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2023: Liberia and the politics of endorsements

By S.Karweaye

The clock ticks furiously, but fatefully towards the 2023 presidential and legislative elections that would prove crucial for the future of Liberia.  There are many Liberians who believe with all their hearts that when the ballot box opens to voters in October 2023, it will be to conduct a referendum on the direction the country will take in the next six years and maybe beyond.

In a country where the deepest reservations are often saved for those who provide leadership, the relationship between Liberians, their leaders, and the process that throws them up remains a terribly luckless one. The scars are etched deep into the psyche of the country. Key national institutions continue to flounder. The political process remains afflicted by cancerous apathy and inertia. Corruption continues to run riot. A floundering economy has retched up a people deeply scarred by poverty. In the last 17 years, being listed among the top poorest countries in the world has come to add insult to injury.

In 2017, a seismic shift in Liberia’s politics saw the Unity Party (UP)  shunted out of power. The Coalition for Democratic Change  (CDC) which snatched power in the historic election has gone on to post more than five years of insipid leadership marked by incompetence, nonchalance, and debilitating dereliction of duty.

Since 2005 when Liberia began her post-conflict democratic experiment, general elections, especially presidential elections, have attracted special interests which are most times publicly displayed in the form of endorsements. Although this is not only applicable to Liberia, the act has become a common style of politicking among political jobbers, especially for the offices of the President and the national legislature. The objective is to create an impression of a groundswell of public support against the realities at the polls. The intention is to make people believe that the person being endorsed is the right candidate and as such has the support of the endorsers and the more endorsements, the greater the chances of winning.

One would wonder if the endorsements are truly a determinant of the outcome of the elections or the vote of the majority of people who are not affiliated with any group or individuals. Prior to the 2017 general election, the incumbent Vice President then, Joseph Boakai of the Unity Party had several endorsements against his political opponent in the Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC), Senator George Weah, but the outcome of the election didn’t favor Mr. Boakai despite the endorsements.

The then Vice President Boakai’s endorsements were released like a torrential rain with several groups and individuals who lent their support to his candidacy, insisting that he was the best man for the job and should be allowed to continue where Madam Ellen Sirleaf left off. The deluge of support started with an endorsement by his party, the Unity Party followed by nineteen senators’ endorsement. However, despite the many endorsements, Mr. Boakai failed to win the 2017 presidential election.

Just like the 2017 and other previous elections, ahead of the 2023 general election,  the two political parties that are leading Liberia to the abyss have begun to enjoy such endorsement, and if you were looking for reasons why Liberia has, despite its acclaimed potential, remained a dwarf in the comity of nations, you will find two events that took place on April 28, 2023, and June 13, 2023, at the headquarters of the two political parties that have been in charge of Liberia’s post-conflict reconstruction for the past 17 years, the former ruling Unity Party ((UP) and the current Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC).

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Despite allegations of massive budget fraud hanging on his neck, the political leader of the Movement for Democratic Reconstruction (MDR), Senator Jeremiah Koung was on April 28, selected by Mr. Boakai as his running mate in the pending 2023 presidential election after his political godfather and US sanctioner, Senator Prince Johnson broke away from the Coalition of Democratic Change and endorsed Mr. Joseph Boakai of the Unity Party.

To match or counter Prince Johnson’s endorsement of  Mr. Boakai, fifty-six lawmakers conspiring senators and representatives walked into the CDC’s headquarters on Tuesday, June 13 to endorse the second term bid of President George Weah of the CDC. Led by Speaker of the House of Representatives  Bhofal Chamber and Senate Pro-Temp Albert Chie,  the group showed solidarity assuring Mr. Weah that 99% of them were behind him.  However, they didn’t tell us how they arrived at the decision to support Mr. Weah. They did not speak of any agenda that they would be selling to the President or the generality of Liberians would be benefiting from renewing President Weah’s mandate. 

These two events are worse because those who took the lead are mostly individuals who have contributed to the worst of Liberia in the past seventeen years. No doubt, an endorsement is a tradition in legal democracy.  Endorsement is a symbolic recognition of candidature by individuals or organizations. It’s symbolic more or less but also strengthens the faith of the candidate by depending on their support. 

