Liberia

Liberia: Internally displaced want elections postponed

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MONROVIA, 22 January (IRIN) - Internally displaced Liberians (IDPs) from three war-affected counties in western Liberia on Monday petitioned Liberia's Supreme Court to postpone general and presidential elections due on 14 October, unless a national census is conducted.
The IDPs are from Bomi, Grand Cape Mount and Lofa counties and have borne the brunt of fighting between loyalist and rebel fighters of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) since 1998. At least 120,000 Liberians have been displaced by the fighting and 228,000 forced to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. A third of the country became inaccessible.

Lofa, close to Guinea and Sierra Leone, remains the stronghold of LURD rebels, while most of Bomi and Grand Cape Mount are occupied by soldiers with most civilians having fled into IDP camps.

Representing the IDPs, legal counsel Jenkins Scott, said in the petition that a national census was necessary to verify eligible voters and for demarcation of electoral constituencies. Given the current war situation in their counties, Scott said, the IDPs could be deprived of the right to register in their constituencies and vote.

If the polls went ahead without a national census, they could be marred by controversies since some IDPs would not be accessible to candidates, the IDPs said, adding that the Supreme Court should compel the Liberian parliament to call for a census before elections.

The Supreme Court is expected to meet this month to study the petition and give its opinion.

On 2 January, the chairman of the Elections Commission, Paul Guah, ruled out a fresh census saying the commission would rely on the voters' registration. President Charles Taylor also told political parties leaders in Monrovia that a census would not be possible before elections.

Pressure groups like the Movement for Democracy and Elections and the Liberian Society Movement, have however said a national census was one of the requirements for free, fair and transparent elections. On Thursday, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission also expressed concern over the lack of "enabling security environment for the conduct of a free, fair, transparent and tension-free general and presidential elections".

Liberia last conducted a national census in 1984. The population was 2.5 million. Since then the country has experienced extensive wars leading to displacement of hundreds of thousands its people.

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