As Liberia prepared for it third consecutive presidential and legislative elections in 2017, the women and youth of the country decided to be proactive to replicate the Women’s Situation Room (WSR) in response to mounting tensions to ensure there would be an enabling environment for Liberians to vote in a peaceful manner. Liberia became the first country to replicate the (WSR) for the second time since its inception in 2011.
The rising tensions hovered around the absence of clearly defined thresholds for political constituencies, the capacity and preparedness of the Liberian security agencies and the proliferation of political parties. It was perceived that the Liberian National Police (LNP) lacked adequate preparations to ensure the safety and security of voters during the October 2017 elections. Unlike the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), professional training for the LNP had been limited. Other issues included brooding police corruption and lack of professionalism in handling complaints leading to low confidence and mistrust for the agency by the Liberian public.
The security concern was also partly as a result of the withdrawal of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). It may be recalled that since 2003, UNMIL had been the stabilising force in the country within the security sector and the source of the much-needed funding for critical components of elections including training and capacity building workshops for the major stakeholders. This was the first time after over 12 years of democratic rule that the Liberian security forces would be in charge of ensuring ensure peace and security before, during and after the October 2017 elections.
For this election also, the incumbent president, H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was not seeking re-election. This was because she had served in full the two-term constitutional provision for any person seeking the high office of the president of Liberia. In light of this, the proliferation of over 22 political parties in a small country like Liberia with a voter register of less than 2 million registered voters was seen as a potential violence trigger as flagbearers mobilised their constituencies ahead of the elections. This indicator for violence was also underscored by flashes of violence across certain counties of the country which threatened to undermine the fragile peace that the country was enjoying.
In light of these concerns, the women and youth of Liberia decided to implement the WSR to ensure that voting was not conducted in an explosive situation that would destabilise the peace and security of not just the country but the Mano River Union Sub-Region. The WSR process was implemented by ABIC as initiator of the WSR process, building on its experiences, lessons learned, best practices and new tools acquired from replicating the process in six other African countries, to ensure a peaceful election in Liberia in October, 2017.
Major Highlights of the WSR-Liberia 2017
The WSR-Liberia organised civic education on the interpretation of the Court Injunction which calmed the populace until the injunction was lifted and a runoff election was scheduled for 26th December 2017.
The WSR in partnership with the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia trained Elections Magistrates to ensure speedy judgement of elections cases.
The Eminent Women Mediators mediated between youth within the political parties, the Police and the National Election Commission (NEC) to avert violent confrontations before the runoff elections.