10 October 2017

Liberia: Why the Ruling Unity Party May Be Given Another Mandate for Continuity

Photo: FrontPage Africa
George Weah
analysis

Liberia has (for about 20 year) experienced multi-party democracy; for which many politicians including political activists championed; and this achievement has been attributed to the late Liberian veteran politician Gabriel Bacchus Matthews as the brainchild. As Liberians, we continue to enjoy the multi-party exhilaration with the propagation of many political parties in the name of "participation" into the democratization process in Liberia. Whether some of these parties will amass even two percent of the total vote or not, each candidate is convicted that he/she is the next president of Liberia beyond October 2017.

The conduct of political polls is a very important tool for political candidates to examine their individual strengths and helps them shift their campaign strategy where necessary. While I think it also helps voters to see the popularity of candidates in the impending elections, Pools in past elections have not reflected the true view or final decision of electorate, as I believe Liberia is still an embryo for conducting such exercise. Furthermore, significant number of voters remained undecided making it difficult to reflect true frontrunners. However, it is widely observed and believed by many political pundits and ordinary Liberians (including myself) that the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and the ruling Unity Party (UP) are the two major contenders in 2017 elections.

THE MISSED OPPORTUNITY BY THE OPPOSITION POLITICAL PARTIES

I think the opposition political parties should have learned from the experience of other countries' elections including, the Gambia, Ghana and others in forming a strong coalition to unseat the Unity Party. Key political parties had met in Nimba County earlier this year with the agenda to form a strong political bloc against the ruling party, which ended in deadlock and the then Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) referring to some political parties as "regime collaborators". At the same time, some of the political leaders present were uncompromising as each one of them wanted to lead the proposed coalition's ticket. Whether it was an egoistic desire or how one may term it, I believe it was a huge missed opportunity for the opposition political parties' desire for change of regime, which may hunt them for a long time. A group of people committed for change usually have common goal and agenda; and they speak with one voice which resonate with many; and then reflect the desired and true outcome.

This strong ideology is contrary for Liberia's political opposition leaders who have one voice for "CHANGE", but different agenda, as this is clearly reflected by their failure to unite beyond personal interests or differences and then sending 19 other political candidates against a ruling party which has served for 12 year with stronger financial base, fixed constituents and now with new axillary groups (of diverse background) flocking to the Unity Party and building more impetus for their campaign.

This missed opportunity on the part of the opposition political parties has changed the political parading; thus giving value and clearer opportunity to the Unity Party to flourish and now to attract more potential voters from diverse socio-economic and political backgrounds. Many Liberians were shocked on 16th September to have seen people from all walks of live who confronted the heavy down pull of rain to show up for the Unity Party campaign launch. This demonstrated commitment and show of strength for the

Unity Party (UP) equally like the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC). The opposition political parties' desire for true change for Liberia and its people remains doubtful on the minds of many Liberians as this is characterized by the vicious division seen amongst them.

WHAT COULD BE THE GAME CHANGING INDICATORS FOR THE RULING UNITY PARTY

Considering the outcomes of the 2005 and 2011 elections, including observation and views of political analysts and some Liberians, the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and the ruling Unity Party (UP) so far remain the two biggest political parties in the current political trends of Liberia. It is also believed by many Liberians (including myself) that these two political parties will make it to the second round of election, should a party fail to win more than 50% of the votes at the first round. If this should happen (which may be the case), the ruling Unity Party will have some advantages at this stage to win the election at the second round.

With the exception of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and the Unity Party (UP), some other vibrant political parties are the Liberty Party (LP), Alternative National Congress (ANC), and MOVEE among others. There are several game changing factors for the second round of election for the Unity Party. However, here are few and potential game changing indicators I wish to briefly discuss:

Gloomy relationship between the CDC and Liberty Party: What might happen during the second round of election between The CDC and UP, which could make the Unity Party again become victorious is this; undoubtedly the CDC and the Liberty Party have had some bitter experiences and relationship between both parties is soured. In 2011, it was widely rumoured and reported by some news agencies that the CDC Standard Bearer, Ambassador George Weah had received some money from Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine to have considered running as vice standard bearer to Cllr. Brumskine.

Even some CDC stalwarts had come out publicly to speak against the alleged meeting which was held between the two in Ghana and that if it happened, that was a "fiasco" as the Ambassador was standing as a presidential candidate and second to none. Following this, Ambassador George Weah accepted to run as vice standard bearer to Cllr. Winston Tubman following his defeat in the party's primary, which some political pundits said it was "stage managed"; that Cllr. Winston Tubman had also offered money to CDC for the slot and he (Cllr. Tubman was unpopular in Liberia). Since then and now, some officials and supporters of these two political parties have continue to throw hot words at each other. Some time ago, the CDC referred to the Liberty and other political parties as "regime collaborators".

