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Crowd-Pulling Rallies in 2023: The New Phenomenon of Liberian Electioneering

By S.Karweaye

The theatricals for winning the hearts and minds of the Liberian voters are all around us. The perceptual game of showing strength in the number of supporters is an age-long effective game plan of the parties, and it is one strategy that cuts across mainly the ruling Coalition For Democratic Change (CDC)  and the former ruling Unity Party (UP). These two political parties are outdoing themselves in winning the popularity contests typified by pulling crowds with the most outrageous noises and boisterous displays in rallies on the streets, roads, stadiums, and other venues that can contain crowds. If pulling crowds is the determinant of election outcomes, the 2023 general elections would have been won and lost. 

Politics all over the world feeds on numbers– crowds. Liberia is no exception, and with what we have seen so far in the 2023 electoral campaigns, Liberian politicians are taking this to another level. Liberian politics feeds on a crowd fuelled by a panoply of factors, most importantly Money.  

Boakai supporter at a rally Tuesday Sept. 5, 2023

The crowd that congregates whenever there is a rally has more to do with economic reasons than belief in a cause or loyalty to a party. The availability of young men and women for political rallies is due to the high level of unemployment, hunger, and abject poverty in the country.  Although the crowd is an old phenomenon associated with politics, unemployment in Liberia has complicated the matter. Unemployed youth is a fertile ground for political mobilization and they are ready to be hired; with their energies channeled to political causes that do not serve them any purpose or represent their views.

Another factor responsible for large crowds at political rallies in Liberia is the acute poverty pervading the land. Many Liberians who should ordinarily be engaged in productive activities are hired for between US$2 to US$10 to attend campaign rallies. These amounts depend on which region of the country the rallies are held in and whether the party involved is in power or not. With   2.7 million (52.3%) Liberians being multidimensional poor, every dollar available for the next meal or to help pay school fees and the house rent is important and worth sacrificing time for. Most persons attending campaign rallies under the current dispensation are going for the day-paid job, and it has nothing to do with passion for any political ideal or candidate or even the hope of a better tomorrow, which ordinarily politicians trade in.

CPP supporters @Dist 4 rally

The next factor contributing to the growing crowd pulling at political party rallies is the significant erosion of our value system. Honesty, integrity, and self-respect are vanishing traits in Liberian society. Most participants in these rallies know the candidates and the parties are incompetent and the opposite of what they believe in and know, yet they openly identify with them in rallies when paid, even though many still vote otherwise. 

Truth be told, most of our dominant political parties have no known ideologies, and attraction to them is often based on tribal, regional,  parochial or mundane sentiments. This anomaly is counterproductive during electioneering campaigns when people see all political activities as making money, consolidating political capital, and gaining political patronage. Some in the crowd want to have fun, love the atmosphere and fun activities during rallies, and want to participate. Although in the rally, out of curiosity or just having fun, this group will collect money or other provisions if provided.

Hunger has been weaponized in Liberia, and any political campaign rally that provides food will experience more crowd-pulling. For a country blessed with so many food production endowments, the 2022 Global Hunger Index (GHI)   scored Liberia at 32..4  indicating a ‘serious’ hunger problem in the country.  Social media are awash with real-life videos of the fights for food and provisions in various rallies across the nation. It is embarrassing that hunger is linked with political campaigns in Liberia. People are struggling to survive and live in the moment. Sadly, Liberians avoid rallies where candidates will elucidate policies to alleviate hunger. They want rallies where they are fed for the day and given money.

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In the case of CDC, the party claimed to have hosted a one million men rally on September 7, 2023, as their core argument for a one-round victory in the 2023 presidential election even though at the height of George Weah’s popularity in 2005, the CDC received 275,265 (28.27%) in the first round of the presidential election while in the second round, he lost with 327,046 (40.60%). Fast forward to the 2017 presidential election,  CDC received 596,037(38%) of the popular votes in the first round while  732,185 (61.54%) of the popular vote despite boasting of another one million men campaign launched. This one-round victory perception is crucial as portrayed by the CDC, especially for winning the election and managing the post-election conflicts that are often inevitable in Liberia politics, especially at the Supreme Court.  However, it is evident that such crowd-pulling, no matter the visual power they portray, does not translate to voter loyalty or electoral victory.

Liberia has a history of voter apathy, where a significant number of registered voters fail to show up on election day. During the 2017 general elections, the country had approximately  2.1 million registered voters, however, turnout in the presidential election was 1,641,922 (75.19%) despite massive crowds pulling at political rallies during the campaigning period. In the 2014 Special Senatorial Election, it was  25.2% while in the 2020 election for the Liberian senate, out of  2.4 million registered voters, the turnout was 36% which means 64.42% of registered voters never voted so large crowds at political campaign rallies usually do not translate to high voter turnout either.

In reality or by all sorts of axioms large crowds may not actually translate into an election victory in the elections. This is because the political leaves are already changing color and the wind feels different with the political quotient amongst the Liberia electorates. Therefore you cannot judge the popularity of any candidate by the large crowds around him or her. On October 10, 2023,  Liberians will see whether those who have been attending rallies are true supporters of candidates or not. I rest my case.

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