In developed countries, every group or individual endorses a candidate based on its interest while also backing the endorsement with funding as well as ensuring that the candidate gets the votes of their members. If you see the context and how they do it in America, you will see those who are in charge of gun rights. Those who are in charge of labor rights, and women’s rights among others will give you an endorsement, and it’s not an empty endorsement; they will also add funds for you to push the election because they have a lot to gain if you are in power.

Unfortunately, Liberia’s style of endorsement is characterized by deceit and the desire for incentives from the candidates (Pay to Play). Dishonest and greedy individuals are endorsing candidates to secure monetary or other political favors but, in the process, jeopardize the interest of the Liberian people. So, the endorsement by our political elites themselves is meaningless in the Liberia context. It seems Liberians are copying the American style of endorsement without following the process used in developed countries.

Endorsing a candidate does not determine who wins. How many votes do they individually endorse cast apart from their own personal votes? What leverage do they have in the political realm? How can they themselves help somebody in securing votes? Can the current legislators canvass for votes on the basis of the impact they have had on their constituents? The 54th national legislature is a failure. When somebody who is a member of the government endorses the government, you know it is the government endorsing the government. 

Recalling the 2017 general election,  the ex-vice president Mr.  Boakai was deceived by those nineteen Senators and other groups who endorsed him. We saw such cases where people said they endorsed Mr. Boakai and in the end, he couldn’t win those areas where he was endorsed. For example, Albert Tugbe Chie, who endorsed the Unity Party’s Boakai in 2017 is the current Pro Tempore of the Senate under the CDC-led government. He is currently a ranking member of the CDC and recently endorsed Mr. Weah’s 2nd presidential bid. That goes to show you that endorsement doesn’t really matter in comparison with what will really happen at the poll.

 Another example is the Unity Party’s vice Standard Bearer and Mr. Boakai’s running mate in 2017, Emmanuel James Nuquay.  Mr. Nuquay at the time was the speaker of the House of Representatives and was elected as representative of  District # 5, Margibi County on the UP’s ticket in 2005. After Mr. Boakai was defeated by Mr. Weah, Mr. Nuquay was appointed by Mr. Weah in 2018 as Director General of the Liberia Civil Aviation Authority (LCAA). In 2020, Mr. Nuquay resigned from the Unity Party, rejoining the People’s Unification Party (PUP), a party he founded. He also resigned as Director General of the LCAA The same year, he ran for the Liberian under the PUP banner, winning the Margibi seat. Mr. Newquay and his PUP endorsed incumbent President George Manneh Weah’s re-election bid. 

It is even more ludicrous in the case of Senator Prince Johnson’s endorsement of Mr. Boakai. Senator Johnson took more than 8 percent of votes in the first round of the 2017 presidential election and was a firm critic of Mr. Boakai until President Weah and he fell off. His party, Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR) accused George Weah’s government of planning to assassinate him. According to Senator Johnson, President Weah’s inability to keep his end of the deal that brought them together during the 2017 run-off election is the cause of the MDR’s disassociation from the ruling party. The Senator’s biggest complaint was Weah’s failure to appoint more people from vote-rich Nimba County to high government positions.

For all that is apparent to Liberians, nothing is more important to Senator Johnson than the prospects for the Nimba people acquiring top government jobs. If the interest of the entire Nimba county was truly paramount to Senator Johnson, his endorsement and support would naturally have gone to the presidential candidate of Nimba descent, Cllr. Tiawan Saye Gongloe or Dr. Jeremiah Z. Whapoe. So you see Prince Johnson’s endorsement is mainly self-serving (Pay to play). 

The average rational voter, who follows their press conferences and dance-drama, is convinced they are not acting in people’s common interests. Similarly, any principled politician with a decent following will try to avoid a public strategic alliance with them. With hindsight, one can understand why Cllr. Tiiwan Saye Gongloe decided to move forward without his party, the Liberian People’s Party (LPP) pursuing endorsement or alliances.  

The signs are clear and the handwriting is scrawled large on the wall. Our inability to pick honest, integrity, and competent Liberians to lead our governance system is the mistake we made in 2005, 2011, and 2017. Liberians must choose wisely when they cast their votes in 2023. Eccentric endorsements are perfect guides in making informed choices for our voters and they offer crucial clues about how birds of a feather flock together.  I rest my case.

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