Here’s a brief situation report of events on the ground in Liberia, where Ushahidi Liberia’s team has been operational for the past year and-a-half. This report covers the eve of and, now, day of, the presidential run-off election:
The 2nd round of voting, scheduled for November 8th, has two candidates on the ballot: Congress for Democratic Change (CDC)’s Winston Tubman, and the Unity Party’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in October.
- As of Friday, CDC’s Tubman announced a boycott of the run-off election. Just two days before, Tubman said the CDC would participate in the 2nd round, despite differing statements from within his party. The US State Department said it was “deeply disappointed” by Mr. Tubman’s decision to boycott the runoff and that Tubman’s accusations of fraud were “unsubstantiated.”
- Despite warnings from the international community, Tubman called for a rally on Monday, November 7th – on the eve of the Nov 8th run-off. Campaigning ended officially on Nov 6th, and the CDC did not have the requisite permit from the government to conduct the rally by Monday morning when CDC supporters were amassing in the streets. CDC supporters were told in this flier that the 2nd round as “a cheating run-off” and encouraged to demonstrate in protest.
- “CDCians” gathered near the party’s headquarters on the main street that runs through the capital. By noon, a blockade was formed first by UN Peacekeepers and, behind, the Liberia National Police backed by UN armored vehicles. Within an hour of the crowd’s formation, there was a breach at the edge of the blockade and CDCians who broke free began throwing rocks and glass bottles at the officers. Police responded with tear gas grenades, fired repeatedly into the scattering crowd. The police pushed the main crowd backwards to the party headquarters, continuing the tear gas and soon after firing live ammunition at supporters. Five civilians are confirmed dead, with many others injured. A nearby gas station was looted and destroyed, allegedly because the owner was a Unity Party supporter.
- Shortly after nightfall, the court ordered three radio stations be shut down for inflammatory speech. These stations were said to be operated by CDC supporters. As for the rally’s deaths, CDC’s vice presidential candidate blamed President Johnson Sirleaf directly for the loss of life. President Johnson Sirleaf vowed an investigation would be conducted.
- Election morning saw reduced numbers at the polls. Many more women than men were voting. In CDC strongholds across the capital, voter turnout was little more than a trickle. When an international election monitor asked a lone male voter why the women largely outnumbered the men in the 2nd round, he said simply, “They look out for their own”, suggesting women were voting for Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf.
- While the turnout appeared to be significantly less than the 1st round, this election did not include the Senate and House of Representatives, and was between two presidential aspirants rather than October’s 16. It is suspected among observers that the short lines may have been in part because of the streamlined process and not only because voters were concerned about violence.
- Isolated reports of instability came in at the end of the day, including attempted ballot box stealing and more rounds of tear gas fired at citizens trying to prevent the police from removing ballot boxes at close of polls. All in all, a calmer day than expected after the events of Nov 7th.
- Unofficial preliminary results will be released by the Liberia Media Center this evening and throughout the week. The National Elections Commission says official preliminaries will be in on November 9th with most votes counted by the 11th. All of these results will be posted on the Ushahidi election instance under “other layers” (just below “categories”) on the homepage. The national Elections Coordinating Committee, with more than 1,700 field monitors, will also have detailed reports from each polling station on the Ushahidi instance as information rolls in.
More to come this week about the Ushahidi elections instance and its role during and after the run-off.