* Liberian referendum vote on Tuesday Aug. 23
* Vote will decide four issues including election date
* Poll will be a key test for presidential election
MONROVIA, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Liberia will hold a
constitutional referendum on Tuesday to determine whether
elections due in October will be pushed back, and the voting
process itself will be seen as a test of the country's readiness
for its second post-war election.
Other issues, such as residency requirements for
presidential candidates and how lawmakers will be voted in, are
also at stake, but the poll will provide a litmus test for a
nation still struggling to overcome decades of misrule.
Although the country's civil war ended in 2003 and investors
are snapping up mining and oil contracts, Liberia's United
Nations-backed peace is fragile as the country is awash with
frustrated, unemployed youth and former combatants.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a former World Bank
official who has won widespread international praise for her
work rebuilding the country, is still struggling to convince
many in the country change is coming fast enough.
"Whether the next presidential elections are peaceful, free
and fair will depend on how well the National Elections
Commission (NEC) handles the challenges of the 23 August
referendum ... and opposition perceptions of bias toward the
president's Unity Party," the International Crisis Group think
tank said in a Aug. 19 report.
Some 1.8 million people will be eligible to vote and the
over 9,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission is due to help
police and provide logistics for voting across the country.
The four issues voters will be deciding on are the reduction
of a residency clause for presidential candidates to five years
from ten years, an increase in the retirement age of Supreme
Court judges to 75, the implementation of a simple majority vote
for legislature, and the timing of elections.
Liberian presidential elections have traditionally been
slated for October, when the rainy season can make travel and
other vote logistics difficult. Voters will be able to decide in
the referendum to delay the election until November.
The referendum has divided opinion and heightened tensions
in the west African nation, with some backing the referendum,
while others see it as an attempt by Sirleaf to strengthen her
hold on power.
The ruling Unity Party (UP) favours a 'yes' vote on all four
issues, while some opposition parties, including the main
Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) of former international
soccer star George Weah, have called for a boycott.
"I call on all supporters of the Congress for Democratic
Change to boycott the upcoming referendum because it is
unconstitutional," CDC presidential candidate Winston Tubman
told his supporters at a recent rally.
Augustine Wreh, a student at a local university, said he
will not be voting in the referendum.
"I do not support this referendum at all. We have had these
laws for many years. Why does this government want to change it
now? I think the UP has a hidden agenda on this referendum," he
Local analysts see the vote, and whether they will be able
to accept the results of the referendum and avoid any outbreaks
of violence, as a maturity test for the Liberian political
Dan Sayeh, director of the Liberia Democratic Institute
think tank, said Liberian political leaders need to provide a
clear path from any impasse after the referendum, while guarding
their supporters against violence.
"I hope we will accept the result of what will come out (of
the polls), that is my main concern," he said.
(Writing by David Lewis and Bate Felix; Editing by Jan Harvey)