Liberia’s upcoming presidential and legislative elections will mark the first peaceful, democratic handover of a head of state to a successor since 1944, said President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, signaling an irreversible course for the post-war nation she has ruled for the past twelve years.
“The election will signal the irreversible course that Liberia has embarked upon to sustain its peace and consolidate its young democracy. Indeed, the march of democracy is unstoppable, in Liberia and on the African continent,” she added.
Sirleaf paid homage to US support for Liberia, notably in aiding the country’s transition from civil war and the 2014 Ebola epidemic, at a forum hosted by Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) with the participation of Representative Ed Royce (R-CA) Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace, the International Republican Institute, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, the National Democratic Institute, and the National Endowment for Democracy.
“It is your organizations that have helped to build our democratic character and institutions, and I hope that many of you will be with us next month to witness our historic political transition,” she said.
But Sirleaf lamented the current void in global leadership.
“America’s leadership is needed today, more than ever as the world faces new challenges, including transnational threats, rogue nations equipped with the most sophisticated weapons, millions of stateless families fleeing their homelands in search of security and economic opportunity, and our planet screaming for us to protect it,” she said.
“My friends, do not let the leadership void in our changing world be filled by the disruptors. The dream of America is alive in the hearts of all people who strive for freedom and for a better life for their families. Continue to be a champion,” she added.
Liberia is scheduled to hold elections on October 10, paving the way for Sirleaf to step down in January, after serving two six-year terms in office.
Sirleaf’s achievements, particularly her commitment to honor the constitution and make way for new leadership, have raised the expectations of the Liberian people, notes Kate Hixon, a human rights advocate and former Africa program officer at Freedom House.
“Peace and stability are essential, but they are no longer enough. The upcoming transfer of power should be taken as an opportunity to move the country further along the democratic path, with a focus on improving transparency, the rule of law, and equality of opportunity for all Liberians,” she adds.
Corruption is the most vulnerable aspect of Liberia’s democracy, as in many other African democracies, said Dave Peterson, the National Endowment for Democracy’s Senior Director for Africa.
“Nepotism, ethnic favoritism, shady contracts, vote-buying, land deals, and other forms of both grand and petty corruption can only undermine popular support for democracy,” he told the committee. Despite many candidates joining President Sirleaf in expressing willingness to combat corruption, Liberians have witnessed little progress,” he told a recent hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.