Electoral Promises Without Manifestos: A Crucial Missing Piece

lib2023eps19 2 1 transparent democratic governance in africa

As the October 10, 2023, Presidential and Legislative Elections draw closer, one missing element is the absence of clear and well-articulated manifestos from political parties. It is increasingly difficult to distinguish one political party from another in terms of ideological and developmental programmes. In Liberia, robust and vibrant ideologies and programs from political parties and candidates are essential to nurture and strengthen the nation’s political landscape. Ideology should serve as the core principle upon which a political party’s programs revolve; a set of beliefs, principles, or values that define its foundation. The policy frameworks by any ruling party should be the products of its ideology and informed by it.

QUICK FACTS

❖ EISA LTOs have observed an absence of political party manifestos in the run-up to the 2023 elections.
❖ Citizens are leveraging the power of their votes by making candidates pledge to deliver on basic services such as the building of roads, pit latrines and hospitals.
❖ A manifesto explains the guiding principles, proposed actions and ideas that explain why citizens should vote for a particular candidate or party.

Since August 5, 2023, when the National Elections Commission (NEC) officially opened the political campaign period, EISA observers have noted that political parties and candidates struggle when explaining their plans for Liberia’s growth and development. Campaign rhetoric abounds with promises in areas such as education, healthcare, and infrastructure, but these pledges lack the crucial backing of well-  documented manifestos or data-driven research findings.

lib2023eps19 1 transparent democratic governance in africa

The lack of manifestos in Liberian elections makes it difficult for voters to make informed decisions. Voters are left to rely on the candidates' verbal promises, which may not be realistic or achievable.

The common sight of independent candidates, political parties and their standard bearers making promises without clear documentation raises a fundamental question: Where are the manifestos of these political parties nvying for public office? A manifesto, in this context, refers to a document summarizing a political party’s key promises, opinions, views, and action plans. Each contesting political party should craft and distribute its manifesto widely among the public, especially through the media and to eligible voters during campaign activities. It is a crucial tool for voters to make informed decisions about who to vote for.

However, in Liberian elections, it is common for candidates to make electoral promises without releasing a manifesto. Several reasons may explain why this is the case. First, some Liberian voters are not familiar with the concept of a manifesto. They may not understand its importance or how to use it to assess the candidates’ policies. Second, EISA observers noted that political parties and candidates do not have the resources to produce and publish a manifesto. This is especially true for smaller parties and independent candidates. Third, some candidates may be afraid to release a manifesto because they do not want to be held accountable for their promises. The lack of manifestos in Liberian elections makes it difficult for voters to make informed decisions. Voters are left to rely on the candidates’ verbal promises, which may not be realistic or achievable. This can lead to voter apathy and a lack of trust in the political process.

There are several things that can be done to address the lack of manifestos in Liberian elections. First, voter education programs should be conducted to educate voters about the importance of holding elected leaders accountable and voting based on previous performance. Second, political parties and candidates should be provided with financial support to produce manifestos. Third, there should be laws in place that require political parties and candidates to release manifestos. By taking these steps, Liberia can make its elections more transparent and accountable, and give voters the information they need to make informed decisions.

Each contesting political party should craft and distribute its
manifesto widely among the public, especially through the media and to eligible voters during campaign activities.

A manifesto serves as:
❖ A reference point for voters when a ruling party falls short of its campaign promises.
❖ A means to focus campaign discussions on issues rather than personalities.
❖ A deterrent to personal attacks and mudslinging, reducing the potential for violence.
❖ A representation of the party’s profile, encompassing its vision, mission, goals, and action plan.
❖ A tool to help voters make informed choices and connect directly with the party.
❖ A differentiator between political parties, offering a clear vision of how each party plans to govern.
❖ A yardstick for evaluating the impact of governance on the population.
❖ A source of historical context, showing the country’s trajectory and future direction.
❖ The foundation for policy frameworks in the case of the ruling party.
❖ A valuable resource for the media to understand and communicate various parties’ development programs.

EISA notes that in the run-up to the 2023 elections, the absence of these critical manifestos leaves a gap in the electoral process. Voters deserve clarity, vision, and substance from their political leaders, and manifestos are the essential documents that can provide that. EISA encourages political parties and candidates to focus on policy driven campaigns.

About USAID Support to EISA-IEOM to Liberia: The USAID-funded EISA International Election Observation Mission (EISA-IEOM) Activity seeks to enhance the integrity of the 2023 Liberia Presidential and Legislative elections through the deployment of an independent international election observer mission (EOM) to monitor, assess and report on all phases of the electoral process in accordance with international and regional benchmarks. The IEOM is implemented in close coordination with the financial support of USAID/Liberia and will complement the efforts of other electoral stakeholders.