TAKING THE RISK

12.01.14 10:55 AM ET

Liberian Senatorial Elections Defy Ebola

The country’s senatorial election is going ahead, despite the ongoing battle against Ebola—and health workers fear the campaign gatherings could trigger a rise in the epidemic.

MONROVIA, Liberia — Despite the deadly Ebola outbreak, Liberia began campaign activities for the Special Senatorial Election, which will see 15 members of the senate elected in December. The National Elections commission said it would go ahead and conduct the election on December 16, 2014.

“In keeping with the revised timeline for the 2014 Special Senatorial Election, the Commission is pleased to announce that political campaigns will commence on Thursday, November 20, 2014 and end 24 hours before Polling Day,” said Jerome Korkoya, chairman of the election commission.

Supporters of former soccer star George Weah and Robert Sirleaf, the son of Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and a former head of the National Oil Company, turned out in their numbers to begin the campaign on Thursday in Monrovia.

The President’s son will face Wiah in the race for senator of Montserrado County, in which Liberia’s capital is situated. Political rallies kicked off amid the sound of ambulances plying the streets, taking sick people to Ebola Treatment Units across the country.

Despite the kicking off of the campaign, health workers fear that such large gatherings associated with elections could trigger a rise in the epidemic. “With the crisis of Ebola, for me, in my personal mind, I don’t think that it is time for us to have elections in this country,” said Sam Bropleh, an ambulance driver of the First Responders Ebola team. “People still need to take the preventive measure. We are talking about public gatherings, people will be together, dancing, sweating, and touching each other. Going to vote you have to form a cue.”

But political parties officials continue to reassure the country that the campaigns will not endanger anyone.

Wade Williams

“We have instructed our people to wash their hands. It is not just about campaign, it is about intercession and education about Ebola,” said Mulbah Morlu, chairman on Mobilization for Weah’s party, the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC). “As we speak, in the next 30 minutes we are going to put a drum at the entrance with chlorine that those entering the party premises will wash their hands. And we tell them to be cautious about Ebola, so we are taking every step to guard against this deadly epidemic.”

The Thursday rallies saw people—mainly youths—wearing T-shirts of the various candidates, dancing, hugging, and crowding on buses and other vehicles. A young man named Jacob Kerkulah, wearing a T-shirt with the President’s son’s face on it, said he would vote for Mr. Sirleaf because he cares about the young people.

“I’m voting for Robert Sirleaf. I want to test him for the nine years. I see lots of vision in him because he cares for the young people,” said Kerkulah. “He comes down to our level, he does things for us, we love him and he loves us too.”

But the opposition is outraged that the President’s son is running for the senate when his mother’s regime has caused, according to them, nothing but hardship for the people of Liberia. They vow to defeat him.

“There is no way he can run against George Weah. This campaign will expose the weaknesses and the vulnerability of the Sirleafs,” said Morlu. “Their hegemony will come to an end this year. We are not concerned or jittered about an unknown candidate. It is not about what I think; it is about what is inevitable and what will be.”

The election commission said it would institute appropriate measures to curtail the risk of spreading the Ebola virus during the election period.

The commission said voters and polling staff would be required to wash their hands with chlorinated water at all precincts across the country.

Provisions will also be made to ensure voters stand three feet apart in queues at all polling centers on Election Day, and they use cotton buds to ink their thumbs before marking the ballot (for those who cannot read or write).

Educated voters will not be allowed to share pens, as the commission said it would encourage them to bring personal pens. Where necessary, the commission will provide pens in polling booths that will be routinely sanitized.

139 candidates have been certified by the commission to contest the Special Senatorial Election, which was to be held on October 14, 2014, but was postponed because of the Ebola outbreak.