1. On 10 October 2023,the people of Liberia went to the polls to elect a Presi dent,15 Senators and 73 House of Representative members. This year’s gen eral elections, the fourth to be conducted successively since 2005, constitute a significant milestone inthe consolidation of peace and democracy in Liberia, two decades after the end of the civil war. They are also the first polls to be independently organized by the Liberian authorities.
2. Consistent with the provisions of Articles 12 and 13 of the ECOWAS Supple mentary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance,which mandate the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to provide assistanceto member States conductingelections, the ECOWAS Com mission:
• Deployed an Exploratory Mission to Liberia from 15 to 19 February 2023.
• Deployed a Pre-election Fact-finding Mission,jointly conducted with the African Union (AU) Commission from 23 to 29 July 2023;
• Provided capacity buildingfor stakeholders on Dialogue and Mediation;
• Conducted Experience-Sharing Engagement with Security Forcesto En hance Election Security in Liberia from 13-16 September 2023;
• Engaged the Media and CSOs to enhance participatory democracy and the management of media space to address fake news,misinformation and disinformation in the period leadingto, duringand after the polls;
• Providedlogistics support,includingthe procurement of four 4X4 Wheel vehicles, a batch of computer, IT and office equipment to the National Elections Commission (NEC) to support its operations;
• Provided Technical Experts and Resource Persons to support the NEC’s ICT infrastructure for the compilation and publication of results;
PRELIMINARY DECLARATION – LIBERIA GENERAL ELECTIONS – 101 OCTOBER 2023
• Provided financial assistance to the tune of USO 500,000 to the NEC to support preparation towards the elections.
3. The purpose of the Joint ECOWAS-African Union Pre-election Fact-finding Mis sion was to assess the state of preparedness of the NEC and other critical stakeholders. In particular, the Joint Mission held discussions with the Chair and board members of the National Elections Commission (NEC), political par ties, includingthe Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), Unity Party (UP) and Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA),civil society organizations and representatives of Diplomatic Missions and the international development partners.
4. Based on the recommendations of the Mission, the ECOWAS Commission de ployed appropriate preventive diplomacy and electoral assistance measures, including the facilitation of an Experience-Sharing Engagement with Security Forces to enhance the capacities of the joint election security taskforce with a view to deepeningelection security management before,during and after the polls. Further, the Commission organized an interactive workshop on dia
logue and mediation for political actors and stakeholders on peaceful elec tions. The Commission also engaged targeted media professionals operating in the print, broadcast and online spaces, with the aim of strengthening their capacity in addressing the challenges of incitement, fake news, disinfor mation, misinformation and mat-information,through fact-checki ng mecha nisms.
5. In the build up to the 10 October 2023 election,and in furtherance of the pro visions of Articles 14 to 16 of the Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance (2001), the President of the ECOWAS Commission,His Ex cellency Dr. Omar Alieu Touray, deployed a 15-member Long Term Observation Team (LTO) from 10 September 2023 to 15 October 2023. He then de ployed a Short Term Election Observation Mission (STEOM),comprising 120 observers to Liberia. The Mission is led by Professor Attahiru JEGA, former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of Nige ria. The Mission is supported by a technical team from the ECOWAS Commis sion,led by the Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security,Ambas sador Abdel-Fatau Musah.Itwas also supported by the Resident Representa tive of ECOWAS in Liberia, H.E Ambassador Josephine NKrumah.
6. The ECOWAS EOM is deployed with a mandate to observe the conduct of criti cal phases before, during and after the elections,with a view to ensuringthat the processes are conducted incompliance with extant legal frameworks and international best practices and makingcritical recommendations for further improvement of the electoral process in Liberia. The EOM also serves as a rapid response mechanism for preventive diplomacy initiatives on challenges emanatingfrom the electoral processes.
7. The membership of the EOM is drawn from the ECOWAS Parliament, Commu nity Court of Justice, the ECOWAS Permanent Representatives Committee,the ECOWAS Council of the Wise,Foreign Affairs Ministries and Election Manage ment Bodies of Member States, as well as CivilSociety Organizations and the media.
II. CONTEXT OF THE 2023 GENERAL ELECTIONS
8. The 2023 General elections are the fourth consecutive nationwide elections in Liberia since the end of the civilwar two decades ago, and the first since the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) completed its mandate and final withdrawal on 30 March 2018 and 28 June 2018, respectively.It is also the first
elections to be independently managed by the country, with a biometric vot ers’ register as a means of enhancing the integrity of the elections.The country has also successfully navigated a peaceful transition of power from a ruling political party to an opposition party,thus strengthening the country’s cre dentials as an emerging stable constitutional democracy in the West African region.
