Liberia - Præsidentvalg "Iron Lady" eller "King George"!
LIBERIA: Race on to educate voters ahead of presidential run-off
IRINnews.org, 4. november 2005
Her få dage før den afgørende runde i præsidentvalget, der forhåbentlig kan indlede en stabil fredelig periode med stabil udvikling, er der en vis skepsis med hensyn til befolkningens interesse i valget. Interviews har givet anledning til en frygt for en lavere valgdeltagelse, hvilket har fået ekstra gang i valgtrommerne og megafonerne, der skal trække stemmer til valgets to kandidater, "Iron Lady", tidligere finansminister Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, eller "King George", den tidligere fodboldstjerne George Weah.
Soccer millionaire George Weah and former finance minister Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf are the two survivors from a first-round field of 22, and high on the list of concerns is that the thousands of Liberians who voted for now-eliminated candidates might not turn out for the second round.
Ernest Marwolo, who lives in the capital Monrovia, is one such voter. Having picked third-placed finisher Charles Brumskine on 11 October, he is loath to cast his ballot again on 8 November.
"Really, I do not have the courage to stand in a long line in the sun for almost the whole day just to vote again, because my candidate is not in the race and I do not trust any of the two remaining presidential candidates," he told IRIN.
If people living in the capital, the centre of election fever with its hoards of newspapers and radio stations, think like this, imagine what it is like in the more remote and rural parts of heavily-forested Liberia, election officials say.
"The impact of poverty and illiteracy caused by fourteen years of war was visible during the process, particularly on election day when many voters had difficulties understanding voting instructions and ballot papers," Max van den Berg, head of the European Union's observer mission, told reporters.
An IRIN correspondent observed people asking polling staff to point out their candidate on the ballot form, because they could not read the names or pick out the photos. And some were confused by the three ballot papers, even though they were colour-coded red for president, blue for Senate, and green for House of Representatives.
Almost four percent of the ballots cast in the presidential race were deemed to be invalid.
But some voter educators say there should be fewer problems for the second round, because there is a straight choice between Sirleaf, the Harvard-educated economist dubbed "Iron Lady", and "King George", hero of the football pitch but newcomer to the political arena.
“Since there are only two candidates in the race now, it should be easier for the voters to mark the ballot papers unlike the October 11 when there were 22 presidential candidates and so many legislative aspirants that most voters were confused," Simeon Mulbah told IRIN from the northern county of Lofa on Friday.
However, the National Elections Commission is taking no chances and has roped international aid agencies and local community groups in to the voter education effort.
“The commission took the observations of the international observers into serious considerations and that is why we have embarked on a village to village voter education," said electoral chief Frances Johnson-Morris.
“We are using local and international NGOs to distribute banners and posters about the run-off election," she added. "Town criers have begun spreading the messages on foot to reach as many Liberian voters as possible to motivate them to cast a ballot in the second round."
The two candidates themselves have also taken to the airwaves to encourage voters to come out and make their voices heard.
“Do not stay out of the process, get involved and help in deciding the future of our country," Weah said in a broadcast on his privately-owned KINGS FM radio station. "If your candidate did not win, come out and vote with your conscience."
The commission has also brought in a new rule, banning polling station officials from helping illiterate voters to mark their ballots, following criticism from international observers.
"Any voter who may not be able to read or write will be given the opportunity to bring another voter along who will assist him or her," Johnson-Morris said. "No election worker will assist any voter to mark their ballot, because we strongly believe that this erodes the secrecy principle of vote casting."
Another concern for the presidential contenders is that voters have to return to cast their run-off vote at the same polling station they used in the first round.
Some Liberians left their jobs in Monrovia to return to their counties of origin to vote in October because they were also choosing politicians for regional posts, and there are fears some may not be able to afford to make a second journey.
To combat this Sirleaf's Unity Party is laying on transport to take supporters from the capital up to Nimba, the county that is home to the second highest number of voters.