Gbarnga, Bong County — The race to replace Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor is heating up in Bong County as Howard-Taylor prepares to become the nation's first female vice President.
Senators Jewel Howard-Taylor and George Weah, of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), won the runoff election, defeating Vice President Joseph N. Boakai.
Dr. Henrique Tokpa, the minister of Internal Affairs who lost to Howard-Taylor in 2014 Senatorial election by 1945 votes, was considered a leading contender.
But Tokpa said he would not be contesting for personal reasons.
"My wife is sick and because of that I will not be contesting the by-election," said Tokpa, a member of the Unity Party.
Other contenders include: Ambassador Jeremiah Sulunteh, former running mate to Alex Cummings, of the Alternative National Congress (ANC); Emmanuel Lomax, former Bong County campaign manager of Liberty Party; Orando Zarwolo, who lost his bid for District-3 seat in the October 2017 elections; Superintendent Selena Polsen Mappy, also of the Unity Party; Fairnoh Gbilah, a youth advocate in Lower Bong County; and James Saybay, who lost his seat for District 3, Steve Kennedy, Deputy Secretary General for Press and propaganda of the People's Unification Party (PUP).
Sulunteh, who supported the CDC after the ANC fell out of the Presidential race, said he will run for the open seat, but he refused to elaborate.
Sulunteh said he declared for the CDC to strengthen the Bong County solidarity in the runoff Presidential election.
"It was a decision to promote the image of Bong County that's why I supported the CDC," he said.
'I am declaring because the seat is vacant and I am a citizen of Bong County."
Supporters of the CDC and National Patriotic Party plan to pressure Howard-Taylor to settle on Sulunteh.
Marcus Brown, a CDC supporter, said Sulunteh should be rewarded for "braving the storm" to endorse the CDC.
Marvin Josiah Cole, a representative-elect of the CDC, said the odds favor Sulunteh.
"Why not? Sulunteh didn't say anything against the CDC even though he was contesting on different ticket," Cole said.
In lower Bong County, citizens are advocating that the seat be filled by someone from that area, home to Howard-Taylor.
Jewel Taylor hails from Sanoyea district in electoral district seven, Lower Bong County.
Lower Bong consists of Districts six and seven (Totota, Salala, Fuamah and Sanoyea). Sulunteh, Gbilah Mappy and Lomax are from lower Bong.
Kennedy, 38, said he is contesting the seat to represent the young people who have been marginalized over the years.
A group of over 50 young people have already petitioned him to run
"The young people are behind me and they are giving me the courage to contest," he said.
Saybay, who contested the 2014 Senatorial election and finished fifth to Jewel Howard-Taylor, said representing the people of Bong County at the national legislature is his paramount concern.
"I believe the people of Bong County deserve more and when I am elected I am going to do more to attract the dividends of democracy back to citizens," he said.
Polson-Mappy, who contested in electoral District Six, finishing second to representative-elect Moima Briggs, has been petitioned by some women in Totota to contest the seat.
Polson-Mappy said she has been carrying on consultations with citizens across the county and the responses from them are positive.
Gbilah said he is contesting the seat because he wants to bring more developments to the county.
Gbilah served as liaison officer of the Gbarnga- Baltimore sister city relationship during the regime of former Bong County Superintendent Ranney Jackson.
He was instrumental getting a dump truck for the county from the state of Maryland in the United States in 2009.
Gbilah said he would like to see a vocational and technical college in Lower Bong County to reduce the burden of young people who can't afford attending college in Gbarnga.
"We believe that there are a lot more needs to be done and in a Gbilah ascendency as Senator, I will do more to my people," he added.
Some citizens said they want a Senator who will bring more development to the county.
The disunity among lawmakers has hampered development.
Senator Taylor's departure will leave a void in citizen representation, and so it's important to have the right person to fill the seat, some residents said.
"It is not just about the names of those seeking to replace Senator Taylor but we need competent person," said Ansu Sesay, a local entrepreneur.
Tarwoe Walonfah said the decision of who becomes Senator of Bong should be based on competence, not where the person comes from.
"We need capable people to represent us," he said.