An effective and timely resolution of disputes arising from elections helps to enhance the integrity of the electoral process and minimize the risk of political violence.
Since 2015, UNDP Liberia Elections Basket Fund Project funded by donors and traditional partners (EU, Sweden, Canada, Ireland thru Irish_Aid, USAID) have made tremendous strides in building capacity development efforts of the National Elections Commission (NEC) to improve its Electoral Dispute Resolution (EDR) mechanism.
In 2018, the National Elections Commission (NEC), with support from Basket Fund Partners, consolidated and printed the Opinions of the Supreme Court on electoral disputes. These are important reference materials which provide an overview of case laws for lawyers specialized in election disputes.
The reports released by national and international observer missions on elections, have also played critical roles in tailoring support to Liberia’s elections. Among which are from the Liberia Election Observation Network (LEON), the Election Coordination Committee (ECC), European Union, Carter Center, and the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
In 2020, the Liberia Electoral Support Project (LESP) was developed jointly by the National Elections Commission (NEC) and UNDP Liberia following close consultations with a variety of electoral stakeholders, including civil society, government counterparts, and political parties, amongst others.
In consultation with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the project supported training workshops for major stakeholders in December 2020 to help address the EDR challenges which were identified as priority areas of reform in various election observation reports, needs assessment missions, and lessons learned exercises.
Separate training workshops were organized for Magistrates, Hearing Officers, Lawyers of Political Parties and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), to enhance their capacity to deal with complaints arising from elections.
Both national and international EDR Specialists have helped the NEC to develop training modules and materials used during these trainings, to increase awareness among major stakeholders.
Public information and outreach on election disputes remain limited. The development and printing of related materials have helped explain to stakeholders the basic provisions of the laws. They include the processes and regulations related to complaints, petitions, challenges and resolution of cases by NEC and the Supreme Court.
All regulations, codes of conduct, amended election laws, procedures, and the relevant constitutional provisions, were compiled in a compendium and distributed to electoral stakeholders.
Electoral staff and Lawyers can now access important reference materials like a Primer on EDR for the public, a Q&A on NEC Election Hearing Procedures for Lawyers of political parties, a fact sheet for candidates, and a pocket guide for agents of political parties and candidates.
These materials further explain the rights, duties and obligations of a candidate during campaign, polling, counting, and post-election.
The project currently provides legal research and assistance to Hearing Officers of the NEC as they hear and resolve post-election complaints. Real-time advice is available to them as they listen to the petitions and arguments of complainants and their witnesses from the December 8, Special Senatorial Elections.
The Project also provides technical support to Hearing Officers and the Board of Commissioners in drafting and finalizing rulings and orders to ensure that they are in the correct format and are compliant with both the constitution and NEC procedures.
In one post-election complaint, for example, advice on the legal standing for initiating post-election complaints proved critical to the effective and efficient resolution of the case. Under the Elections Law and the Constitution, only political parties and individual candidates can bring post-election complaints to challenge election results. The complainants in this case failed to satisfy those requirements.
During the post-election period, the NEC will conduct series of consultations to identify lessons learned from the 2020 elections, including on EDR. The exercises will consider findings from the technical electoral assistance and the pre-election assessment conducted by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).
The NEC Hearing Officers, magistrates, private lawyers, and representatives of political parties and civil society organizations will be invited to participate in separate consultations to get their inputs and suggestions. The national consultation will also lead to recommendations for electoral reforms and a long-term capacity development plan to further improve the NEC system of adjudicating election related cases.
Engagement of both, national and international advisers to the process, aims at developing local capacities and consolidating knowledge in a sustainable manner.
The capacity development will build on earlier USAID Rule of Law Project and will be developed jointly with the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA). Close collaboration with the Bar but also with the University of Liberia and other national counterparts will be critical for the success of the program.