US 2018 MIDTERM ELECTION AND LIBERIA

The US midterm election will be held this Tuesday, November 6, 2018. The question is which of the political party will control Congress? Presently, the Republican Party controls both houses. All 435 representative seats are vacant, but only 35 of the 100 senate seats are open. The Democrats need a net 23 seats to capture the house.

Latest polls show the Democrats will win the house, and the Republicans will retain the Senate chamber. In addition to congressional races, there are state races for governor and city councilor major. But polls are not gospels. In 2016 presidential election, the polls had Hilary ahead and she was to win. The results showed otherwise.

In this midterm congressional election, the real stats tell what is ahead or what could happen. According to the New York Times, 194 seats in the House are likely or solidly Democratic, while 171 are likely or solidly Republican seats. The Democrats need only 218 seats to take over. As said before, there are 100 Senate seats. Only 35 seats are open for this election. Of this number, 26 are Democrat incumbents while 9 are Republicans. In other words, the Democrats have more to lose than gain. They would be happy if they get one or two seats in the Senate.

A midterm election is usually a referendum on the sitting president. So this election will be about Donald Trump. While the US economy is viewed positively under him, his approval rate is unfavorable. He is under 50%. Most past US presidents lost the House at this rate. Losing Congress during midterm does not necessarily mean that the president would lose re-election. Bill Clinton lost both houses in his first midterm but won re-election. He was also impeached by the Republican-controlled Congress. Obama lost the House and yet was re-elected despite the poor economic record.

If the Democrats take over the house, it could create problems for Trump. He could be investigated regarding the alleged Russia influence in the 2016 Presidential Election and could be impeached. The Democrats could also make it difficult for him achieving his agendas.

The American people like strong and firmed leader that puts America first and makes difficult decisions. Though Carter was a nice guy and moral, he was considered weak, and he made America appeared weak internationally. He lost for a second term after the American hostage crisis. With conservationism and protectionism are on the rise in the US, Trump could be re-elected regardless of his unfavorable rating. Secondly, as other analysts have indicated, there is no iconic leader in the Democratic Party so far. Ronald Reagan, a Republican president, easily won re-election because of conservatism and hard-core foreign policies; ie, his stance against communism and the Soviet Union, which he called “the evil empire”.

This election should be of interest to Liberians. Wynfred Russell, a Liberian born, is running as a Democratic candidate for the city council of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. If elected, he would be the second elected Liberian born in high-power US politics. The first I think is Wilmot Collin, Mayor for Helena, Montana. Russell has been active in local affairs, including the City Planning Commission.
What does this midterm congressional election mean for Africa in general and Liberia in particular? US foreign policy for Africa will not significantly change. But for Liberia, there could be a big change. Presently, there is a bill in the US Congress calling for the implementation of the TRC Recommendations and for the establishment of a war crime court in Liberia. The TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) was set up to address the factors and perpetrators of the Liberian civil war and to make recommendations which “shall” be implemented. The recommendations, which also call for the punishment for those who caused the war, were not implemented by the Sirleaf government. Sirleaf was accused in the TRC report as a key contributor to the war. US Congressman Daniel M. Donovan, Jr., a Republican from New York, introduced the bill. It has passed the House Foreign Sub-Committee. If the full House passes the bill and the Senate approves it, it could form a central piece of the US policy for Liberia. He has discussed the Liberian matter with the US Secretary of State and with the Secretary of Defense.

Considering US historical, political, and economic role in Liberia, The Weah government could be forced to abandon his seeming protection of those recommended by the TRC for punishment. If the Weah administration refuses to comply, the US could issue arrest warrants and travel ban on the perpetrators. The US could also put economic pressure on the Weah government, providing an opportunity for anti-Weah forces to undermine the new government, thus intensifying their effort at home and abroad. Past external pressures should be lessons as discussed below.

During the Doe regime, anti-Doe forces in the US influenced Congress to adult a policy against the Doe administration. Although Doe tried to beg for US reconsideration by sending a delegation headed by Ambassador Winston Tubman to Washington, US officials met demanded Doe’s resignation. The result is history.

Historically moreover, during the Charles Taylor government, after mounting external pressures, Bush demanded that Taylor Must Go. Within few months of the Bush announcement, Taylor was almost arrested in Accra, Ghana at a conference had the Ghanaian government not intervened. But Taylor was forced to say at the conference that he would not participate in the coming Liberian presidential election. This prepared an interim government headed by Gyude Bryant. Certainly, Taylor and his power were gone, thanks particularly to the US.

Sirleaf attempted to protect Taylor from persecution after her winning the 2005 election, in which she received support from the Taylor camp. But the US put pressure on her resulting in the capture of Taylor in Nigeria while he was escaping to Cameron. What I am saying is that US possible policy pressure should not be taken lightly. Weah should not take the call for the establishment of a war crime court jokingly. As stated in an earlier article, some Liberian presidents in the past encountered serious difficulties when they tried to protect perpetrators of crimes and fostered a culture of impunity. Weah should take history as a guide and should not listen to opportunists. He must protect his young government and his legacy. He must do the right thing for justice. He could put the issue in a referendum, as suggested by others.

One might say that Representative Donovan is a Republican and if he loses and the Democrats take over the house, his bill might lose. Not really. Most bills are sponsored by two individuals, sometimes from two separate parties. The sponsors have colleagues and if the bill is for a human and just cause, it has a good chance of passing whether the primary sponsor is absent. Further, there is no known established lobby group against the bill; and there is an organized group of US citizens and Liberian nationals for the bill and hence it could pass. Even if the bill encounters a problem, Trump could initiate a policy putting pressure on the Liberian government to institute a war crime court, considering his dislike of criminals getting away and foreign corrupt officials and those promoting a culture of impunity. He could use the arrests of Liberian warlords in foreign countries as a precedent.
Anyway, the elections should be interesting.

BY DAGBAYONOH KIAH NYANFORE ll

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