Liberians Urged To Cast Ballots in Runoff Vote

27 Oct 2011

imageJordan Ryan with Boston University law student Nana Annan and William V.S. Bull, Liberian Ambassador to the US. Photo: Sarah Jackson-Han

WASHINGTON, Oct. 26—Liberia’s ongoing election poses a major test for the West African country, a senior UN Development Programme (UNDP) official said here Wednesday, urging Liberians to turn out in large numbers for a runoff vote Nov. 8.

“Second elections [after a crisis] are quite important.They’re less glamorous and they don’t usually present that CNN moment or international attention of first elections” after a conflict or crisis, Jordan Ryan, Director of UNDP’s Bureau for Crisis Prevention & Recovery (BCPR), said.

“Often the institutional mechanisms have been handed over to national authorities… But in a sense they’re much more important because they deepen democratic routines and consolidate peace," Ryan told a briefing hosted by the United Nations Foundation and United Nations Association-USA.

Liberians now “have really taken much more charge of the election” this year, Ryan said, adding that US and UN involvement remain strong, including a partnership between UNDP and US Agency for International Development to provide support to the National Electoral Commission.

Ryan urged the international community to remain engaged with Liberia and support Liberians through their transition, as “democracies take time to mature,” noting that the first round of presidential elections was widely praised for being orderly. 

“This is a huge test,” he said. “We hope citizens will turnout in large numbers” in the runoff vote.

This is the first locally organized election since 14 years of sporadic conflict ended in 2003—which resulted in the death of a quarter million people and destroyed most of the country's infrastructure. Liberian selected President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in 2005.

Johnson-Sirleaf, awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace this month, won 44 percent in first -round voting Oct. 11, while her main challenger, Winston Tubman, placed second with 33 percent. A runoff is scheduled for Nov. 8.

New challenges

Liberians are working on building up their own national capacity to govern, resolve conflicts, and make progress toward the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals, Ryan, who served previously as UNDP country representative in Liberia, said.

Nannette Ahmed, in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York, noted that Liberia has recently faced additional challenges as a result of violent conflict in neighboring Cote d’Ivoire.

“They have had to devote scarce resources to border areas,” she said. An estimated 163,243 Ivorian refugees are now in Liberia, including 156,724 who arrived since November and 6,519 living there since 2003, UN officials say.

Violence erupted in Cote d’I’voire following a dispute over the December 2010 presidential election results. Following a four-month political crisis, President Alassane Ouattara was sworn in on May 6, 2011.

On Oct. 26, the UN Security Council praised Liberians for an orderly conduct first round and voiced hope for an equally peaceful second round.

In a statement, the 15-member body urged “all Liberian stakeholders to remain committed to the legitimate political process, exercise maximum restraint, and work together to build confidence in the electoral system.”

The Council called on “international and national stakeholders, including civil society, to deploy as many electoral observers as possible, as invited by the Government of Liberia to monitor the second round.”

The UN has maintained a peacekeeping force in Liberia (UNMIL) since 2003.  It has a current strength of 7,775 troops and more than 1,300 police office.