23 August 2011Liberians went to the polls today to vote in a referendum on constitutional changes, a move described by the United Nations envoy for the West African country as a milestone in the process to entrench peace and stability that has prevailed since the end of the civil war in 2003. “It is truly vital that this referendum and the elections to follow are successful,” said Ellen Margrethe Løj, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), in an interview with UNMIL Radio yesterday.“I think it is crucial that the right messages are being sent by each and every Liberian participating. They can only send that message if they participate based on the democratic principles and demonstrate in practice that they want peace and security for all,” she said, adding that the referendum was a “milestone in Liberia’s history.”In the constitutional referendum, voters were asked to made a decision on four proposed amendments, three of which are election-related – to change the electoral system from an absolute to a simple majority for all elections except those for president and vice-president; to move election day from October to November; and to revise the residency clause for presidential and vice-presidential candidates from 10 to five consecutive years immediately prior to an election.The fourth provision would increase the mandatory retirement age for chief justices to 75. While the National Elections Commission has confirmed the date for the presidential and legislative elections as 11 October, the results of the referendum may shift them to 8 November.In his latest report on Liberia, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urges Liberians to ensure that the polls are free, fair and peaceful.The presidential and legislative polls will be the second round of 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.