Today was an election day in Montserrado Country, where Monrovia is located, to select a new Senator to replace the one who passed away a few weeks ago (and whose memory was being celebrated the night I arrived, a few doors down from where I am staying). The day was a holiday, meaning all restaurants were closed (or at least so it seemed) and I owe my host a can of peanuts.
The Senatorial candidates, Geraldine Doe and Clemenceau Urey, are now in a run-off after neither won a majority among the multiple candidates two weeks ago. (I try to imagine the U.S. with ten strong parties and wonder if we’d get some fresh ideas or if it would look much like last year’s Democratic debates where everyone spent most of their 90 seconds to speak repeating, “Yeah, what s/he said…”) Some see today’s election as a referendum of the Sirleaf government and, since the vast majority of the Liberian population lives in Monrovia, a harbinger of the 2011 Presidential election. (Despite a population of over one million in Monrovia alone, Montserrado County has 496,508 registered voters - and 989 polling places.
Most agree that the 2011 election will be critical in determining whether Liberia continues on a path to stability or retreats into conflict again. Some say that President Sirleaf and George Weah have done so much speaking on behalf the candidates that Doe and Urey haven’t gotten much of a word in edgewise and it’s hard to know the candidates’ stance on various issues. Since that’s about the extent of what I’ve gathered during my week here, I’ll direct you to more authoritative sources for more info, below:
Click here for statements from the US Ambassador, urging peace, patience and honesty in the election process, quoted in The Analyst. http://www.analystliberia.com/liberia_under_global_spotlight_nov23_09.html
More calls for peaceful elections by allAfrica.com: http://allafrica.com/stories/200911231842.html
Last week’s coverage in the Daily Observer addressing accusations of buying votes. http://www.liberianobserver.com/node/3000 (Signs around town read: to have good Senators, you must be a good voter - don’t sell your vote!)
allAfrica.com’s coverage of the initial by-elections and some problems that arose: http://allafrica.com/stories/200911110708.html
Waiting to hear tomorrow who won….
(Update - still waiting, but very interesting reaction from people I've asked about the election. Turnout was low because, it seems, people have truly lost all faith in all politicians here. The problems seem to be two-fold - one, there are few debates, so people don't know for what the candidates truly stand and two, regardless of who is elected, they become "self-interested" and don't work on behalf of the people. Even in the time they are granted to go to talk to their constituents, most apparently jaunt off to Europe and the U.S. People are truly disheartened and have little faith in the system. An extremely bright young man today told me that he'd rather go into the private sector than politics as "politics is dangerous here in Africa." He was quite the young JFK, saying people should not ask what their country would do for them, but what they can do for their country.)
Check back in regularly for updates from Piper as she's in the field. Also - be sure to mark your calendars for November 30th at 4pm, when Piper will host a conference call to talk about her trip to Liberia and the upcoming trial. Feel free to post any questions you have for Piper in advance!