By Dagbayonoh Kiah Nyanfore II
This article continues the update on the Liberian presidential election scheduled for October 10, 2023. The first update discusses the positions of the major political parties and candidates.
As indicated, the CDC (Coalition for Democratic Change), the ruling party, is running on what it has done since 2018 and wants to do in the next six years. The Unity Party (UP) says the CDC has failed and caused massive suffering. Therefore, UP vows to rescue Liberia from the condition. On the other hand, the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) argue that CDC and UP have performed miserably. UP’s 12 years of rule have brought negative results, including squandering opportunities and mismanaging public funds. It maintains that CDC has demonstrated incompetency and corruption since taking power six years ago. Hence, CPP sees itself as an alternative to the two parties. CPP comprises ANC (Alternative National Congress) and part of the Liberty Party (LP). A few years ago, CPP collaborated with UP, ANC, LP, and the All Liberian Party (ALP). But UP and ALP broke away. Since the death of its political leader, Charles Brumskine, LP has been divided. One part remains in the collaboration with ANC, and they retain the name CPP. The other joined UP and ALP. But about two months ago, ALP left UP before the campaign started.
Since the first update, the following activities have occurred.
All the 20 parties have completed about 80% of the campaigning. CDC started with the 17 districts of Montserrado County and is completing campaigning in the Southeast region, including Sinoe, Grand Kru, Maryland, and Grand Geded Counties. It will climax the campaign in Montserrado on October 8. On September 8, the party launched its campaign in Monrovia at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium (ATS). Party’s supporters jam-packed ATS and surrounding streets. They locked down the city, according to reports. As the National Election Commission (NEC) statistics show, Montserrado, Nimba, and Bong Counties have the highest registered voters for this election. There are 15 counties in Liberia. To succeed in the first round, a presidential candidate must win 50% plus one vote. Other than that, the two candidates with the highest votes will contest in the second round.
At the launch, Weah thanked the audience and the Liberian people for their confidence in him to lead the country for the past six years. He continued, “during our first term, we laid the foundations for peace, freedom of expression, macro-economic stability and the restoration of confidence in the national education system. I can guarantee that the years 2024 and beyond will be better for all Liberians”.
Like the CDC, UP started campaigning in Montserrado County and traveled to other counties. Still, Joseph Boakai, UP’s standard bearer, has yet to go to the Southeast. UP expects to get substantive votes from Nimba since Boakai’s running mate, Senator Jeremiah Koung, is from the county. However, some analysts view that Liberian People’s Party’s (LPP) standard bearer, Councilor Tiawon Gongloe, also from Nimba, could get significant votes from Nimba and make the county competitive. They say Gongloe or Weah could take first or second place, and Boakai could take third place in Nimba’s votes.
On September 17, UP launched its campaign at ATS on a rainy day. But the weather did not stop the partisans from turning out in their numbers. Like the CDC, they filled the stadium. Boakai thanked the attendees and urged them to transport their demonstration through votes on Election Day. He stated that his administration will make accountability and transparency the cornerstones. “Your ideas will shape our policies, and your feedback will hold us accountable together, we will establish a government that fosters and encourages dialogue,” he added.
Boakai has been absent from campaign activities since sometime in September. He traveled to Ghana and Nigeria for what some observers viewed as medical or financial reasons. The party hierarchy has been tight-lipped on the matter. Before the campaign, family members rushed him to the ELWA Hospital in Monrovia for a mild stroke. He flowed to the US immediately after. Again, the party kept the trip purpose secret. However, some public reports said the trip was for medical treatment, while others said it was for business. In the first update, Boakai’s former aide, Henry Costa, reported that Boakai was seriously sick.
CPP’s Alexander Cummings campaigned in Montserrado and other counties, including Grand Bassa, Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, Margibe, and Bong. He and his running mate, Charlene Brumskine, have appeared separately on several radio stations. They discussed their message that CPP is the alternative and the fixer. CPP held its launch at the Nancy B. Doe Stadium in Kakata, Margibe County, on September 14 with a huge crowd. Some witnesses considered the gathering the largest political launch outside of Monrovia. Cummings told the crowd that, upon his election, he would fix the country’s deplorable roads and improve the health, economy, and educational conditions.
On October 1, CPP had a victory rally at ATS. Like the CDC’s and UP’s launches, it jam-packed the stadium. At the gathering, Cummings expressed gratitude to the audience for coming and said when elected, his government would improve the economic life of the Liberian people by providing decent-paying jobs and other better social services to stop extreme suffering and poverty. Some observers viewed the event as a musical festival and extravaganza as supporters danced and yelled, “Cummings is the man we want.”
Gongoloe, Samion Freeman, the Movement for Progressive Change political leader, Sara Nyanti, standard bearer of the African Liberation League, and other candidates have debated the issues on public radios. However, the major candidates did not participate in the debates. Nyanti is the only female presidential candidate and said she will champion gender equality and opportunity for all citizens if elected.
Nearly all candidates have received endorsements from civil groups and respectable individuals. The People’s Liberation Party, Margibi County chapter, endorsed Alexander Cummings. Also, former Grand Bassa County Senator Gbehzohngar Finldey endorsed him. In the 2017 election, Findley supported Weah. His present endorsement could attract some of Bassa’s votes. However, current Grand Bassa senator Nyongblee Karnga Lawrence’s support for Boaka could neutralize Findley’s backing.
