2 July 2014

Liberia: Teacher to Kingmaker - Sulunteh May Influence Senate Race

Gbarnga — The battle for the next senator of Bong County has begun in earnest, and, as it is customary in Liberian politics, intrigues and manipulations are already in the air.

Five leading contenders: Incumbent Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor (National Patriotic Party), Ranney Jackson (Unity Party), a runner-up to 2011 senatorial winner Henry Yallah, Cuttington University's president Dr. Henrique Flomo Tokpa (Unity Party),former Bong County senator Franklin Siakor (Liberty Party), Augustus J. Flomo (Congress for Democratic Change) and Dr. Mator Kpanbai (Independent the Movement) are clearly ahead of others in terms of following in the race and, unless the unexpected happens, the next senator of Bong County will be from one of the candidates.

As the candidates scramble for support for the October 14 special election, Jeremiah Sulunteh, Liberia's Ambassador to United States of America, seemed poised to play a kingmaker role by throwing his support behind one of the leading candidates, despite being out of the country.

"I am not going to contest the 2014 special election due to my current assignment, but I am contemplating on supporting a candidate who has similar attributes like me," Sulunteh told supporters in May upon return to Liberia.

Sulunteh, a former lecturer of Cuttington University in Suakoko, Bong County and the founder of the "Friends of Sulunteh" - a group of over 5,000 Bong residents who are followers of Sulunteh - remains a political force to be reckoned with in the county, senatorial candidates have confirmed.

His support is actively being sought by candidates running for the senatorial seat. Senatorial aspirant James Saybay last month told FrontPageAfrica: "Sulunteh's support for me in the October would be important." Incumbent Senator Howard-Taylor shares similar aspirations: "Sulunteh's support for me would be huge. I have already begun strategizing to see how I can lure him over."

Jefferson Gbarnyan, another senatorial aspirant, said his ambition for the senate hinges on Sulunteh's declaration for him. "Sulunteh and I have come a long way. If he endorses my intention I would continue my senatorial ambition, but anything short of that I would decline," he said.

Sulunteh "an icon in Bong politics" Long before the phenomenon of the godfathers in Liberia politics came into light, Sulunteh had turned the phenomenon into a successful pastime in his native Bong County. Sulunteh's political success in the county could be traced to his flawless ability to connect with activists and the masses at the same time without compromising the interest of either class.

With the rich and educated class, Sulunteh, a native of Suakoko district, utilized his powers of persuasion to bring them under his control. With the less privileged, he used his well known spirit of humanity as an attraction. Sulunteh's fame continues to go through much of the county's 13 administrative districts and has formed political networks and in the county.

'The Humanitarian'

Sulunteh has wormed his way into the hearts of his people through philanthropy touching the hearts of the Bong residents in a way never seen before in those areas. Mother Francis Garmai-Oberly, Bong County's renowned female instructor remembered Sulunteh visiting the Gboveh Junior High School in the mid seventies and donating a princely amount of US$500 which in those days was able to construct the school library.

"There was hardly any community in those days that Sulunteh did not touch through his philanthropy and countless number of secondary school students owed their education to him," she added.

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