With preparations for the upcoming general elections in full swing, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged the people of Liberia to do everything possible to ensure the polls are free, fair and peaceful.
The presidential and legislative polls, scheduled for 11 October, will be second round of democratic elections since the end of the decade-long conflict in Liberia that killed nearly 150,000 people, mostly civilians, and sent 850,000 others fleeing to neighbouring countries.
“The success of these elections, and the peaceful inauguration of a new administration, will be critical to the consolidation of the tremendous progress the country has made over the past eight years,” Mr. Ban writes in his latest report to the Security Council on the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
The Secretary-General states that the UN family in Liberia will continue to provide technical and logistical support, as required, to ensure the operational success of the elections. However, he notes that there will be major logistical challenges given that all electoral events will be conducted during the country’s rainy season and timelines will be extremely tight.
“I therefore urge all political actors and the population at large to make the utmost effort to ensure that the upcoming elections will be free, fair and without violence,” he says.
Prior to the general elections, a constitutional referendum will be held on 23 August on four proposed amendments to the Constitution, three of which are election-related: to change the electoral system from an absolute to a simple majority for all elections except those for president and vice-president; to move election day from October to November; and to revise the residency clause for presidential and vice-presidential candidates from 10 to five consecutive years immediately prior to an election.
The fourth provision would increase the mandatory retirement age for chief justices to 75. While the National Elections Commission has confirmed the date for the upcoming presidential and legislative elections as 11 October, the results of the referendum may shift them to 8 November.
Mr. Ban notes that the planning for the elections, as well as efforts to address the situation along the border between Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire, have created “significant” challenges for the Liberia National Police, “an already stretched organization that is continuing to develop its institutional capacity.”
It is urgent, he writes, that the Government’s international partners increase support for the development of the security sector to ensure that UNMIL operations can be progressively scaled down as it hands over security responsibilities to national authorities.
UNMIL, whose current mandate expires on 30 September, has an authorized strength of 7,952 military and 1,375 police personnel. Mr. Ban recommends that UNMIL’s mandate be extended for one year and that the current strength be maintained, given the still limited capacity of national security institutions and the critical need to support electoral, border and other security operations.
A UN technical assessment mission will be deployed to Liberia after the inauguration of the next Government to develop proposals for the next stages of the mission’s drawdown.
In the report, the Secretary-General also voices concern about the slow implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations, especially given the critical role reconciliation will play towards sustainable peace.
Other areas of concern include continuing ethnic and communal tensions, disputes over land and other resources, drug trafficking, and limited employment and livelihood opportunities.
The refugee situation and security-related issues emanating from the post-election crisis in Côte d’Ivoire also present significant challenges for Liberia, says the Secretary-General.
“It is critical that financial support be provided to the revised Emergency Humanitarian Action Plan to cover humanitarian needs to the end of 2011, especially given that the influx of refugees continues.”
As of 1 August, there were an estimated 160,000 registered refugees from Côte d’Ivoire in Liberia.