Meanwhile, the Muslim community in Lofa and some CPP members in Nimba have endorsed Weah. Though the Moslems are a minority group in Liberia, they are among the wealthiest Liberians. They control the country’s gas and trucking industry. Also, Ambassador Jeremiah Slonteh and Senator Emmanuel Nuquay back Weah. In 2017, Slonteh served as Cummings’ vice standard bearer. He is from Bong County. In the 2005 presidential election, he ran as Winston Tubman’s running mate. The team did impressively well, besides losing to President Sirleaf.
Moreover, Nuquay was Boakai’s vice standard bearer in 2017. He is from Margibi County, which has 7.49% registered voters. He won the county’s senatorial seat in the 2020 election. These two individuals are well known and could help Weah in the election. But also, Boakai has the endorsement of Prince Moye, Sr., current senator of Bong County.
Most of the political parties still need to publish their manifestos. To this writer’s knowledge, only UP, LPP, and the All Liberia Coalition Party (ALCOP) have made their platforms public. UP’s manifesto entails job creation, access to finance, gender equality, and the fight against corruption. LPP, when becoming the ruling party, will, among others, have zero tolerance for corruption, audit all government ministries and agencies, and not interfere in police and court matters. Further, it will reconcile the country. ALCOP has a seven-point platform, including improving health education and instituting human rights, the rule of law, peace, and security.
Moreover, it will construct 500-1000 housing units per county yearly, reform national zoning laws, and establish city and town planning, entailing a public transportation system. Some viewers think that ALCOP has the best manifesto because it is time-oriented. In order words, it states when these tasks will be performed and how they will. Lozinee Kamara is ALCOP’s standard bearer. The party has existed since 1997 and participated in the election that year with the late Alhaji Kromah as political leader.
FAIR AND VIOLENCE FREED ELECTION
Early this year, the political parties signed the Farmington River Declaration, which commits them to a free, fair, transparent, and non-violent election in 2023. But since the start of the campaign, there have been several violent instances. As stated earlier, on the first day of the campaign, CDC supporters paraded a casket with Boakai’s photo. UP’s partisans also attacked a CPP official in Grand Bassa County. According to reports, in a violent confrontation on September 30, UP members killed two CDC partisans at the residence of Thomas Fallah, a CDC representative candidate in Lofa County. One of the victims died when UP members chased him to his house and murdered him. The media and others condemned the violence. Through its Embassy near Monrovia, the US government expressed outrage at the behavior and called on the authorities to bring the violators to book. The US said political differences should be articulated through the ballot box and not by violence. The ECOWA and the UN have voiced similar condemnation. The Liberian National Police has arrested several individuals involved in the incident. Some UP officials said that CDC’s members provoked the act. But ever so, did the provocation warrant the chasing into and the killing in the house?
Besides the deaths, some politicians have made inflammatory statements that could lead to violence. Yekeh Kolumba, a CPP’s representative running for reelection, said he would go to the bush if he lost. Kolumba is a former rebel commander during the Liberian civil war. Another rebel leader, Senator Prince Johnson, has threatened war if the election is fraudulent, stating that there would be an “Arab Spring.” Johnson, who is from Nimba and supports Boakai, is running for reelection. On September 25, Boaka said Liberia will end if he does not win or if the election is rigged. The public has condemned these utterances. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has imposed visa restrictions on Liberians or any individuals who attempt to undermine a fair, free, peaceful, and transparent election or influence the outcome of the election. While some media personalities have praised the US position, they have called on other Western nations to follow suit. i
The fear of cheating has become an issue. The opposition thinks or believes that NEC will cheat for the ruling party. This concern is the result of the determination for a first-round victory. For example, in speaking before the Liberian Council of Churches, Medina Wesseh, former secretary-general of the Mano River Union, considered the grit of a one-round win as a means to cheat in the election. She added, “Some politicians or political parties who shout first-round victory either plan to cheat or look for a short out.” CDC and UP have vowed to win by first ballots. Though she did not mention the party’s name, her statement that the “re-appearance of khaki and leather booths should alert us to reduce the “do or die” expectation of a one-round victory.” Before her talk, CDC’s Secretary-General Jefferson Koigee described his party’s desire for a one-round win as a “do or die” determination.
Meanwhile, NEC’s chairperson, Dividetta Browne, has reacted to the thinking that her agency would cheat, stating that the commission has no history of such. She reminded the public that the opposition won in the 2019 special senatorial election for Montserrado County, defeating CDC’s candidate. The opposition cheered the NEC for the election. The opposition defeated the ruling party candidates in the 2020 mid-term national senatorial election. Again, the opposition hailed the agency for a fair election. So, others asked, “Where is this cheating thing coming from?”. Some analysts viewed that the opposition senses defeat and cries wolf before losing.
Boakai will not campaign to the Southeast. Instead, his vice standard bearer, Jeremiah Koung, has traveled to the area through Ivory Coast. The party stated because of bad road conditions, Boakai decided not to go. However, critics said the decision was unwise, expressing that he should have to personally experience the road situation as a prospective head of state. They indicated that Weah traveling there by road could score a political point. UP will climax its campaign on October 7. The total registered voters in the Southeast are about 11% of the national registered voters of 2,471,617 Liberian citizens . Nimba has 12%, Bong, 8%, and Montserrado, 36%.
The ballots and other election materials have arrived in the country. Additionally, international observers were in Liberia about two weeks ago. They have met with the parties, NEC, civil societies, and partners.
The following article will discuss who will win.