Was Charles Brumskine Truthful in His Interview with BBC?

Liberty Party’s standard bearer Charles Brumskine recently granted an interview to the BBC where he defended his claims that the October 10 presidential and representative elections were marked by “fraud and gross irregularities.”

Brumskine, who took a distant third place in the elections, is questioning the results, claiming that his party possesses evidence to prove that the election is “not valid” because the process did not pass the minimum standards required for free, fair, and transparent elections.

His party has since filed a complaint to the National Elections Commission and petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of Prohibition against a runoff election that was earlier scheduled for Tuesday, November 7. The two candidates who took the first and second place, George Weah of the opposition Coalition for Democratic Change and Vice President Joseph Boakai of the ruling Unity Party, were qualified to participate in the runoff.

The Supreme Court has granted the writ of prohibition, putting a halt to the runoff election until NEC investigates Liberty Party’s complaint.

Brumskine’s Interview

In his interview with the BBC, Brumskine claimed that the elections were held long before voting took place on October 10, referring to irregularities that led to the “fraudulent” poll on October 10.

According to him, the selection of the company that printed ballot papers for the elections was done against the decision of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission, the body responsible for approving public contracts and procurements.

He also claimed that printed ballot papers did not carry any serial number, thus reducing the possibility for accountability and creating a space for “massive fraud.”

According to him, his party has collected evidence of instances where presiding officers of voting centers were found tampering with ballot boxes after counting were done and the boxes sealed up.

“We have evidence showing the cover top of ballot boxes that were removed after polling had closed, ballots have been counted, boxes have been sealed, and the cover of those boxes were removed in order for presiding officers to open the boxes and put in ballots that they wanted to put in,” he told the BBC.

“We have some of those covers in our possession. We have submitted into evidence photos of those covers to the elections commission.”

Brumskine also reiterated a claim that hundreds of ballots were discovered in boxes that had been thrown away in Grand Gedeh, while two election workers were also arrested with pre-marked ballot papers they were allegedly shoving into ballot boxes.

In his interview, the Liberty Party standard bearer also alleged that although the highest number of registered voters to vote at a polling place does not exceed 500, the party recorded evidence of instances where Weah received 1,109 votes at one polling place.

Speaking on the merit of his claims after taking a distant third place position in the elections, Brumskine said his action is not just for himself, but to defend the rights of Liberians in general.

He claimed to have lost the presidency twice, in 2005 and 2011, without a complaint or contest to the process.

“I committed to the chairman of the African Union and the Chairman of ECOWAS that unlike 1985 in Liberia, when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf then ran to be senator of Montserrado County, when her party lost the election, and she and others felt that they were cheated, they brought a war upon our country. That caused the loss of lives; our country was completely destroyed. I committed this time around, under my leadership, not a single Liberian will be killed. Not a single drop of blood of any Liberian will be shed,” he said.

 

On Brumskine’s Claim about the Procurement Process

Brumskine alleged that the selection of the company that printed the ballots was done against the decision of the PPCC. However, PPCC Director Dorbor Jallah told The Bush Chicken that the claim is untrue.

Jallah clarified that the selection of the Slovenian company, CELTIS, met procurement procedures, and was certified by his commission.

He said Brumskine had perhaps mistaken CELTIS for Inkript Offshore SAL, the Lebanese company that was approved by NEC to provide all pre-packed election materials, and not the ballots.

Jallah had earlier told the Daily Observer that the selection of Inkript over Uniprint, a South African company with experience in delivering materials for elections in many African countries, met all procurement procedures, was a decision of the NEC procurement team.

The company earlier supplied the printers of the machine-readable voter registration forms that were not compatible with the scanners for the voter registration, thus leading to delays in the process.

Brumskine’s claim about the PPCC not approving the selection of the company printing the ballots was, therefore, false.

On Brumskine’s Claim about Ballot Papers Being Dumped

Liberty Party’s standard bearer also emphasized his party’s claim that ballot papers were found dumped in Grand Gedeh, but NEC Chairman Jerome Korkoya has said that the papers were not official ballots, but were samples used for the ‘Know Your Candidate’ civic education program.

“There is no way at all anybody can vote with these since they do not have the security features and are different sizes to ballot papers,” he stressed.

Unfortunately, The Bush Chicken could not access the ballot papers in questions, despite a request our reporter made to Liberty Party to provide copies of the evidence. Therefore, it is impossible to determine the validity of Brumskine’s statement, and this claim remains unverified.

On Brumskine’s Claim about Ballot Papers Having No Serial Numbers

Brumskine also claimed that the ballots had no serial numbers, but The Bush Chicken observed that, on the contrary, both the legislative and the presidential ballots came with serial numbers.

The serial numbers were at the top right of each ballot paper and when each ballot paper was torn along the perforated edges, that number remained on the stub that remained attached to the booklet.

At the bottom, a presidential ballot book before the ballot papers had been torn. At the top, the booklet with pages of the ballot papers torn out, leaving the stub with the serial numbers.

A representative ballot booklet with the serial number in view at the top right corner of the page.

It is worth noting that there are no serial numbers printed anywhere on the portion of the ballot paper that is detached and used for voting. Perhaps this is what Brumskine meant when he made his claim. However, because he did not make this clarification, his claim was, therefore, mostly false.

On Brumskine’s Claim about Filing Complaints in the 2005 and 2011 Elections  

Brumskine also claimed that he had participated and lost in two successive elections, 2005 and 2011, without a complaint or contest to the process.