Furthermore, the recent incident which took place on 20th September 2017 in Sanniquelleh, Nimba County between supporters of CDC and the Liberty Party (causing injuries to many), has further exacerbated the relationship between the two political parties. This is a clear indicator that the Liberty Party may not endorse the CDC election bid in the second round. As the Liberty Party is accused of being a "regime collaborator and supported by the current government with major legal contracts for its standard bearer's law firm" they might just return to the status quo as was done in 2011 by supporting the Unity Party in the second round and this will be another setback for the presidential bid of Ambassador George Weah.

Watch out for the Political Separatists;

Alternative National Congress (ANC): It is clear that the ANC is a breakaway faction of the then Congress for Democratic Change (CDC). They also have very good number of supporters across the country and have taken away some former partisans of the CDC. With the Jehovah witness' campaign the party and its standard bearer Mr. Alexander B. Cummings have embarked upon, is giving them a surprise popularity; thereby placing them as another game changing indicator for the second round. Arguably, many Liberians believe that Mr. Cummings is the real change for Liberia and he has the best platform for transformation and improving lives as compared to other presidential candidates, yet some of the same Liberians usually refer to him as "Johnny Just Come, but why he never came sooner? Let him just wait for the next election, the time is not ripe for him", etcetera. I think some voters see Mr. Cummings as a new comer in Liberia political arena, therefor they will need to observe him for some time possibly to build more

trust and confidence in him. Currently, Mr. Cummings remains the most favoured second choice candidate of many voters across Liberia. At these critical few days to elections, what could change this current political trajectory to get him into the front runner position, would only require a miracle at this moment. Nevertheless, reflecting on some bitter experiences of some current officials of the separatists ANC during their time at the CDC, it becomes a nightmare for the CDC in the second round as officials of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) CANNOT and WILL NOT support CDC in the second round.

MOVEE:

As yet, I am not sure which way MOVEE's pendulum would move during the second round. However, there are something that is very clear; which is a trigger to suggest their direction. The standard bearer of MOVEE, Dr. J. Mill Jones commonly known as the "the Poverty Doctor" served the ruling Unity Party as Central Bank Governor for about 10 years. Dr. Jones brought some reforms at the Central Bank and used portion of the bank's reserve to empower many venerable women, Credit Unions, Micro Finance Institutions and businesses across Liberia through the provision of soft loans. I briefly served as National Consultant at the Central Bank of Liberia for seven months seconded by the UNDP during the inception phase of Loan Extension and Assistance Facility (LEAF) program, where along with an Italian Consultant, we did a comprehensive assessment across Liberia's fifteen counties and the real needs were seen for this intervention, which I believe has changed many lives in Liberia.

As part of the Liberia Inclusive Financial Sector (LIFS) Project, the Central Bank of Liberia under the governorship of Dr. J. Mills Jones launched the LRD 2000 million LEAF program in January 2012. I have personally followed up with some of the supported groups including Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLAs), Credit Unions (CUs) and Micro-Finance Institutions (MFIs) and they are during well in business and some women are now taking international business trips. Some Liberians have criticized Dr. Jones for this initiative on grounds that he used the program to gain popularity, yet many Liberians still believe that he has done well, which past governors couldn't do and for this Dr. Jones has received huge following across the country.

The picture I am trying to demonstrate here is that with the huge support he has gained across Liberia through the Central Bank LEAP's initiative, Dr. Jones and his MOVEE Party could also be a game changer depending where they move during the second round. However, with Dr. Jones past affiliation with the current government and the popularity he has gained over the years with his commitment to fighting poverty in Liberia, I strongly believe he and his MOVEE Party will have empathy for the ruling Unity Party and this could be yet another "struck on the camel's back"-the Coalition for Democratic Change.

Senators Geraldine Doe Sheriff and the Prince Johnson's Factors:

These two senators are great and influential with very large following in the Liberian political field. Senator Doe-Sheriff a former stalwart of the CDC is supporting the presidential bid of Vice President Amb. Joseph Nyema Boakai; and she is vigorously campaigning for the ruling Unity Party in Montserrado County; the strong hold of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), where she currently serves as a seating senator. Senator Doe-Sheriff recently showed her strength in Montserrado County by amassing large crowd for Vice President Boakai during the Unity Party campaign launch. I think her engagement with the Unity Party has contributed greatly to the vice president quest for the Liberian presidency. Here comes Senator Prince Y. Johnson, another powerful presidential candidate who has demonstrated strength and force in the Liberian political playing field and was the "king maker" in the 2011 election victory of the ruling Unity Party. Senator Johnson was overlooked during the 2011 elections and many Libe

rians didn't take him as a serious contender due to his experience during the Liberian civil crisis. During campaigning in 2011 (even presently), Senator Johnson always mentioned that he is the father of Nimba County, that when he speaks; the people of Nimba listen to him, but most Liberians had not taken him seriously until the final results of the elections were announced.

