It is a pleasure to be here today to help kickoff this extremely important conference.
First let me start by congratulating the National Elections Commission and all its commissioners, including Mr. Fromayan, once again, for the professional conduct of the legislative and presidential elections. By all international standards, and in the eyes of all independent observers, the 2011 Legislative and Presidential elections were a model for free, fair, and transparent elections. We only need to look at what has happened in other places in Africa and we know that Liberia is a model.
Let me also take the opportunity once again to congratulate the people of Liberia who participated, and had their voices heard, in these elections. Yours was the victory as you exercised your constitutional rights and voted in a free and democratic election. As in all elections, there are winners and there are losers but in a democracy everyone wins because the next time aroudn winners might be losers and losers winners. Liberia’s democracy is vibrant and is improving although it has some ways to go. It is by no means perfect and my hope is that your discussions over the next three days – looking at lessons learned, assessing what went well, and what needs to be improved so that future elections are strengthened is a worth process, and I commend your efforts.
The U.S. Government, along with others, is proud to be a partner in Liberia’s democracy-building. Since the signing of the comprehensive peace accords in 2003, our assistance has focused on bolstering Liberian democracy by strengthening the NEC, empowering civil society, and enhancing local media.
USAID’s programs, implemented by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, National Democratic Institute, and International Resource Exchange, have reached millions of Liberians by giving them a greater voice in their government, and making democratic institutions more responsive to them.
Going forward, the US Government is committed to continuing support to the NEC and democratic instutitions, and the people of Liberia, which brings us to this conference.
Discussing and analyzing the lessons learned during the past election year is a necessary and critical next step that will allow the NEC to serve Liberian democracy even better in the years to come.
I am particularly glad to see that the NEC has invited a wide rance of stakeholders to this conference. Representatives from the government, civil society, political parties, youth, and international and domestic observers are all here today to share their knowledge with each other and the NEC. This inclusive attitude will only strengthen and further legitimize the results of this consultative conference.
The discussion at this workshop will set the basis for developing and strengthening the NEC. The discussions will support the creation of a new strategic plan to guide the NEC through to the next general elections.
They will also allow the NEC to ensure professionalism and integrity in the selection and recruitment of electoral staff.
I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity to review the electoral legal framework to ensure laws and regulations are consistent, clear, relevant, and helpful. I also urge you to support decentralization efforts through the informed development and implementation of plans for local elections. Elections laws need to be clear enough for everyone to understand. Changes should not be made weeks before elections as we experienced here with the threshold bill and the referendum. It was extremely confusing to the population. Secondly, I can’t fathom why Liberia, a country of 3.5 million could support 29 parties and 16 presidential candidates. These large number support tribal and regional politics that is not good for the nation. Parties need to be based on platforms and issues and not personalities and tribes.
The results of this conference will play an important part int he NEC’s future performances in conducting elections. It is important that you build on the powerful momentum generated through the eight-plus years since the signing of the peace accords and help give the NEC the tools it needs, morally and financially, to continue to serve Liberians and Liberian democracy so that Liberia can contineu on the trend of being a leader in the community of democracies.
I will be watching Liberia from afar and I am confident you will continue on the right path. As a good friend of ours, Ellen Loejj, used to say, “don’t mess it up”. You owe it to the people and to your children to get it right!
Cross posted from USAID.