Liberia’s 2011 Legislative and Presidential Elections: Factors to Consider and Pitfalls to Avoid
Look around Monrovia and its environs…listen to radio and television jingles and you will watch, hear, see and read a variety of leaflets, fliers, posters and bill boards bearing the photographs of aspirants with their campaign slogans : ‘Together, let’s begin the journey’….. ‘Together we can do better’, ‘The scorpion knows me better’, education, hospitals, clinics, freedom of speech, good governance, etc, ’Da (That’s) their areas’. Vote UP, vote CDC, vote NUDP, vote LTP, vote, vote, vote…
‘Monkey is still working let baboon wait small’…. some critics say that this slogan should not have been introduced into the campaign process because it sounds divisive and it sends the wrong message….they argue that Liberians are human beings and not monkeys and baboons which belong to the forest. Supporters, however, disagree and fire back…they say politics is politics and therefore any political weapon which one can use to discredit his/her opponent is allowed. Anyway this point is not an issue for debate right now because it is clear that the 2011 political race in Mama Liberia is accelerating and it appears that there is no looking back by the various political parties.
THE PROCESS: So far, the various rallies have been relatively violence free and peaceful, except for a very sad and tragic incident which occurred in Grand Cape mount County where, it was reported that several partisans of Rev. Kennedy Sandy’s LTP, died in an accident involving an ambulance. Sympathizers concur that the accident is highly regrettable and pray that the God of heaven helps us never again to witness such a scene before and after these elections; but, if anyone was intentionally responsible for that tragedy, may such person receive his/her just reward, not in heaven but right here on mother earth.
Notwithstanding, it is noticeable that thousands of Liberians are in very high spirit for our up-coming legislative and presidential elections. This fact is easily observable when you look at the massive and electrifying turnout, including the level of creativity, enthusiasm, ingenuity and political spice, which partisans bring to their campaign rallies. Undoubtedly, Liberia’s nascent democracy is alive and kicking….scores of citizens from all over the country are getting actively involved in the political debates. Through phone–ins and television talk shows, (Thanks to the RTV Management, other stations and civil society groups), the electorate has the opportunity to call and quiz their incumbent and aspirant representatives on national matters relating to their respective districts/constituencies.
THE NATIONAL ANTHEM: It was an interesting but shameful scenario in my view, to watch one of the aspirants from the Borough of New Kru Town when he said that he felt humiliated and belittled because the host of the show, Brother Patrick Honah, asked him (aspirant) to sing any of Liberia’s patriotic songs like the National Anthem, the Lone Star Forever or to recite the National Pledge.
I sincerely felt very sad in my spirit that here is a man who claims to love Mama Liberia and wants to represent his people in our country’s first branch of government, the National Legislature. Yet, he feels humiliated that he is not a child, and therefore he should not be asked to sing the National Anthem on radio and television. By that action, I believe he exhibited a clear lack of his understanding of what it truly means to be a patriotic Liberian. On the other hand I was very impressed and happy when another aspirant on the same panel stood and placed his right hand on his chest and said: ‘I pledge allegiance to the flag of Liberia and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all’.
Indeed, objective analysts say that this is what the 2011 October elections should be about, Mama Liberia. Our motive for seeking elected offices must be based on patriotism and not on our personal desire to gain political power so as to pursue our ambition to acquire illegal wealth; therefore, we (electorate) must avoid and resist the temptation to vote solely along personality, tribal and sentimental lines; a candidate’s popular appeal and the ability to pull a gullible crowd are important factors but these should not be the only factors to consider as we vote on election day.
We should critically evaluate and scrutinize every aspirant to look for key factors like patriotism (love for one’s country), integrity, administrative competence and excellent diplomatic skills….these are essential prerequisites to a good and successful leadership. We should all pray to the God of heaven to give us wisdom to make the right decision because Liberia is still a fragile nation on the road to recovery and the up-coming electoral elections are crucial to complete this recovery.
Political observers reason that it also vital for Liberians to realize, as implied in our pledge, that irrespective of our ethnic, social, religious or political differences, we are one people and Liberia is our common denominator. We may belong to different political parties, which is the essence of democracy, but whether we accept it as a fact or not, all of us (Liberians) are passengers aboard the same political titanic ship (Mama Liberia) which is now sailing in the calm waters of peace and stability, approaching the horizon of a brighter and better democratic tomorrow. Like the historic titanic, only the God of heaven knows whether or not our ship, Mama Liberia, will collide with a huge political ice-berg along the way. Patriots however admit that one thing is clear: The choices we (Liberians) make at the polls on October 11, 2011, will either sink, or sail our national ship to its final destination.
2005 COMPARED TO 2011: Obviously, free thinkers say, the wind of democratic change and freedom is heavily blowing over Liberia in such a way which has never happened in our county’s 164 year history. During the 2005 elections which brought Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to power as the first female president of Africa, Liberians voted in a depressed and harsh environment which was very different from what is pertaining in 2011.
IN 2005 the country’s economic, political and social infrastructure was in tatters….the roads were littered with pot holes, the stench of huge piles of garbage and faeces polluted many street corners in Monrovia, the city of Monrovia looked more like a scene in Europe after World War II, with deplorable and dilapidated buildings, riddled with bullet holes, because the entire nation of Liberia was broken. Minimum civil servant pay was a meagre $15.00 which was hardly paid, schools and hospitals remained virtually dysfunctional around the country, freedom of speech and political tolerance were in short supply and just a few years earlier, (1997 – 2003), Liberians had felt like they were prisoners in their own land. Not many persons were brave and courageous enough to call on radios to blast the government and even insult the President as it is being done today. Above all, many Liberians in 2005 looked malnourished and heavily weighed down in their spirit, with an expression of despair and hopelessness across their faces.
