The much-anticipated run-off election between George M. Weah and Joseph Boakai has ended with a concerning slow turnout, thereby raising questions about the dwindling appetite of voters in the country.
Howbeit, the turnout was not poor, rather, it was slow in most places, because preliminary results settling in suggest that there might be fewer invalid votes as compared to the October 10 General Elections.
With a slight difference in the overall number of electorates turning out in the run-off, the implications for the slow turnout might be alluded to/blamed on either trucking of voters across the country, or second round fatigue.
It can be recalled that following the initial round of a tightly contested voting process on October 10, none of the 20 candidates was able to obtain outright majority of the total votes cast (50 percent plus one), as required by the Constitution, to be declared President of Liberia.
As a result, Weah of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and former VP Boakai of the Unity Party (UP), were later declared by the National Elections Commission (NEC) to battle for the country’s Presidency through a runoff, after obtaining majority of the votes.
However, unlike the October 10 polls, which experienced an overwhelming turnout of voters, the run-off election fell short of expectations for the highly anticipated political contest between Weah and Boakai vying for the presidency, leaving political pundits, observers, and some Liberians with doubts about the county’s democracy.
Also, in places visited across the country, our reporters and correspondents observed some irregularities being exhibited at some voting precincts in counties like Montserrado, Grand Bassa, and Margibi, among others.
In Montserrado Districts 6, 5, 4, and 10, our reporter observed a very low voter turnout, coupled with the absence of security personnel and queue controllers intended to ensure law and order at various voting precincts.
Other areas in Central Monrovia, though, experienced a peaceful atmosphere and fast pace of voting. Unlike the October 10 polls, there was also a low turnout, coupled with the late arrival of voting materials, which at some areas, caused the NEC staff to open the voting centers late.
For Grand Bassa, especially the Buchanan belt hosting the historical Fair ground, most precincts were empty, becoming a place of walk-in, while those who went to vote were also resisting being marked or inked noticeable among those resisting was a police officer who according to a NEC temporary staff is responsible for NEC warehouse in Buchanan.
Also, in Buchanan, at one polling place at 4 Houses Public School, a lady, who registered in Fiamah, was discovered and denied, but not punished, and was told that she could only vote in Monrovia and not Bassa.
Our reporter also stated that all NEC workers at Benson River School were relaxingly seated and there was visibly no poll controllers, while there was also no state Security and if one was lucky to see an LNP officer, they would be teaming with a private security personnel mainly from SEGAL, owned by Lofa County Senator-elect, Momo Cyrus.
There was also seriously poor turnout in division 38 and 43, Margibi County, as political parties’ observers were denied comparing their VRR with the NEC VRR, thus resulting into some argument, which was later calmed down by State security.
At division 42, Margibi County, our reporter also observed the absence of State security at almost all of the voting precincts visited, while some of the election materials were also missing from these precincts.
However, several Liberians, including some political figures spoken to, disclosed that one of the reasons for the lack of interest in voting could be attributed to the lack of enthusiasm among the electorate, due to issues related to voter trucking.
According to them, the act of politicians trucking voters from one county to another for their own ‘political interest’, if not addressed, would have some negative impact on the country’s democratic principles.
They explained that those trucked formed a crucial part of the voting population, and may have felt disillusioned and disheartened by their truck masters’ failure to address the agreement they might have singed.
They added that the decline of the voters’ participation in this year’s run-off, should now serve as a clear message to political leaders or would-be aspirants, to desist from said habit and ensure that people register where they reside.
Meanwhile, other political pundits have also attributed the slow turnout to be influenced by broader societal factors such as voter apathy, disillusionment with the political system, and a lack of faith in the candidates.
Some argued that the citizens may have become disillusioned by the slow pace of positive change in their daily lives, leading to a sense of resignation and indifference towards the electoral process.
They added that unless those issues, as mentioned, are addressed, the possibility of experiencing low voter turnout on any future election is possible, stressing the need for open dialogue between the NEC, political leaders, election stakeholders, and the government.
Joining Liberians to vote were the two candidates in the race, President George Weah and former Vice president Joseph Boakai, who expressed their optimism of becoming victorious upon the completion of the voting process.
The Liberian leader, following the casting of his ballot, said, “We are seeing a lot of people in the queue, and we hope that they will exercise their democratic rights, and I am hopeful that in the end, we will emerge as the winner based on what I have done in my first term.”
Boakai, accompanied by his wife, Kartumu Boakai went at the Kathleen McGuire Catholic School to cast their ballots where he expressed his regret in the low turnout, which he attributed to several factors, ranging from voter trucking, loss of voters’ appetite, among others.
He also expressed his confidence of winning the election by saying, “Even though the turnout is not impressive, I am sure our people will come out later to cast their ballots for a new leadership and we will win this election and provide the leadership our people so desire.”
In a related development, the NEC, during the voting process, also called on all polling staff involved in calling out voters’ names to desist with immediate effect, on grounds that it was against the election guidelines.
The NEC stated, “The Commission categorically denies and rejects reports that it has signed an MoU with political parties in this Presidential Run-off Election relative to the calling of voters’ names and checking them against the copy of the FRR issued to political parties, as this practice is against the NEC polling and counting procedures.”
The NEC, at the same time, further clarified that information circulating in the public about ballots being stuffed in Lofa County was false, fake, misleading, and has no iota of truth, but only intended to undermine the integrity and transparency of the process and discourage Liberians from turning out to vote.
“The Commission emphatically clarified that it did not issue any instructions to pre-mark ballots for the ongoing Presidential Run-off Election. All NEC ballots deployed to the magisterial offices and onward to the 2,080 precinct and 5,890 polling places, remained intact for deployment for polling on 14 November 2023,” the Commission added.