Opposition Parties Threaten to Boycott Liberian Election
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) _ Opposition parties are threatening to boycott the first multiparty election in more than 130 years in this West African nation, which was founded by freed American slaves.
Opponents of Gen. Samuel Doe’s military regime, which took power in a bloody coup in 1980, have placed candidates on the ballot for next Tuesday’s voting for a president, 26 Senate seats and 65 House of Representatives seats. But they say they may tell their supporters not to vote if they are not allowed to monitor the counting.
Doe, 35, appears to believe his National Democratic Party of Liberia is certain to win the election. He reportedly has said that after it is over, all Liberians must join his party.
Doe was a master sergeant when he overthrew the authoritarian regime of William K. Tolbert in 1980. He prohibited political activity until the summer of 1984, when he promulgated a new constitution and announced elections would be held in late 1985 for a civilian government to be installed in January 1986.
Doe and his election commission barred the two most popular opposition parties, the United People’s Party and Liberian People’s Party, from appearing on the ballot. Three opposition parties managed to clear a battery of financial and legal hurdles to win ballot space but said now they may boycott the vote.
″We have no intention of taking part in the process if the effect is to lend the process undeserved legitimacy,″ said Jackson Doe, who is running for president on the Liberia Action Party ticket against Gen. Doe. The two men are not related.
The Action Party, along with the United Party of former Information Minister Edward Kesselly and the Liberia Unification Party of Gabriel Kpolleh, a teacher, wants to have representatives present during voting and ballot counting.
Emmet Harmon, chairman of Doe’s special elections commission, has said the opponents can watch voting and counting from a distance of 25 feet. However, some of voting and counting stations are small rooms, which means the monitors will have to stay outside.
The opposition parties say their supporters have been harassed, beaten and detained by local government officials loyal to Gen. Doe’s National Democratic Party. The party’s secretary general, Oscar Quiah, has denied it uses strongarm tactics.
However, Western diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, say reports of arrests and harrassment are widespread and well-documented.
One diplomat said Doe controls traditional village chiefs and has used government vehicles and facilities to aid in his party’s campaign. Doe’s is the only party running candidates in all 91 legislative districts.
Gen. Doe says opposition parties are threatening a boycott because they ″already sense their own defeat.″
Under pressure from the United States, Doe has released 19 opposition politicians in recent weeks. Many had been held without charge.
Among those freed was former Finance Minister Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, an Action Party senatorial candidate jailed for alleged sedition after calling government officials ″idiots″ in a speech in the United States. The United States threatened to suspend economic aid to Liberia if the internationally known banker was not released.
The economy of the Pennsylvania-size nation of 2 million people has slumped due to declining world demand for iron ore and rubber, its chief exports. The downturn has been exacerbated by a growing debt payment burden and government budget deficits have led to big trade deficits and cash shortages.
One Western diplomat said debt servicing could reach $170 million, not including arrears from last year of about $80 million. He said government expenditures ″far exceed revenues,″ which he said total about $200 million annually.
He said both the last civilian government and the military regime were responsible for the accumulation of debts.
A series of short-term debt agreements initiated by the International Monetary Fund in 1980 were suspended recently when Liberia failed to make scheduled payments.
The country also faces a serious shortage in liquid assets, as largely foreign-owned businesses have reduced investments and sent capital out of the country.