The story of UNMIL [Book]: Engagements with political parties in advance of 2017 elections
The political atmosphere in Liberia was charged with fear and mistrust during 2016 and 2017 as preparations for the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for October 2017 began in earnest. SRSG Farid Zarif led intensified good offices engagements as mandated by Security Council resolution 2333 (2016), with the aim of sustaining an environment conducive to peaceful, transparent and credible elections. He held nine meetings between May 2016 and August 2017 with the leadership of twenty-plus political parties contesting the elections, to encourage dialogue and peaceful campaigning.
With the Liberian Governance Commission, he sponsored a two-day conference in May with all political parties, facilitated by the Inter- Religious Council of Liberia. This led to the parties’ adoption of the Farmington River Declaration in the margins of the ECOWAS Summit on4 June in Monrovia, by which they committed themselves to peaceful elections and a seamless transition to a new administration in January 2018. At a second meeting he convened, on 28 July, just prior to the formal campaign period, party leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Declaration.
Then, two days before the 10 October elections, UNMIL held a function for presidential and vice presidential candidates, inviting representatives from ECOWAS, the AU, EU and international election observer missions to encourage the candidates to help ensure that peace prevailed during and after the elections.
Following the first round of voting, the ruling Unity Party (UP), whose candidate had come in second, joined the third-place Liberty Party’s (LP) challenge of the results, charging that fraud had been committed, as well as interference by the sitting President. The Supreme Court put a hold on the second round to hear the complaints.
During the intervening weeks of uncertainty, both SRSG Zarif and his Deputy Waldemar Vrey (DSRSG for Political and Rule of Law) met with the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), the UP and the LP, as legal disputes were underway at the National Elections Commission (NEC) and the Supreme Court. SRSG Zarif engaged with candidates to dissuade them from mobilizing their membership to protest the provisional results, and instead seek legal options to address their grievances. All leaders called on their followers to remain peaceful and patient, and a planned march to the NEC headquarters was called off.
The interventions by the UNMIL leadership encouraged the parties to follow the rule of law, to call on their supporters to remain calm as the legal process played out, and to respect the pending Supreme Court decision. Following the Court’s ruling on 8 December that opened the door for the run-off election on 26 December, the SRSG and DSRSG engaged again with the CDC and UP leadership and facilitated a dialogue between the parties and the NEC to ensure transparency and calm. Throughout the process, UNMIL worked on coordinating efforts and messaging with local, international and regional actors, notably ECOWAS and AU. The UN Security Council congratulated the Liberian people, Government, political leaders, civil society, media and expressed appreciation for the good offices of the SRSG and the UNMIL leadership for the peaceful conduct of the run-off election.