He won majority of the votes in his county; Nimba and Senator Johnson took a surprise third place after the first round ahead of Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine (who was believed to have done better than Senator Johnson). Senator Prince Johnson could become again a "king maker" in the impending elections, especially in the second round. Though some Liberians see him as an unpredictable and inconsistent character; however Senator Johnson becomes very decisive when that critical period arrives. Whether he will give support again to the ruling Unity Party or the CDC in the second round, that is yet to be seen.

More so, one thing that remains clear is that Senator Johnson has not forgotten his popular 2011 phrase "the lesser evil"; and from his recent interview with the Voice of America (VOA), which he commented on Ambassador Weah's statement as being the next president of Liberia and asking a critical question about how did Amb. Weah know that he (Weah) is the next president of Liberia, are indications that the powerful Nimba County Senator might just go the way of the Unity Party for the second time. Should this happen, then the CDC is doomed for another great election defeat for the third time, which I think they might not be willing to accept.

WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY FOR THE CDC AND/OR OTHER OPPOSITION POLITICAL PARTIES

In the 2005 elections, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf received 19.8% and 59.4% (192.326 and 478.526 votes) in the first and second rounds compared to Ambassador George Weah 28.3% and 40.6% (275.265 and 327.046 votes) respectively. Also in 2011 elections, the Unity Party got 43.9% and 90.7% (607.618 second round votes) in first and second rounds, while the CDC 32.7% and 9.3% (62,207 second round votes). Even though in 2011 run-off election, the CDC announced that they were boycotting, yet still some supporters showed up and voted. From these statistics, you can vividly see that the Unity Party popularity has increased since 2005 when they received 478.526 compared to 607.618 votes in both second rounds of 2005 and 2011 respectively; and their strength has increased significantly for the 2017 elections.

These are clear facts the opposition political parties needed to consider and break into the popularity thread or slowing down the Unity Party by crafting a clear and unified plan for change to counteract this growing political menace, which has caused serious political problems for the opposition political parties. The best and most convenient chance for the opposition political parties is for them to put aside personal issues including past and present and then support whomever get to the run-off election with the Unity Party. This is unlikely to happen, but there is an opportunity to make it work; it's all about commitment and dedication to desired outcome the opposition political leaders anticipate. By this, the greatest burden lies with the CDC to take that responsibility and get to other political parties and use all the political dialectics in making this happen. Anything on the contrary, the opposition political parties will dash their own dream for "regime change".

There is no doubt that the CDC will make it to the second round of election. A first round victory for the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) by getting more than 50% of the votes, would save them political stress and headache. The most difficult challenge for the Coalition for Democratic Change in the second round will be to mend the relation with other opposition political parties and then form a common front against the ruling Unity Party. This is possible, but will require lot of compromises, hard talks and respecting whatever deal that may be reached behind the scene. The issue of mistrust and unwillingness to give in have beset leaders of opposition political parties in Liberia; thereby causing them to remain disintegrated. And if the CDC fails to break this barrier during the second round, then am afraid that they are doomed for another defeat. Meanwhile, there are still undecided voters even at this moment; and if by chance any other opposition political party emerged with the CDC in the second rou

nd, definitely the Unity Party and other major political parties will not support the CDC and will be another devastating defeat for Ambassador Weah's quest for Liberia presidency.

Some questions to ponder over; can the opposition political parties mend their relationship and form a common front in the second round? Can they take a paradigm shape and chart one agenda for any opposition party against the ruling Unity Party in second round? Is the agenda for "change of regime" realistic for the opposition political parties as they remained rancorous? Will everyone accept the elections results even when established to be free, fair, transparent and credible?

Having discussed these political dynamisms that surround the October 10, 2017 elections, I am passionately appealing to all Liberians to turn out to vote their choice and for the good of Liberia and everyone; and then accept the outcome of the elections, especially when it is established to be free, fair, credible and transparent. Should any political party or group of Liberians feel "disenfranchised or cheated", let's use the court process available to us as guaranteed by the organic laws of Liberia.

Conclusively, having a true and viable political institutions in Liberia where decisions are driven by the fundamental structural systems that established it, rather than individually centered; is yet a long way to go for the democratization process of Liberia. However, I think that remains a pocoapoco process and am confident that some days Liberia shall get there.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: SAMPSON V.K. DOLO is a development professional with vast experience working with communities and local government authorities across the 15 county of Liberia. He has extensive background and experience in community-based engagement and large-scale project coordination, implementation and management in a wide variety of sectors. He once served as Student Leader at the A.M.E. Zion University. You may contact him for further detail at dolo.sampson@gmail.com

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