Senior Program Officer, National Democratic Institute, Liberia
Getting the News Out/Managing Expectations, Reducing Divisive Effects of Competition, Elections
Management of poll workers, Election Security
media relations, monitoring, electoral management body, election observers, communications, enfranchising marginalized groups, rural voter registration, voter education, voter registration, staff performance, training, polling supplies
Tue Aug 12 2008
Thomas Du, senior program officer at the National Democratic Institute in Liberia, explains his organization’s charge to facilitate the country’s transition to democracy by working closely with civil society and by engaging constructively with the government. Du recounts the history of party politics in Liberia, highlighting the racial divisions between dark-skinned natives and lighter-skinned repatriated American settlers, long periods of military rule and rigged elections. Parties proliferated as vehicles for individuals to attain power rather than on ideological grounds while significant portions of the population like youth, illiterates, and unskilled workers were neglected. Du explains the National Election Commission’s choice to be inclusive rather than strict in enforcing all electoral rules that would bar some people and parties from the process. He discusses the weak role of the media in the country and the difficulty of getting appropriate materials to illiterate voters. He touches on some different motivations that may have affected voters’ choices in the 2005 election as they determined what kind of leader they wanted to steer them through the democratic transition safely. Du emphasizes the importance of opening up the process by allowing multiple parties and media sources access to the political arena, while avoiding crowding the field with too many parties or news sources. He endorses developing and implementing rules for interparty competition, defining the roles of different stakeholders, and finding a way for parties to effectively disseminate their ideas to voters. Du analyzes election monitoring in the 2005 election and champions domestic monitoring of elections throughout the full election cycle to establish ownership of the process. Looking toward future elections, he calls for the involvement of youth and women in civic culture and the cultivation of future leaders.
At the time of this interview, Thomas Du was the senior program officer at the National Democratic Institute in Liberia. His work at the institute supported the development of civil service infrastructure to assist in building democratic institutions in Liberia. He also studied the successes and failures of these techniques as a means of improvement.