept a situation where some citizens decide to hold the rest of the country hostage because they do not agree with a particular issue or course of action,” said chairman of the transitional government, Gyude Bryant, on national television.
The protests by supporters of the soccer hero, who had been widely tipped as the probable victor of the Liberian presidency, has sullied the nation’s otherwise peaceful historic elections, seen as closing the chapter on civil war and offering a chance for economic revival.
The former AC Milan striker collected the largest share of votes from a field of 12 candidates in the first round of the poll 11 October but fell short of the 50 percent needed to claim outright victory. A second round ballot was called, pitching Weah head to head with economist and Harvard educated grandmother, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and when she took the lead, the soccer star countered with hollers of fraud.
Election observers have given the polls the thumbs up and party representatives positioned in polling stations signed their satisfaction with voting procedure on the day.
“The observer mission has termed the elections free and fair. Party representatives were present in, I believe, just about every polling station and they signed off on the records,” Alan Doss, the head of the UN mission in Liberia (UNMIL), told IRIN this week.
The Weah camp has claimed ballot stuffing and doctoring of electoral forms on such a scale that it could have earned Sirleaf 59.4 percent of the votes while leaving their man trailing with 40.6 percent, according to preliminary results.
But Doss was sceptical.
“It isn’t by a few boxes here and there that you can make that kind of difference,” said Doss, referring to Sirleaf’s 18-point lead. “It would have to have been systematic fraud, organised fraud, or of quite a sophisticated nature, and that isn’t done at individual polling places.”
As well as the NEC’s enquiries, UNMIL is also conducting investigations that will be made public in due course, said Doss.
It is not clear when the NEC hearing will wrap up, though if Weah and his party, the Congress for Democratic Change, remain dissatisfied with the findings, the matter can be taken to the Supreme Court.
Weah has previously demanded a fresh poll but former Nigerian head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar, who played a key role in negotiating an end to Liberia’s brutal civil war, said on Wednesday that all the parties have promised to accept the official ruling.
“One party is aggrieved and is seeking redress. I hope he will accept whatever result is obtained from the outcome of the investigation and he has agreed to that,” Abubakar told Reuters news agency.
Sirleaf’s Unity Party has repeatedly dismissed Weah’s rigging claims.
“The November 8 run-off election is a victory for the Liberian people and it is unfortunate that some elements within the opposition are trying desperately to snatch the people’s well-earned and well-deserved victory,” read a statement issued Wednesday.
Sirleaf has delayed an acceptance speech until the NEC confirms the preliminary results as official, an announcement that legally must take place before 23 November.
This is the second time in four months that the government has placed a ban on street demonstrations triggered by the action of Weah’s supporters, many of whom are young men and former fighters in Liberia’s 14-year on-off civil war.
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