GBARMA TOWN, Gbarpolu – As the conversation around electoral reform continues across the country, in Gbarpolu, the head of civil society organizations thinks the fees required for registering presidential and vice presidential candidates could hold the key in ensuring an increased quality of candidates.
Lincoln R. Johnson, the coordinator of Gbarpolu’s local chapter of the Liberia National Civil Society Council, believes that the current fees of US$2,500 and US$1,500 for presidential and vice presidential candidates are too small for a country of over 4 million people.
“I see why anybody can just wake up from their sleep and registered to run in any elections to become president in this country, because of the money they pay for the presidency is very, very small,” he said.
“That is one of the reasons why incompetent candidates are allowed to register. And these very people go around and confuse some voters who are not knowledgeable on candidate’s examinations.”
He claimed that, in some instances, incumbents have been known to sponsor candidates to divide the opposition.
So registering to contest even with no viable chance or plan of winning can also be a “strategic decision,” in order to support his or her sponsor in the runoff election, says Johnson.
He called for a 700 percent increase in the fees – to US$20,000 and US$10,000 for a presidential candidate and running mate, respectively. If candidates and political parties are able to raise such amounts, Johnson believes they would have been tested. He likened the financial requirement to the dowry requirements for marriage, which can serve as a way of testing marriage prospects and believed that even independent candidates should be required to pay that amount.
Increasing the fees would ensure that the proliferation of political parties are reduced and it would result in a drop in unsuitable people from competing, Johnson said. However, he recognized that many might see such as a drastic increase in fees as an attempt to limit the rights of future contestants.
“But then again, other people will have the impression that those who have sufficient resources or money and already in power, as if incumbents are trying to exclude them, which is not so,” Johnson said.
In 2016, Voice of America reported that Ghana’s electoral commission charged US$12,505 for presidential candidates – with those securing at least 29 percent of votes having their fees refunded. The ACE Electoral Knowledge Network said 2010 fees in Guinea were the equivalent of US$55,000 for presidential candidates, while in Sierra Leone, they were the equivalent of US$225 in 2012.
This article was produced with funding from Internews for the Citizens in Liberia Engaged to Advance Electoral Reform (CLEAR) project.
Featured photo courtesy of NEC