25 October 2017

Liberia: Is Prince Johnson Still a Kingmaker?

Photo: The New Dawn
Senator Prince Johnson on the campaign trail (file photo).

With barely two weeks to the runoff presidential election, there are concerns from members of the public whether Nimba County Senator Prince Yormie Johnson still has what it takes to swing the electorate of Nimba County to either side in the upcoming run-off election.

Johnson, once dubbed a 'Kingmaker' in the 2011 presidential election, appeared instrumental in delivering Nimba County to the Unity Party presidential candidate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her running mate, Joseph N. Boakai.

Johnson, who finished third in that presidential election, supported the Unity Party (UP) in the runoff against the Congress for Democratic Change, headed by Counselor Winston Tubman and Senator George Weah, as standard bearer and vice standard bearer respectively.

As the UP's presidential hopeful, Vice President Joseph Boakai and his running mate, Emmanuel Nuquay, prepare to go against Senator George Weah and his running mate, Senator Jewel Howard Taylor of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), some are wondering whether Johnson, standard bearer of the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR), is still influential enough to be able to convince Nimba County's 279,572 registered voters to support either the UP or CDC.

Both parties have been courting Johnson, who finished fourth in the 2017 presidential elections. On Sunday, Johnson and Weah attended a church service at The Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) led by Pastor T. B. Joshua, a Nigerian pastor, televangelist and philanthropist.

Joshua is known for his popularity across Africa; he has a large online presence with 3,000,000 fans on Facebook.

Statistics from the National Elections Commission (NEC) show that Johnson's influence in Nimba is dwindling. In 2011, Johnson received 110,735 or 67.7 percent of the votes cast in Nimba County, compared to 107,430 or 53.3 percent of the votes cast in the same county on October 10, 2017.

The total number of registered voters in Nimba County in 2011 were 242,007, compared to 279,572 in 2017.

In addition to the 14-percent drop in votes in 2017, only two of the nine candidates running for legislative seats on the Movement for Democratic Reconstruction (MDR) ticket were won their races, compared to seven in 2011, according to data from the NEC.

The two candidates are Rep. Jeremiah Kpaan Koung, an incumbent of Nimba County District # 1, and Saye Mianah of Electoral District # 8, who replaced Rep. Larry Younquoi. Wilfred Bangura, the party's secretary-general, was defeated in his bid for the District #3 seat, losing to Joseph N. Somwarbi of the CDC.

Some Nimba citizens and officials interviewed Tuesday said the political climate in Nimba is different in 2017 than it was in 2011, and some held doubts if voters will follow Johnson.

Roger S. W. Y. Domah, District 7 representative-elect, who ran on the UP ticket, said Johnson does not have a lot of influence on the county's youth. Young people, he said, are more likely to vote the candidate of their choice, not necessarily someone endorsed by Johnson.

Johnson has a lot of respect in the county to influence votes, but most people will vote their own way, he said, adding: "We have more influential people in the county, which now put PYJ in a different position."

Some young people have accused Johnson of selling their votes in 2011, and that perception could minimize his current influence, Domah said.

"CDC is not really popular in Nimba and this would be a serious problem for his decision," Domah said, referring to reports that Johnson may be leaning toward CDC because of his appearance with Weah at a church in Nigeria.

Beh Mameah-Gehi, a native of Nimba, said it is hard to say whether Johnson will impact voters in the county during the November 7 runoff elections.

"Some young people have accused Senator Johnson of selling their votes during the 2011 elections to the ruling Unity Party without them benefiting," he said. "With this issue coming from some of the youth this time, they will decide for themselves, excluding the old ones."

In an interview on ELBC's Bumper Show on Tuesday, Bangura said the MDR remains the decider of the runoff election, despite taking fourth place in the October 10 elections.

"We will decide the fate of the upcoming runoff elections, but this requires consultations and discussion. I can't tell you where we will be going, but we will remain the decider of the election results," Mr. Bangura said.

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