Monrovia – Senator Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence retained her seat in Liberia’s Legislative following the December 8 Special Senatorial Elections. According to the NEC’s final vote count, Lawrence, from the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) won the election with 22,476 of the votes, representing 42.01%.
Report By: Elbie Sebleh, LMD Election Reporting Fellow
Senator Lawrence could be joined in the Legislative by Independent candidate Botoe Kanneh, who leads in the vote count in the Gbarpolu county. However, Paramount Chief Magill Wuluah of Nomodatonau town, on December 8 seized the ballot boxes before the voters could exercise their constitutional right.
Kanneh, the only female candidate among eight male challengers in Gbarpolu, leads by 486 votes, followed by the ruling party Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC)’s candidate, Rep. Alfred Gayflor Koiwood. Almost 20,000 people voted on December 8 in Gbarpolu.
The National Election Commission (NEC) ordered a rerun in Nomodatonau town to have been held on December 15, but this attempt was canceled as well, following extreme demonstration of violence against Kanneh.
There were 134 candidates approved by the NEC to run in the Special Senatorial Elections and by-elections for the House of Representatives, and 22 of these candidates were women.
But while women representation in the Senate could double if Kanneh maintains her advantage, the official NEC data shows that in several counties women candidates have failed to connect with the electorate.
In the Montserrado county, for example, four female candidates together could not obtain 1% of the total valid votes.
Jamima Wolokolie of the Movement of One Liberia (MOL) party came through with 131 votes representing 0.04% of the total valid ballots cast. Evangeline Israel King, an independent candidate, with 720 votes, or 0.21%. Siah Tandanpole from Movement for Progressive Change (MPC) received just 195 votes, representing 0.06% and Cecelia Teah Swaray of the National Democratic Coalition (NDC) party with 115 votes representing 0.03% of the total votes.
Bindu Waye, who voted in the December 8 elections, said that most women were not elected, or received few votes, because they failed to reach out to their fellow women voters during the elections campaign. They just expect women to vote for them because there are women, but without putting in the work, she said.
Alice Daniels, another voter, believes that women candidates need to learn to be engaged with the electorate and the women groups, to get involved into outreach and seek to communicate with women voters.
“We did not even know them or see them during the campaign period. Some of them even had more men starring their own campaign team, instead of asking the support of women,” Daniels said.
Registered voter Mark Gardea said that more women didn’t make it to the Senate because Liberia currently needs men who are courageous and willing to stand up during the current tough times.
“Women who participated [on candidates’ lists for Senate] are educated and competent, but they can’t stand pressure or even work under tension. The country is in a very high economic constraints and we need people who will ask tough questions and be willing to fight for the masses.”
According to a 2019 PEW research, women make up 24% of members of national legislative bodies around the world, with the Nordic countries, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden leading with 43% female representation in the Parliament.
Yemen has the lowest share of women in legislative with just four women in its 412-member House of Representatives and Shura Council accounting for just 1% of members.
Liberia ranks 170th out of 193 countries measured by the Council on Foreign Relations in terms of women in the Legislature. Looking at female representation in the upper chamber, women represent just 3.3% of all senators in Liberia.
The president and Founder of the Women of VOA community Liberia, Madam Sediah Passawe- Manten, said that women continue to lack support for elected positions because men still see them as people who are supposed to be home dealing with household issues, like taking care of children, cooking and cleaning.
Most women, she said, fail to win in the elections because there is little awareness to teach women voters of the importance of electing women in positions of leadership.
“It is troubling that women see men as their everything in life and refuse to stand and do something for themselves, we have to wake up from that bad habit,” Passawe- Manten
“We need to work together as a team to stand strong for ourselves, and then we can win more positions in the country. That’s leadership.”
Women are as capable as men are, she said, and women voters should let go of the fears that women cannot lead, and instead support each other and work together as a team.
According to the Liberian New Election Law, Article 4.5 1 (b), Political Parties are mandated to make a genuine and good faith effort to endeavor to ensure that their candidates lists contain not less than 30% of female candidates. However, the text of the law is weak and political parties chose to ignore it as long as the Liberian people continue to hold the faulty belief that only men can lead.