9. In preparation for the general elections, the National Elections Commission (NEC), for the first time, compiled a new voters’ register, using biometric fea tures of citizens. Even though the biometric verification process was not needed for voting,the purpose of the Biometric Voters’ Registration (BVR) was to ensure a credible voters’ register. At the end of the registration process, the NEC certified 2,471,617 as the final total registered voters.This number com prises 1,237,257 females (50.05%) and 1,234,360 males (49.94%). Also, among the total voters captured, 12,399 Persons Living with Disabilities (PLWDs) were registered.
IO.Attempts to make it mandatory for political parties to reserve at least 30% of candidates for elective offices for women was vetoed by the President in March 2023, citing constitutional implications and time-sensitivity. Deter mined to actualize this, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed be tween the NEC and political parties, committingand obliging political parties to ensure this provision was adopted. While this signals a commendable com mitment to increase women’s participation and representation in politics and governance, the Mission notes that the quota was not met in these elections as women candidates constituted only 15% of the total candidates who filed their nominations with the NEC, despite women accountingfor over fifty per cent (50.2%) of the Liberian population.
11. The election campaign period officially kicked-off on 4 August 2023 and ran through to 8 October 2023 inline with the NEC Guidelines for Campaigns. On
4 April 2023, major Presidential candidates signed the Revised Farmington River Declaration,committing themselves, and their political parties, to up hold peace before,duringand after elections. The parties also agreed,by this Declaration,to use laid down legal means to seek redress for any electoral dis putes. The ECOWAS Mission notesthat although campaign events were largely peaceful, some skirmishes were reported between supporters of the two main political parties, Unity Party and the Coalition for Democratic Change. The Mission noted the incidents which led to loss of lives and injury in Lofa City, and also condemned the clashes in Monrovia on gth October 2023 (the last day of elections campaigns) leading to violence and reported attacks on the con voy of the President and candidate of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC). Similarly,the Mission notesthe use of social media platforms to spread hate speech,misinformation, and disinformation,despite efforts by ECOWAS and other stakeholders to discourage them.
12. The Mission notes infrastructure challenges to the conduct of the polls, partic ularly transportation of election materials bythe NEC to the hard-to-reach ar eas, deployment of security forces for the management of election security and citizens commutingto their respective places of voting.This situation was further exacerbated by the constitutionally scheduled time for the conduct of the general elections, which coincides with the rainy season.
13. The Mission also notes the relative pluralism of the media landscape, with most of the private media owned by politicians. Nonetheless, the media in cluding the ECOWAS Radio were used as platforms for voter and civic educa tion,including electoral campaigns.Generally,the media exhibited independ ence, fairness,impartiality and accountability, inaddition to taking up the na tional assignment ineducatingthe citizenry about the electoral processes and often relaying information from the NEC to the electorate.
Ill. ENGAGEMENTS WITH STAKEHOLDERS
14. Upon arrival in Monrovia on 2 October 2023, the Head of Mission and his dele gation held consultations with relevant stakeholders on the electoral process, including with the President of the Republic and candidate of the CDC, H.E. George Weah,the Unity Party (UP) candidate, former Vice President Joseph Boakai and other presidential candidates and political parties taking part in the election.
15. The Mission equally held consultations with the Chairperson and Commis sioners of the National Elections Commission (NEC), the Inspector General of Police,Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Justice and other critical stake holders including Civil Society organizations.
16. The Mission also held consultations with other Heads of International Election Observation Missions,including the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), EISA, the Carter Center,the West Africa Elders Forum (WAEF), WANEP, YIAGA-AFRICA as well as the Special Representative of the United Nations Se cretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel.
IV. ELECTION DAY
17. On Election Day, the Mission deployed 120 observers,grouped into 54 teams, across the country.The observers visited atotal of 576 PollingStations spread across both urban (52%) and rural areas (48%) in 13 out of the 15 counties of the country, and reported the following:
Opening of the Polls
18. Generally, all the 60 polling stations visited by our teams of observers at the start of polls opened within 30 minutes of the official opening of 08:00.
Whereas 57 (representing 95%} of polling stations opened at 08:00 am,only three polling stations (representing 5%} opened after 08:00 am but before 09:00 am.No significant delays were observed at the start of polls.
19. The atmosphere at Polling Stations was generally peaceful with security agents present in 91.67% of the polling stations visited. The ECOWAS Mission also observed security patrols across voting precincts.
20. A significant number of party agents and representat ives were seen atthe poll
ing stations. Fifty-nine out of the sixty polling stations, representing 98.3%, had agents of the candidates and parties present,apart from Vision for Liberia Transformation Party that didn’t have an agent in any of the 60 polling sta tions at the openingof polls.
21. Domestic and international election observers from the African Union, Euro pean Union, Brenthurst, EISA, WANEP, Women Situation Room, and LEON, among others,were spotted in many of the polling centers visited.
