Liberia’s election landscape as with many African elections is characterized by a vibrant campaign and electioneering culture with its unique colors and contours. One of the most intriguing aspects of African elections is the relationship between campaign turnout and the eventual voter turnout on election day.
Since the beginning of the official campaign period on 5 August 2023, EISA observers are noting the campaign fervor among big and small political parties, independent candidates, and coalitions. The political scene is characterized by exuberant campaign rallies with an atmosphere filled with the rhythm of drums, the chants of supporters, and the passionate speeches of candidates. Candidates and their supporters are crisscrossing the counties, making promises and connections, hoping to ignite the spark of voter enthusiasm.
❖Electoral candidates have 13 days left to campaign as the electoral laws call for a period of campaign silence to be observed from 8 October 2023.
❖Election Observers have previously recommended that elections should be held during the dry season as a means of encouraging voter turn out and facilitating easier participation in campaign activities.
❖EISA LTOs have covered 114 campaign events since 5 August 2023 with the majority occurring in Lofa and Montserrado.
But does turnout at campaign rallies matter? Campaign turnout often reflects the immediate appeal and charisma of the candidates. Large crowds at rallies are seen as a vote of confidence, but they can be deceiving. Many factors drive people to attend these rallies: curiosity, the promise of free handouts, or as a social gathering for young people. However, the true test of a campaign’s success lies in whether this fervor translates into votes on Election Day.
EISA has noted that in Liberia the journey from campaign fervor to election turnout is likely to be fraught with challenges given the poor road infrastructure, the rainy season and the distance to polling station locations in some counties, especially in rural and farming areas, which can frustrate voters’ efforts to reach the voting precinct to cast their votes. Moreover, despite their initial enthusiasm, election-related violence, intimidation, and perceptions about electoral fraud can keep some voters away from the polls.
Liberia’s 2023 elections feature a total of 46 political parties and a total of 1,030 candidates. This abundance of choice is not convincing as the electorate consistently encounters the campaign messages of a select few aspirants. In the 2023 Presidential race, a total of 20 electoral candidates are contesting but EISA LTOs deployed across the country are reporting that only three campaigns are visibly active nationwide i.e., President George Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change, Joseph Boakai of the Unity Party and Alexander Cummings of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP). Therefore, the balance of power remains unchanged, considering that in 2017, the CDC (38,4%) and UP (28,8%) presidential candidates collectively garnered 67,2% of the total presidential votes cast with the rest of the twenty candidates sharing the remaining 32.8%. It will take more for contesting parties and candidates to gather real support at the ballots as previous statistics convey that the proliferation of political parties and candidates does not correlate to increased voter turnout and diversity in national and local governing structures.
Large crowds at rallies are seen as a vote of confidence, but they can be deceiving.
There is, therefore, a clear need for strategies to bridge the gap between campaign turnout and election-day turnout through civic and voter education. The importance of informing citizens about their voting rights and responsibilities becomes key. In this way comprehensive, targeted, and robust civic education outreach helps demystify the electoral process, making it more accessible to all, and emphasizes the importance of every vote.
EISA has observed that the current turnout at campaign events indeed serves as a reflection of the electorate’s initial enthusiasm. However, the journey from these electrifying rallies to the ballot box is paved with challenges, complexities, and nuances. While campaign fervor is an essential aspect of political engagement, the true measure of democracy’s vibrancy lies in ensuring that all citizens, regardless of their background, are empowered to exercise their right to vote on 10 October 2023.
As Liberia continues to strive for more inclusive and transparent electoral processes 20 years after post-conflict, understanding and addressing the dynamics between campaign turnout and election day turnout will remain essential in shaping the future of Liberia’s democracy.
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.