However, the Carter Center and the National Democratic Institute, which jointly organized a delegation to observe the elections reported that Brumskine’s party filed one of the most significant complaints in the 2005 presidential elections.

According to the organizations, although national and international observers praised the October 2005 elections for being generally free and fair, at least 41 complaints were filed with the National Elections Commission alleging irregularity and fraud.

“The complaints were heard in hearings and concluded (with one exception) on Monday, October 31,” the report read.

“Most of the complaints were referred by the NEC adjudicator to the Ministry of Justice. Some complainants have expressed frustration that the NEC could not hear and resolve their disputes fully.”

The report disclosed that Liberty Party alleged in a statement issued on October 18, 2005 that “at least three aspects of the electoral process, namely ballot marking by illiterate voters, the counting of the votes, and the reporting of the votes counted, have been marred by serious irregularities, bordering fraud.”

According to the report, the party, among other things, claimed that many voters who were not literate and requested assistance from poll workers were led to mark areas on the ballot that did not reflect their choice.

“The party also raised concerns regarding the more than 38,000 ballots that have been deemed invalid,” it said.

The case was heard by the NEC on Monday, October 31, and Brumskine refused to declare support for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf or George Weah, who were the two candidates participating in the runoff election.

According to the results of the elections, Brumskine received 135,93 or nearly 14 percent of the total valid votes vote, 6 percent less than Sirleaf, who took second place in the first round.

Brumskine’s claim about not filing a complaint was, therefore, false.

On Brumskine’s Claim about Sirleaf Resolving to War as a Result of Losing the 1985 Election

While Brumskine touched on the role of Sirleaf’s involvement in the 1985 elections, his story, however, was left incomplete.

The truth is, Sirleaf and other members of the Liberia Action Party won seats in the legislature, but refused to participate in the government in solidarity with claims that the elections were fraudulent and their party’s standard bearer, Jackson F. Doe, was cheated by President Samuel K. Doe, who had been military leader in the country for nearly five years since the coup against President William R. Tolbert.

Doe’s election was considered as one of the most blatant vote frauds in modern African history, as many independent observers believed that the Liberian Action Party’s Jackson Doe, who officially finished second, was the actual winner.

The period after the elections saw increased human rights abuses, corruption, and ethnic tensions, ultimately leading to the start of the First Liberian Civil War after another failed coup by a military general, Thomas Quiwonkpa, in 1989.

In December 1989, Charles Taylor, a former member of Doe’s government, entered the country through Côte d’Ivoire to start an uprising to upset the government. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia battled with its faction, the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia, headed by Prince Johnson for control in Monrovia. Johnon’s group seized Monrovia and executed President Doe in 1990.

Sirleaf told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that she made financial contributions to Taylor’s movement. She apologized for her role in the war, claiming that she was fooled.

“If there is anything that I need to apologize for to this nation, it is for being fooled by Taylor in giving any kind of support to him,” said the 70-year-old president. “I feel it in my conscience, I feel it every day.”

Because he omitted crucial information in his narrative and included some misinformation, Brumskine’s claim here is only partially true.

The government’s Response to Brumskine’s comments

The government took a strong exception to comments made by Liberty Party’s standard bearer, especially against President Sirleaf.

In a rather strong statement, Information Minister Eugene Nagbe said Brumskine needed to be aware that making baseless and reckless accusations about a fair and transparent process that was witnessed by several party agents, local, and international actors, and acclaimed to be credible, is a demonstration of desperation and dishonesty.

Nagbe said the government believes that the comments by Brumskine were the “rants of a sore and selfish loser” who is so blinded by ego and arrogance that even after 12 years of rejection by the voters, he is unable to accept that he is not the presidential choice of the Liberian people.

“Cllr. Brumskine, whose position as a third-placer has never changed over the three recent electoral cycles, has always complained about the outcome of the election process since 2005,” he said (For the record, Brumskine placed fourth in the 2011 election).

Nagbe emphasized the need for Brumskine to understand that his rejection at the polls by Liberian represents their will, which he must accept instead of attempting to find a scapegoat by “unfounded and untrue statements” about Sirleaf and her role in the 2017 elections, and claims about bringing war after an electoral defeat in 1985.

“For the record, the president did win the senatorial elections in 1985 but opted not to accept a seat under a dictatorial regime,” he said.

Nagbe said Brumskine’s action is an indication of poor leadership and a lack of respect for the constitutional and democratic will of the Liberian people and of people they placed in authority through their votes. He added that the comments did not represent the standing of a political party leader who aspires to the presidency.

“On the issue of bringing war due to the circumstances surrounding the 1985 General and Presidential Elections, it is a shameful irony that Cllr. Brumskine who served as the so-called legal advisor to the NPFL machine and subsequently a high-profile position in the Government of former President Taylor who led the war effort and witnessed all of the evil committed by that regime to which he was a party, would make war claims against President Sirleaf,” the information minister continued.

He said the war allegation reflects more on Brumskine and the Liberty Party leader’s resort to misinformation in the media and distortion of the facts of history while his contention is being addressed by in court is also an indication of a lack of respect and confidence in the judicial process.

“We urge him to keep his focus on the legal option that he is pursuing and refrain from baseless attacks aimed at the president and the Government of Liberia,” he said.

Featured photo by Zeze Ballah

Gbatemah Senah

Gbatemah is currently a senior student at the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. In 2017, Senah won three Press Union of Liberia awards: Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Land Rights Reporter of the Year.

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