The recently concluded candidate nomination period provides important insight into the experience of political aspirants in the upcoming elections. The EISA International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) remains committed to assessing whether the pre-election environment provides a level playing field for all political parties and candidates to freely contest the elections. The candidate nomination period served to ensure that all those who seek to be elected to public office, file their notices of intent to run by providing documentation for the National Elections Commission (NEC) to verify whether they are
indeed fit to run.
❖ Article 78 of the Constitution states that a “political party” shall be an association with a membership of not less than five hundred qualified voters in each of at least six counties and an “independent candidate” shall be a person seeking electoral post or office with or without his own organization, acting independently of a political party.
❖ In the 10 October 2023 elections, citizens will vote for Presidential, Senatorial and House of Representatives candidates.
❖ The NEC received 1,030 submissions, comprised of, 159 (15%) female aspirants while 871 (85%) were from male aspirants. This constitutes only half of the targeted 30% of female representation as per the 30%
voluntary gender quota.
EISA Long Term Observers (LTOs) noted that political parties and candidates had considerable hurdles to jump during the candidate nomination period which commenced on 14 June 2023 and ended on 14 July 2023.
Decentralising the nomination process
The candidate nomination process is centralised meaning that political aspirants had to travel from their respective counties to Monrovia to file their documents to run. Political parties consulted all argued for the NEC to consider using NEC magisterial offices or an online portal to minimise the costs of running. Improving the accessibility of the candidate nomination process is an important part of protecting the right to stand for office and to be elected. In line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Liberia is a signatory. The IEOM notes that the call for decentralising the process, is a long-standing recommendation that has been made by observers and political parties in previous elections.
The cost of running
The candidate nomination period was a costly process and in accordance with the law, aspirants needed to pay registration fees amounting to $2500 for presidential elections, $750 for Senators and $500 for House of Representatives elections. In addition, political parties are mandated to maintain a minimum balance of at least $10000 in their accounts and failure to do so may result in the deregistration of a party. Independent candidates must also maintain a bank balance of at least $10000. The IEOM learned that these requirements are even more detrimental to the participation of women especially, female candidates that were running as independents. The fees imposed on political participation and representation make it more expensive for people to engage in the political process. This is especially problematic in a plummeting economy, where most citizens are living below the poverty line. Finances are therefore at the heart of political participation and convey that political parties and candidates need serious financial support in maintaining their daily operations whilst also satisfying the core of their existence, which is to compete for political power. Past the high nomination fee hurdle, successful candidates face an insurmountable task of campaigning cost. These requirements show that political parties need to have adequate financial muscle to compete for public seats. In Liberia, the law does not provide for public funding of political parties. The Constitution bans political parties from receiving funding from corporate businesses. As a result, most political parties depend on their party leaders to finance their budget. When money and politics are closely linked, corruption becomes common. Although the EISA-IEOM could not ascertain if political parties provide some financial assistance to candidates the picture that emerges is that of a funding structure much more reliant on personal relationships which could lead to a higher influence of individual leaders and may taint the health of democracy within political parties.
Aspirants had to provide proof that they are regular taxpayers. To this end, political parties complained about the challenges faced in obtaining tax clearance from the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA). They observed that the clearance process took more than two weeks and as a result, many candidates filed their documents during the last week of the candidate nomination process. A few candidates complained that the LRA was deviating from the law by requiring candidates to pay 5-year taxes to get clearance. To streamline the process, candidates recommended that the NEC consider an “all in one centre” where all the institutions involved in delivering documents to election aspirants will be represented. The IEOM notes that this again is a long-standing recommendation that has been raised in past elections.
Despite all these challenges, the IEOM commends political parties and independent candidates that have taken the resolve to contest elections. According to the NEC, a total of 1,030 aspirants submitted nomination documents to the Commission during the process. Of this number, 159 (15%) are females while 871 (85%) are males. Independent aspirants account for 199 (19%) while aspirants for political parties/coalitions/alliances are 831 (81%). Perspectives of political parties on the process are encouraging as they expressed satisfaction with the way the NEC conducted actual proceedings at the candidate nomination center. The environment was peaceful throughout with no incidents reported. The IEOM will continue to engage political parties and follow up with the NEC as it verifies the eligibility of candidates and confirms successful aspirant.
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.