The government of Samuel K. Doe, following indications of popular repudiation at the polls almost two weeks ago, has campaigned this week to discredit the party that apparently won.
According to unofficial election results confirmed by informed observers here, voters on Oct. 15 chose the opposition Liberian Action Party and its candidate Jackson F. Doe (no relation).
But with each passing day attributed to the counting of ballots, and with no official results announced, tension builds in this West African nation. President Doe, a former master sergeant, seized power in a 1980 coup.
Doe warned on television last week that anyone who insulted the government or his political party, the National Democratic Party of Liberia, would be subject to 25 lashes. He also warned local clergy, several of whom are critics of his government, to stop hiding behind the Bible while engaging in political activity.
Doe's campaign chairman announced Wednesday, eight days after the election, that "the ever-vigilant intelligence units of the government" had discovered and thwarted "a massive election fraud" by the three opposition parties.
According to the campaign manager's statement, opposition parties conspired to bribe election workers "at nearly all polling places in the country."
The Liberian Action Party dismissed the charges as "false, baseless and preposterous." That assessment is shared by independent observers here who monitored the election.
The U.S. government, which funds nearly a third of the Liberian government, has been directed by Congress to cut off $86 million in economic assistance if the election is not found to be "free and fair." The embassy dispatched nine observer teams, the only outsiders to monitor the vote.
The State Department has given qualified praise to Liberia, founded 138 years ago by freed American slaves, for election-day polling procedures. But it has refused any official comment on postelection events.
U.S. Ambassador Edward Perkins met last week with the opposition leader Jackson Doe, who reportedly presented him with a list of election irregularities and said that he fears retribution from the military government. The next evening, Samuel Doe summoned Perkins to the executive mansion.
The Liberian Special Elections Commission, whose members were chosen by Doe, is required by law to announce the winner of the election by Wednesday.
But Emmett Harmon, chairman of the elections commission, said over the weekend that thus far only 45 percent of the votes had been counted and that no date has been fixed yet for announcing election results.
Echoing charges made by the head of state and his political party, Harmon charged the Liberian Action Party yesterday with having "infiltrated" his commission's poll workers. The election chairman said that evidence supporting his accusations will be released at a later date.
Samuel Doe described Harmon last week as one of the few members of the elections commission who had not been bribed by the opposition. Shortly after election day, Harmon said that "under no circumstances" would he investigate widespread reports of election-law violations at Army barracks by Samuel Doe's supporters.
In a lengthy address over state-owned television Harmon said he has uncovered unspecified "wicked designs" by the Liberian Action Party to derail democracy in Liberia.
"There are evil forces at work who for selfish interests are attempting to destroy a process designed and destined by God Himself for this nation and its people," Harmon said.
The Liberian Action Party argues that vague accusations by Harmon, Samuel Doe and his party are intended to set the stage for an announcement that the president won the election.
The informed observers here, who are in close contact with Doe's party, say that senior members of the government had suspected for months that Doe would lose the election but that they were afraid to give him bad news.
As a result, these sources say, the 33-year-old head of state, who had never before participated in an election campaign, was "shocked" by initial reports that he had lost.
During the campaign, Doe traveled widely in Liberia, speaking before large crowds. But the crowds often were assembled at the order of party officials and government ministers.
According to sources close to the executive mansion, Doe was isolated during the campaign and became convinced of his popularity. Unofficial election results, based on tally sheets signed in polling stations by observers from Doe's own party:
*In Montserrado County, the largest, results from 98 of the 114 polling stations have Doe's party winning 25 percent of the vote, compared with 60 percent for the Liberian Action Party.
*In Nimba County, the second-largest county, results from 115 of 124 polling stations show Doe with 6 percent of the vote to 91 percent for the Liberian Action Party.
A senior member of Doe's party last week said that the head of state also lost his home county of Grand Gedah, as the majority of the members of his Krahn tribe voted against him. Overall, the Liberian Action Party claims to have won about 63 percent of the total vote, a claim supported by reports from informed observers.
According to sources close to the executive mansion, Doe has been convinced by his advisers that he lost only because poll workers were bribed by the opposition.