As Liberians head to the polls, UN at the ready to help with security

8 Dec 2011

As Liberians head to the polls, UN at the ready to help with security

11 October 2011 -Liberians are voting today in presidential and parliamentary elections seen as a milestone in the country's effort to strengthen peace and democratic governance, as United Nations peacekeepers remain on standby to help local law enforcement forces maintain security during polling.

"This is the first time that Liberians are running their own elections," said Yasmina Bouziane, spokesperson for the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). The previous elections in 2005 were managed by the UN, but this year's polls have been organized by the country's national electoral commission.

Sixteen candidates, including the incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, are vying for the presidency.

Ms. Bouziane said UNMIL has deployed more ground troops and increased air patrols to improve security and reassure Liberians as they go out to cast their ballots today.

"We will be there to assist the Liberian national police who are the first and frontline for response to any incidents," she said in an interview with UN Radio yesterday.

"The police have been on the frontline for quite some time. They have also redoubled their efforts with regard to border patrols following the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire. The UNPOL officers and other advisers and troops of the mission have been doubling their efforts as well in order to help sustain the peace that has been unbroken for eight years," said Ms. Bouziane.

She said campaigning has "by and large" been peaceful since electioneering began in July, except for some incidents of "heightened rhetoric."

Ms. Bouziane reiterated the call by Ellen Margrethe Løj, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Liberia, nearly two weeks ago for Liberians to remain peaceful and cast their ballots to show the world they are ready to consolidate what has been achieved over the past eight years of stability.

"We hope that everybody will heed that call. The Liberian people should be able to accept democracy and peace and be able to build their country democratically."

Today's polls are the second democratic elections since the end of the decade-long conflict that killed nearly 150,000 people, mostly civilians, and sent 850,000 others fleeing to neighbouring countries.