US Calls for Free Elections in Liberia

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The United States Congress this week passed a resolution calling for free, fair and peaceful elections in Liberia come the October polls. The resolution was introduced by Senator Christopher Andrew Coons of Delaware and Senator Cory Anthony Booker from New Jersey.

According to a dispatch from Washington, the resolution states that the United States and Liberia share broad and deep bilateral ties over the course of nearly 200 years of relation.

Acknowledging the beginning of the most revered friendly ties between the two countries, Congress said the United States established diplomatic relations with Liberia in 1864 and called for the holding of peaceful elections in Liberia as many organizations, including those within the country and nations across the world, are looking forward to a new age, particularly so the democratic governance transition of an incumbent president to one elected in an election.

The resolution made reference to the hundreds of thousands of Liberians who died in the civil wars (from 1989 to 2003) and said today the United States is home to an estimated 80,000 people of Liberian ancestry.

The two interconnected Liberian civil wars took place from 1989 to 1996, before the 1997 special election that brought into power jailed former President Charles Ghankay Taylor, and his subsequent exile in 2003.

The resolution said the people and Government of the United States have a deep and abiding interest in Liberia’s democratic stability and post-conflict development and recounted the United States’ assistance to Liberia since the end of its second civil war in 2003; US support to post-conflict recovery; and a subsequent sustained transition toward broad-based economic growth, improved access to high-quality education, health system strengthening, and enhanced socioeconomic welfare for Liberia.

It stated also that the “professionalization of the country’s military and civilian security forces, efforts to foster the capacities, accountability, and transparency of government institutions, and the consolidation of participatory democracy” are additional positive contributions the US has made to the recovery of Liberia.

About the reintroduction of democratic rule in the country, the resolution noted that in 2005, and again in 2011, the citizens of Liberia elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as their President, making her the first woman to be elected president of an African nation. President Sirleaf was awarded the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom on November 5, 2007, for defending and advancing the democratic rights of her fellow citizens in the face of house arrest, foreign exile, death threats, and imprisonment, and the Noble Peace Prize on October 7, 2011, for contributing to the nonviolent struggle for the security and rights of women.

The resolution noted that the Government of Liberia has contributed to efforts to foster peace, stability, democratization, as well as regional economic growth, development, and integration in West Africa, as demonstrated by President Sirleaf’s role in mediating a peaceful transfer of power in The Gambia in January 2017 and her broader leadership as the 2016- 2017 Chairperson of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States.

It has been 73 years now since a peaceful transfer of state power from one elected president to another took place, and that was when President Edwin J. Barclay turned over the gavel of authority to President-elect William V. S. Tubman.

As Liberia is holding presidential and legislative elections on October 10, which will be the country’s first democratic transfer of power since 1944, Congress resolved that the United States upholds its commitment to maintain and to foster the enduring relationship between the people and the Governments of the United States and Liberia.

The dispatch commended President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for efforts to consolidate post-conflict peace-building and democratic gains as well as promote social and economic development and foster ties with the international community, and for her work to advance international gender equality.

The US Congress urged the Government and people of Liberia and all of the country’s political parties to ensure that there are free, fair, credible, and peaceful elections in October 2017 and beyond. “We admonish that all parties adhere to the objectives set out in the Ganta and Farmington River Declarations and promote and ensure peaceful conduct of candidates, their supporters, and other citizens of the country generally.”

The US Congress appealed to all parties and independent candidates to “ensure that there are robust civic education and electoral campaign outreach to often politically marginalized groups, including women, urban youth, and rural communities; and raise awareness of and express zero tolerance for violence against women, gender discrimination, or social bias of any nature in the electoral process.”

The US Congress “supports efforts by the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development to assist in election preparations and calls on Liberian citizens to fully participate in the general elections and to pursue legal avenues to resolve any disputes over the results.” It also encourages Liberian civil society organizations to intensify civic and voter education, particularly among women, youth, and rural communities, and in local languages; condemns any external interference in the elections, “including any communication or action by convicted war criminal and former armed faction leader Charles Taylor to influence the elections from prison.”

It states that the US Congress encourages President Donald Trump to appoint an Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs to bolster diplomatic engagement with the Government of Liberia, electoral stakeholders, and civil society and robustly engage with other sub-Saharan African countries and governments.

The US Congress also called the United States Government and international partners, especially election-focused non-governmental organizations, to continue to support successful elections and Liberia’s anticipated historic democratic post-electoral transition of executive power; and welcomes the visit of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to the United States Congress for her final address as President of Liberia.

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