Liberia’s first elections since the end of a civil war will go ahead as planned on Oct. 11 despite a successful Supreme Court appeal by three barred candidates, the U.S. ambassador said on Wednesday.
The presidential and parliamentary polls had been in doubt since the country’s highest court last week upheld an appeal from candidates who had been prevented from standing due to problems with their registration.
“The elections definitely are going to go forward on the 11th ... and the rule of law will be fully respected,” Donald Booth, the U.S. ambassador in Monrovia, told a news conference.
“All the indications I have had are that these are going to be free and fair elections,” he said.
Support from U.S.
Washington is providing funding and observers for the polls and is a major aid donor. Liberia, Africa’s oldest independent republic, was founded by freed American slaves in 1847.
The elections are meant to draw a line under one of Africa’s most brutal civil wars, a conflict fought by drugged-up child soldiers which killed 250,000 people before being declared over in 2003.
Election officials had warned that the polls could be delayed beyond October if ballots had to be reprinted to include the barred candidates and then redistributed to remote parts of the thickly forested West African country.
Frances Johnson-Morris, head of Liberia’s elections commission, said one of the barred presidential candidates whose court appeal was successful, Cornelius Hunter, had since decided not to run in the elections.
The other two had recently held talks in the Nigerian capital Abuja with officials from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has been mediating in the standoff, diplomats said.
But one of these two would-be election contenders, presidential candidate Marcus Jones, firmly rejected suggestions that he might withdraw his resubmitted candidacy to ensure the poll date was not set back.
“Whoever said that is a liar. This is a black and white lie,” he told Reuters.
There are already 22 candidates for the presidency, including soccer millionaire George Weah and former World Bank economist Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Parliamentary polls are due to be held on the same day.
Abdulsalami Abubakar, the top negotiator in Liberia’s peace process, was due in Monrovia later on Wednesday to meet election officials and government ministers, ECOWAS officials said.
Tired Liberians want election to proceed
On the streets of the rundown capital, Liberians tired of uncertainty over the timing of the landmark polls said they wanted the barred candidates to stand down so that the elections could go ahead.
“Those who appealed to the Supreme Court should know that the national interest surpasses the individual interest,” said Sraffa Dennis Morris, who runs a coffee house which doubles as an informal debating forum in the center of the city.
“They should yield to the cry of the Liberian people by stepping aside,” he said, as a throng of men packed into the tiny cafe shouted in agreement.
Elections chief Johnson-Morris said voting materials had now been distributed to key regional towns by road, ship and air and that everything was in place for the polls to go ahead as planned.