IN 2011, however, political observers agree that Liberians look hopeful, healthier, energetic and excited with more smiles on their faces as we prepare for this year’s elections…the roads in Monrovia have been rehabilitated, jubilant partisans can now march and ride to their political rallies without experiencing the discomfort of pot holes, the city of Monrovia (thanks to the hard work of Madam Mary Broh and her MCC team), is cleaner and more attractive, millions of children, high school and university students are back into schools, many of the hospitals and clinics have been renovated and are functioning….and today, six years later, the Civil service is being reformed and civil servants now earn a minimum of $US100.00, the country’s national budget has risen from a pitiful $US80 million in 2006 to more than $US500 million in 2011; Liberia is now DEBT FREE from a 4 billion dollar external debt waiver negotiated by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Supporters and sympathizers of the Unity Party-led government of Madam Ellen Johnson–Sirleaf argue that she has worked extremely hard over the last six years to rebuild Liberia’s social-economic and political infra structure and to lift the country’s image from a failed state to a nation which now enjoys a high degree of international respect. They say that she has decentralized the government by taking development to the people through out the length and breadth of Liberia. For these and other reasons her supporters say she deserves to be re-elected as President of the Republic of Liberia in order for her to complete her development agenda.
OPPOSITION BLOWS CORRUPTION TRUMPET: On the contrary, vocal critics in the opposition camp continue to say that the government has not done enough, given the level of international goodwill it enjoys and the amount of resources at its disposal. The opposition vehemently accuses the government of being corrupt, nepotic and insensitive to the plight of ordinary Liberians. They argue that in her inaugural address of 2006 President Sirleaf promised to make corruption ‘public enemy’ number one. However, opponents counter that some of her actions and utterances over the last six years appear to suggest that she has rather encouraged and supported corruption in government at the highest level.
They further argued that she has reneged on her promise to fight corruption by failing to exercise the political will required to prosecute her cronies and other officials of her government who have had corruption charges levelled against them. Critics say, when she should have allowed one of her accused officials to answer for himself on corruption allegation, she quickly jumped to his defence by saying that she can put her neck ‘on the line’ for him.
BOUNCED BACK: But President Sirleaf and her government have not taken these criticism lying down. The government has bounced back, saying that the opposition is noted for recklessly spewing poisonous political venom (criticisms) against corruption in her government without offering any concrete alternative to help defeat the social canker. The government acknowledges that corruption does exists in the UP- led government just as it has always existed in all governments of Liberia. The President and her team have argued that the difference between the Ellen-led government and previous governments when it comes to the issue of corruption is the fact that her government has taken several measures to minimize the menace by putting it on the front burner; and that is why everyone is talking about corruption in Liberia today.
They point to the fact that the government introduced the whistle blower act which encourages citizens to come forward with genuine proof of any corruption allegation….the government has established the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission to deal with corruption cases and it has strengthened the Auditing Commission and given it the freedom and latitude to audit all government institutions, it has increased the salaries of civil servants and the security forces (police, immigration, military, etc.), to motivate and dissuade them from receiving bribes and other pecuniary inducements.
TWO EYES: Sympathizers of the government further argue that while it is true the President is the head of government and should take the praises and the blame for success or failure, corruption is a systemic and societal problem which cannot be solved only by the President. The President has only two eyes like all human beings; therefore it is impossible for her to see everything which goes on in government. Citizens too, have a pivotal role to play by being honest, patriotic and sincere in doing the right thing at all times.
The fight against corruption requires the collective effort of all Liberians because corruption exists in all sectors of the country…from the homes to the schools, to the churches, to the mosques, in the market places, in private offices, etc, greed and graft are everywhere. It does not matter who is President of Liberia, analysts say, if we do not change our attitudes and mindset as a people by developing a patriotic spirit which puts the interest of the country first, we will continue to be a nation talking plenty but going nowhere.
For example, should we blame the President for the corrupt action of a government lawyer or jury who clandestinely receives a bribe in order to pervert justice and causes the government to lose a court case, or should we blame the president for the action of the police officer who collects L$5 , L$5 from the taxi driver, or the custom or immigration officer who refuses to issue a revenue receipt because he/she wants to pocket government’s taxes, the bus or cab driver who over charges the passenger and violates the traffic rule by carrying two persons in the front seat to make extra money, the procurement officer who connives with a foreign or local business man by inflating the Purchase Order (invoice), so as to cheat the government, the minister or legislator who sells booklets of government gas coupons intended for official purpose, the teacher who extorts money from his/her students in exchange for grades, the private or government road construction worker on a project who secretly sells the fuel, cement and steel rods, or the in-disciplined citizen who eats his bananas with boiled groundnuts and throws the dirt onto the streets?
Many of these actions constitute CORRUPTION, so if the President declared corruption as ‘public enemy’ number one, but the majority of Liberians decided to make corruption ‘public friend’ number one, we should blame ourselves for failing to fight and defeat corruption?
We can only succeed in the fight against corruption if each citizen decides to be patriotic by doing what is right….even if it were possible to elect an angel to the presidency, corruption will not be minimized or eradicated if we are not willing to change or attitudes and mindset.
May the God of heaven continue to bless and prosper Liberia in JESUS’ NAME!!
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