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16 Nov 2005 14:04
Liberian officials on Wednesday opened hearings into claims of vote fraud made by trailing presidential candidate George Weah, who has urged his supporters to quell protests even as the government imposed a ban on demonstrations in the capital.
Wednesday’s hearings, which began and then were adjourned until 4pm local time, came a day after preliminary results showed that Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a former finance minister, had won nearly 60% of votes and was poised to become Liberia’s post-war president and Africa’s first elected woman head of state.
The adjourned session will focus on allegations that extra ballots, already stamped by the National Elections Commission (NEC), were pre-marked with votes for Johnson-Sirleaf, said Catarina Fabiansson, media adviser for the United Nations mission in Liberia’s electoral division.
Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) has alleged massive vote fraud, ballot tampering, harassment and intimidation cheated the former Fifa player of the year out of a rightful win in the November 8 polls after he led 21 other candidates in the October 11 first round with 28,3% of votes cast.
The CDC has also accused NEC chairperson Frances Johnson Morris of making prejudicial statements against Weah during polling hours.
In response to questions from journalists on November 8 about Weah’s allegations that he had been cheated out of a first-round win, Morris said Weah was being “reckless and irresponsible” and accused him of trying to “hijack state security”.
Morris has already been vindicated by the other NEC commissioners for her conduct, which the CDC said on Tuesday only underscored the unlikelihood that they would get a fair hearing in front of the commissioners on Wednesday.
“There is a question of credibility of the commission itself,” said Alhaji Kromah, a former warlord and one of the nine presidential candidates who endorsed Weah after losing in the October 11 first round.
“Can the same NEC that spoke in a manner that could prejudice [voters] against other candidates deliver justice?”
A number of international observers have judged the polls peaceful and credible, though most have stopped short of calling them “free and fair” in anticipation of the final results and the outcome of the inquiry.
CDC partisans marched for three days to protest the vote results, and were implored on Tuesday to cease their street demonstrations in order to let the legal process continue unfettered.
In a statement read on his behalf to reporters, Weah asked his young supporters to stop the protests, which could be “counter-productive” to the legal process.
“I can understand your frustrations; I can also understand your anxieties and I empathise with your demand for justice,” the statement said. “And while your right to assemble, demonstrate in public places and lay your grievances before public officials, such as the NEC, is guaranteed by the Constitution, we must also acknowledge that not all that is legal is always expedient.”
Transitional chairperson Gyude Bryant has also imposed a blanket ban on all public demonstrations after a Cabinet meeting, warning of “immediate and severe” consequences for any violators.
“Our instructions are clear; we have to enforce the ban and will do whatsoever it takes to enforce it,” said Joseph Kekula, inspector general of the Liberian National Police.
“And the CDC was itself on the radio and urged all people to stay off the streets, so anybody disobeying those instructions will not be demonstrating on behalf of the CDC but for themselves.”—Sapa-AFP
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