On August 22, 2012, the New Dawn newspaper reported that “the (Liberian) House of Representatives has finally passed into law the controversial bill seeking . . . public funding of political parties, coalitions and alliances . . .” This action, according to the proponents of the “controversial bill” is “seeking to sustain democracy through public funding . . .”
Indeed, public funding of political candidates and parties is necessary to enable qualified candidates who lack the required, financial resources to compete successfully because such funding provides political competition with an “even playing field” that is not controlled, only, by wealthy candidates and, thereby, pluralistically democratizes the political process. Significantly, funding of political candidates/parties in Liberia is an absolute necessity; in that, Liberia is a nation in which the overwhelming majority of the population (the body politic) had been systematically excluded from or denied political participation, economically poor and powerless.
Firstly however, there is the critical, troubling challenge in 21st century Liberia; that is, the prevailing problem of the multiplicity of political parties in our, small country. Presently, there are some twenty-something political parties (and counting) in the country of less than 4 million people and 16 major, tribal groups. Compared to other countries in relative terms, particularly, the United States, from which we borrow almost all of our laws and model almost all of our political activities, there are two lawfully-recognized, national or federal political parties and a population of 250-300 million, ours is a joke.
Moreover, the proliferated, Liberian political parties are organized and managed NOT in accordance with traditional convention of “shared beliefs” or political philosophy, but in accordance with or along ethnic/tribal lines. One may argue, reasonably, that the Tribe is alive and well in Liberian, rural communities (including some urban communities) as the major, instantly available source not only for socio-cultural fellowship and unity, but also for economic and political security, protection of related interests and multi-partyasm along tribal lines.
Secondly however, the divisive nature of our ethnic/tribal bigotry – fear, suspicion, envy, jealousy, superstition, prejudice, segregation/discrimination, and antagonism bordering on hatred – a condition that has been exacerbated by the recent, civil war, created deep, tribal cleavages that must be overcome, eventually, and eradicated.
In the light of the foregoing conditions, it is extremely necessary, firstly, that we limit, by law, the number of political parties in Liberia through the following:
1. Population of the nation and threshold of 20% of national vote.
2. Political beliefs or philosophy:
b. Center /Independent – mildly conservative or mildly Liberal/Progressive
This approach will encourage political party membership on the basis of “shared beliefs” or political philosophy, rather than on ethnic/tribal affinity.
While political candidate/party funding offers an excellent, “even playing field” to “sustain democracy”, it is also another opportunity for corruption, both within the given political candidate/party and the National Election Commission (NEC).
It has been shown and known that some “politicians” organize their tribe’s tribal, political parties simply to be noticed as “standard bearers” which can be used to seek appointment from the winning candidate after the election, knowing that they have no chance of being elected as president in the first place. Now, with this funding bill, there could be much more proliferation of tribal or just any political parties, if the nation’s population consideration, a threshold limit and political philosophy requirements, as indicated, are not required.
Regarding the NEC and the electoral process – laws, demarcation of constituencies, registration of political parties and voters, campaigns by the political parties, party finances/financing and oversight, vote-counting, declaration of results and adjudication of disputes in Liberia, as we have experienced – has not been free, fair, transparent, credible or legitimate. Indeed, the electoral process is seen by Liberians as being manipulated and controlled by ruling, political parties. The recent, unusual and un-ceremonial abandonment of his position as chairman of the Nation’s National Elections Commission and the secret, un-announced departure to the United States by the Honorable James Fromoyan, Chairman of the NEC, while in the midst of several allegations of electoral fraud, is a case in point.
By Bai M. Gbala, Sr.