With the results of the 10 October 2023 Presidential polls confirming that neither President George Weah nor former Vice President Joseph Boakai had secured an absolute majority in the elections, Liberians knew that a run-off election will be required to separate the two candidates and elect the next Liberian President until 2029. This is not a new phenomenon in Liberia as every election since 2005 has resulted in a stalemate in the first round and required a run-off to separate the top two candidates for the position. What is perhaps unusual in 2023 is the margin that separates the two candidates after the 1st round results. With concerns about the potential for post-election conflict and violence persisting, it is understandable that the current focus on the outcome of the polls has overshadowed some important facts about Liberia’s 2023 elections.
❖The difference in votes between President Weah and Ambassador Boakai on 10 October was 7,126 votes.
❖While both candidates rely on so-called ‘strongholds’ for votes, the close margin between them means every vote counts.
❖The 14 November Presidential run-off will decide who is Liberia’s President for the next 6 years.
❖Liberians will not only choose their next President, but whether or not to embrace the ballot over the bullet once more.
❖More than 6,000 observers have been accredited by the NEC to observe the 2023 elections.
❖In an election of many firsts and positive democratic growth, how we remember these elections depends on the outcome.
An Election of Firsts
In the post-civil war era, the 2023 elections have been more fully administered and managed by Liberians than any previous polls since 2005. The departure of the UNMIL in 2018 transferred responsibility for security matters back to the Liberian security forces, the administration (including most of the funding) for the elections to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and the Government of Liberia, and the introduction of the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) process was another important first in Liberia’s ongoing consolidation of its democracy. On the eve of what will be the final election process in Liberia in 2023, it is important to reflect on how far the country has come since preparations began for the October 2023 election and now November 2023 Runoff election. The journey to get to 14 November has included many moments when Liberia’s candidates, political parties, security forces, media, civil society, ethnic groups and citizens could have chosen to exercise violence and intimidation in response to events and milestones. Throughout this period, Liberians have instead exercised restraint, tolerance and whenever violence threatened to erupt and overwhelm the country once more, restraint was shown and somehow Liberians persevered. EISA recognized this ongoing commitment to democracy in its Preliminary Statement on the 10 October elections, when EISA’s Head of Mission Dr. Nevers Mumba (former Zambia Deputy President) noted that:
“The NEC discharged its responsibilities with diligence, often under difficult conditions, and EISA’s observers in the field expressed confidence in the conduct of NEC staff.”
The Final Stretch
While the outcome of the elections on 14 November 2023 is not yet known, what is certain is that the NEC will be announcing the winner of the Presidential elections in the coming days. This will be the final test for Liberian commitment to the democratic process, as irrespective of the result, approximately 900,000 voters will be left disappointed at the outcome. Should that disappointment spill over into anger, protest, and violence, then the many months of Liberian restraint and determination to hold peaceful elections will have been in vain. The 2023 elections, responsible for many positive lessons and democratic firsts, will have been tarnished by an electoral outcome marred by violence. If, however, Liberians stay the course and respect the electoral and legal processes in place to preserve the country’s democracy, then the 2023 Liberian elections may well be remembered as a truly inspirational example of a country that rejects violent force and embraces peaceful democracy in pursuit of a brighter future for its people. Nothing would rob Liberia of a future more surely than a return to violent conflict.
Should that disappointment spill over into anger, protest, and violence, then the many months of Liberian restraint and determination to hold peaceful elections will have been in vain.
The Choices before Liberians
As voters head to the polls to elect the next President of Liberian on 14 November 2023, they will do so with the reminder from political parties, the NEC, and the international community that the choice is theirs. However, once their ballots have been cast, Liberians should remember that another choice lies before them, equally as important to Liberia’s future. That choice is to respect the rule of law, due process and electoral dispute procedures when raising complaints, or to resort to threats, intimidation, and violence to resolve their issues. The choice is to accept the results with dignity and grace, or to give in to anger and reject the electoral process in favor of anarchy and chaos.
Nearly 6,000 observers will be observing all aspects of the polls, just as they did on 10 October. Political parties will have their agents following the counting and tallying process, and the Liberian media will cover breaking stories and developments as they happen. International actors who have provided financial and technical support to the Liberian electoral process will be watching with keen interest. However, the final choice facing all Liberians comes after election day, as the NEC announces the results of its count, and that choice remains solely in the hands of Liberians themselves. Since 2005, Liberians have rejected violence and embraced democracy. EISA is optimistic that once again in 2023, the people of Liberia will choose peace, as they have done throughout the preparations for the run-off elections.
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 by 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.