Monrovia Tests Elections Commission

Published on Wednesday 11th November 2009

Thousands of Liberians living in Montserrado county, the seat of the country's capital Monrovia, headed for the polls Tuesday to cast their votes in a senatorial by-election to replace Senator Hannah Brent, who died in August.

The election is a test for the country's National Elections Commission, which for the first time since 2005 will be conducting an election in the country's most populous county, which has almost half a million registered voters.

The by-election is widely considered a 'rehearsal' for the commission - now entirely managed by Liberians - for the country's general and presidential elections in 2011. The last national election that brought in President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's administration was closely managed by the United Nations Mission in Liberia and other international partners.

So far, the new commission has experience running seven other by-elections for senators and representatives in accordance with Article 37 of the Liberian constitution, which mandates it to hold elections “not later than 90 days in the event of vacancy in the Legislature caused by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise.”

In the weeks leading to the election, the 10 candidates contesting the seat campaigned vigorously throughout the county, with their parties' symbols and billbaords lining Monrovia's streets. Some candidates have said this will be a demonstration of their parties' popularity ahead of the 2011 election, since Monrovia has the largest and most educated voting population.

Standard bearers of political parties from the 2005 presidential elections have accompanied candidates on the campaign trail. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf attended the campaign launch of the Unity Party's candidate, Clemaceu Urey, while soccer legend George Weah traveled from the United States to back the Congress for Democratic Change candidate, Geraldine Doe Sherif. Along with the Liberty Party's Darius Dillon, the three candidates are seen as the frontrunners.

Voting got off to a slow start on Tuesday morning with voters trickling in to polling centers, many of which didn't open on schedule. Concerns about voter apathy prompted election commission chairman, James Fromayan, to call on voters to turn out. Some callers on local radio stations said they would not bother to vote as their votes would not make a difference.


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