By Othello B. Garblah
Preparations are far advanced at least according to the National Elections Commission for the Tuesday, November 14, Presidential runoff between incumbent President George Weah and former Vice President Joseph N. Boakai.
Though many have considered the November 14 Presidential runoff as a rerun of the 2017 Presidential runoff between the two most popular presidential rivals in recent Liberian history, much has changed since the two men met in 2017.
In 2017, President Weah was at his highest popularity ratings with no incumbency records to defend, while Amb. Boakai had the burden of defending his party’s 12-year record in power, most of which he distanced himself from.
Thus, unlike 2017, both candidates are now running on equal terms with President Weah hoping to maintain the presidency for another six years’ term defending his current record, while Amb. Boakai would argue that Weah’s six years of administering the nation’s affairs have made things worse off than how the UP left it.
Whatever, the forgoing debate, the question that voters would answer on Tuesday is whether their lives have been better off than 12 years ago, the answer to this question is expected to be translated into votes on Tuesday. Another question which the results will show whether Liberians want to have an octogenarian president or continue with Weah to get him over his second and final term.
In 2017, Mr. Weah secured votes well ahead of Amb. Boakai clinching 38.37%, in the first round and 61.54% in the runoff. Amb. Boakai on the other hand accumulated 28.76% of votes cast in the first round and 38.46 in the runoff.
However, both men ran neck-to-neck in the October 10, 2023, presidential polls with incumbent President Weah securing 43.80% of the votes about 7.20 percent shy of securing a first-round victory. The same could be said of Amb. Boakai obtained 43.50% of the votes.
The October 10, presidential results of the two candidates only shows how fierce this runoff would be. Both candidates have so far received endorsements from the camps of the other 18 defeated presidential candidates who participated in the first round of elections. But with the very low percentages of votes obtained by these defeated candidates, it remains to be seen how these endorsements will translate into votes.
However, the stakes remain high in this election and both sides are hoping to clinch victory amidst various conspiracy theories ahead of Tuesday’s vote. But what are their chances?
Incumbent President Weah
Incumbent President Weah arguably remains a popular candidate in the race. His connection with young people, especially most first-time voters put him in a league all by himself. His Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) ability to organize rallies and publicize events has been exceptional compared to his fierce rival.
Mr. Weah and his CDC’s slogan of “Change you can depend on”, alongside WEAC fee payments and free tuition for public schools and universities, have resonated well with young people, but did not secure him a first-round victory.
Mr. Weah faces a daunting task not just in securing victory but with the huge margins secured in 2017. President Weah’s critics will acknowledge that he came into the 2017 race without any record to defend and therefore, his popularity was the only vehicle that drove him to the Executive Mansion.
In 2023, the variables have changed. President Weah now has a record to defend: a crippled economy, corruption and failed promises. These are holes that have crept into the President’s popularity, some created by men and women he has placed in authority, and he must now ably defend against a raging opposition that continues to feast on his administration’s failure.
But the President would boast in addition to WAEC and free public schools and universities the construction of hospitals, roads, and rural housing units, etc. These have well swept him into his third runoff, and he must now finish the race.
At the end of the first round of voting, Mr. Weah changed his campaign strategy by knocking on voters’ doors, particularly in his own district where he had never won before.
Amb. Boakai stands a much better chance than he did in 2017. Now, that President Weah has a record to defend, and the former Vice President being seen as the most experienced Stateman puts him in a much better position to wrestle power from President Weah.
Supported by a host of former government officials including defeated presidential candidates in the October 10 polls, and surrounded by his kinsmen, Amb. Boakai looks the most likely alternative.
However, the former vice president comes into 2023 with too much excess baggage. The former vice President’s alignment with US designee Sen. Johnson, a former warlord, has caused many of his supporters both local and international to rethink. Added to this is his inability to be decisive. Many blamed him for his failed leadership role which saw the CPP, Liberia’s strongest opposition collaboration in recent history disintegrating right under his watchful eyes.
But some say the issue of Sen. Prince Johnson could be put away within the first six months of Amb. Boakai’s regime, that is if he plays his cards well and works with the United States Government.
The former vice president’s age is also a factor, particularly speculations surrounding his health, which has caused many to fear that electing him in office will be equated to electing Sen. Johnson. Sen. Johnson has not even made it any easier for Amb. Boakai with his campaign pronouncements prior to the October 10 polls.
However, he has remained quiet during the runoff campaign which ended Sunday, November 12.