22. A significant number of Polling stations (99.03%} were set up in a way that guaranteed the secrecy of the ballot. However, in few places such as at Frank Town Public School pollingstation in Bento! City, Montserrado, Zokeseh Com munity School polling station in Garr Bain,Nimba and Market Hall 2 polling station at Voinjama, Lofa,the votingscreens and booths did not provide ade quate cover for voters to secretly express theirchoice.
23. ln general,voters were required to present their voters’ card to cast their bal lot. Nonetheless, in 18 Polling stations visited (representing 3.49%), observers witnessed that voters were allowed to vote even thoughtheir names were not
on the voters’ register atthose stations. Some of the people who were allowed thisdispensation included pollingstaff and security personnel on duty,as well as drivers of international observers (who could produce voter identity cards). This dispensation was allowed infull compliance with the NEC manual on poll
ing process where voting by polling staff, NEC officials on duty, Election secu rity personnel,international observers drivers, and other special civil servants, are allowed, provided the voter is in possession of a valid 2023 BVR card,an accreditation badge issued by the NEC,or personal or work-related ID card.
24. Thesheer number of party agents and the absence of copies of voters’ register in their possession did not allow for adequate verification of voter identity by the agents.
25. Voting materials were generally available in sufficient quantities in pollingsta tions that our observers visited. With respect to inclusion, 384 Pollingstations visited, representing 74.42% were accessible to Persons living with Disability (PWDs). Observers also reported that there were tactile ballot jackets in 66.09% of the Polling stations visited. It was, however, observed that in as much as accessibility to pollingstations was high (74%) for persons livingwith disability,not much preference was given to such group of people,including the elderly,pregnant women and others with mobility challenges, the oppor tunity to cast theirvotes, as they all struggled with everyone in the queues to vote.
26.0bservers did not witness any active campaigning around the Polling pre cincts visited. Observers also noted long queues, slow pace of the voting pro cess and congestion in most of the pollingstations visited.
27.0verall,the voting process was sluggish,in part due to the sheer size of the presidential ballot papers, the cumbersome folding and slow pace of pro cessing voters.
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28.A notable incident, however, occurred at the Mambo Public School Polling precinct at Tewor, in Grand Cape Town,where the seals of the Ballot Boxes transported to the center had broken,unknown to the electoral officials. Party agents, voters and community opinion leaders insisted that voting could not start until the issue was resolved.Consequently the Elections Commission’s officials in the district assured the voters of requesting for new sealed ballot boxes to allow for votingto start. As at 4:00 pm, voting had not started at the Mambo Public School polling precinct,generating chaotic scenes.
Closing and Counting
29. Generally voting ended between 6:00 pm and 11:00 pm.In 83% of the polling stations, voting ended between 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm. In 62% of the polling stations visited, voters waiting in queues to vote after the official closing of polls were allowed to cast their ballot in accordance with the law.
30. ln all the polling stations visited,the opening of ballot boxes, sorting and countingof ballots were done at the stations and in clear view of party agents and election observers. However, there was poor lightingin 33% of the polling stations as countingof votes continued deep into the night.
31. Reconciliation and Results Forms (RRFs) were filled out at the Polling stations and party agents were allowed to endorse them.
32.0verall,the sheer number of registered voters per pollingunit (500-520) in of ten crammed spaces contributedto the sluggishness of thevotingprocess and tensions in the queues.
PRELIMINARY DECLARATION – LIBERIA GENERAL ELECTIONS – lOTH OCTOBER 2023
V. PRELIMINARY CONCLUSIONS
33. The Mission notes the challenges associated with infrastructure and their im pact on the smooth conduct of the elections. While the Mission urges the Government to put in measures to ameliorate the infrastructure conditions of the country,it also urges the National Parliament and other critical stakeholders to consider the review of the relevant portions of the Constitution and the electoral law to allow for national elections to be held on dates duringthe dry season.
34. The Mission notes that the polling process generally proceeded smoothly and in a largely peaceful atmosphere,and eligible voters were able to freely par ticipate inthe process, even though the long queues, congestions atthe voting precincts and the slow pace of the process led to some grumbling and agita tions by voters. To address congestion and long queues at polling precincts, reforms may be introduced in the electoral laws to reduce the number of vot ers per pollingunit,taking into cognisance the resource need for such reforms.
35. The Mission commends the sense of patriotism exhibited by polling staff, the security forces and the general populace, who collectively played their parts in ensuring a peaceful conduct of the 2023 general elections.
36. The ECOWAS Election Observation Mission wishes to appealto all stakehold ers, particularly the political parties, candidates and their supporters, as well as the security forces and the general citizenry to remain calm and patiently wait for the official declaration of the results by the National Elections Com mission,the sole organ mandated to do so under the law.
37. Similarly,the Mission wishes to remind candidates and political parties on the commitments made within the framework of the Revised Farmington River