21 September 2017

Liberia: Change or Continuity

Ahead of the vote on October 10, pundits are of the conviction that Liberians are caught between the scissors or between the sea and the hard ground in terms of going for a change or sticking with continuity.

It is being described as a conundrum facing a rather airy voting population, the fact that Liberians are placed in a tight situation of either remaining posted with the UP for 'continuity' or leaning toward the opposition for 'change.'

Change and Continuity remain the overarching campaign message being propagated by all parties seeking to dethrone the ruling Unity Party which on the other side is pushing the idea and concept of continuity, that Liberians should vote it to power for the third time.

The main opposition parties including the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), Liberty Party (LP), Alternative National Congress (ANC), and All Liberian Party (ALP) are advocating for change of leadership, using "change" in their efforts to convince Liberians turn their back on the UP which is opting for continuity.

While the call for change seems to be resonating with Liberians in many quarters, event of last Saturday when hundreds of Liberians streamed into Monrovia in support of the UP is said to change the demography.

However, pundits are not convinced that change as craved is on the silver platter for the opposition considering the serious fragmentations starring at them.

In an article tile "Liberia: Change versus Continuity," Dagbayonoh Kiah Nyanfore II, provided some synopsis of the political dilemma of change and continuity.

"Like CDC, the respective rallies of the Liberty Party, and the All Liberian Party are all calling for change, change from the ruling Unity Party (UP), which has ruled Liberia since 2006. UP, on the other hand, vows to continue with its government policies," he noted.

Based on his observations of the various campaign launches of the CDC, LP, UP and ALP, he provided an analysis of what is at stake.

Excerpts of the Article

I attended the official campaign launching of the Liberty Party on the 9th of September. I rode a taxi to the party headquarters in Congo Town, Monrovia. This time, I went alone. On my way, the passengers in the back seats started discussing the rally as partisans and sympathizers of the party walked in large numbers to the headquarters, an approximately one-lot compound. One passenger said that some members of the crowd were of the CDC party and would come from the rally to CDC headquarters, which is a walking distance from the launch.

As others have observed, campaign crowds are part of this competition in this election. Because of this, political parties can buy crowds. Particularly the younger crowds are the valuable ones. They are because the youth population is about half of the national population of 4.5 million. In this election, the youth, 18-37 years old, constitute about 64% of the registered voters, according to NEC voter registration data. The youth know this and are capitalizing on this reality, especially the need for parties to have their presence at campaign rallies. They can get paid in a country where the poverty rate is very high. Majority of the youth is unemployed.

When I asked Eric, who said he received $US10 from the Liberty Party, why he took the money knowing that he was a CDCian, hereplied with a question.

"If you are hungry and a person offers you American $10 and a T-shirt just for you to spend few hours at his rally, would you refuse?

Eric hits the nail on the spot. Most Liberians would not refuse. Hence having large crowd does not necessarily mean victory. What are important are the ballots on Election Day.

However, campaign rallies, such as a launching in a heavily populated area like Montserrado County, is a strategic method usually learned by experience. A novice may not know and could cause embarrassing results. Certainly the Liberty Party's decision to launch its campaign at the party headquarters was a good one, which was learned from experience.

In the 2005 election, the Liberty Party was at a high peak of its campaign for the presidency. Liberia had just come from a 14 year civil war. The major political parties, including the Liberty Party, were new. Its standard bearer, still Counselor Brumskine, was in part moved by religious prophesy that he was the chosen one by God to be president. Moreover, international entities, including the Washington Post carried a Sunday feature article, which called him the man who would be president.

The prophesy, the career experience, and the international expectations did not help and neither help change the situation. The Liberty Party took third place and did not make it to second round despite an impressive campaign launch at the ATS.

The Liberty Party however, did not learn from its 2005 mistakes. Under the theme 3 'Rs'- Reformation, Reconciliation, and Restoration, the party set for the coming election with confidence fueled also by the selection of Bong County Senator Franklin Siakor as vice standard bearer. In the 2011 election, the party utilized the ATS for launching its campaign, not taking into account the changing dynamics of the Liberian electorates. Not only did the party encounter its worst turnouts at the arena (about 2000 people attended), it was mercilessly defeated at the polls on Election Day, receiving 5.45% of the national votes, a drastic decrease of about 9% from 13.9% in 2005, placing the party to a disappointing 4th place. Moreover, disappointingly and surprisingly, first-time presidential candidate Senator Prince Johnson won more votes over Brumskine in Montserrado County.

This election year, the party appeared to have learned its lessons. Its decision to have its launch at the headquarters was a good move. Not only did this decision save the party money from stadium rental fee, it also stopped possible embarrassment from about low crowd size. Further, though the use of the headquarters created traffic problem, the compound was jam packed giving an impression of a large crowd.

Below an observer discussed excellently the past experience of the party and attests to my expression.

"The Liberty Party candidate spoke Saturday in Monrovia when his party officially launched its campaign at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium with thousands of partisans and sympathizers in attendance. Saturday's turn out, which attracted over a thousand supporters, was in stark contrast to the party's 2005 launch during which over 10,000 Liberty Party supporters and members demonstrated through the streets of Monrovia to the Antoinette Tubman Stadium. The LP supporters, who began parading the streets at about 11 a.m., converged at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium in the afternoon hours and could, only engulf the VIP wing of the stadium with the rest of the stadium left unoccupied".

The All Liberian Party, a new political entity, appeared not to have given a proper thought in its first campaign launch. It may have thought that it has the crowd to fill the ATS and therefore dismissed using its headquarters or a smaller space. The result was an embarrassing experience. However, Henry Costa on his Facebook page attempted to shield the disappointment by presenting faked pictures of droid images showing only area of the stadium where there was crowd.

But the party's error in this regard should not be attributed only to the planners of the event. Rather equally to the standard bearer, farmer and rich businessman Benoni Urey. His thinking that with his wealth, he can pack the stadium and win the election is an illusion which a good campaign manager or an experienced election strategist would be unable to achieve.

Further, the Unity Party though had an impressive and successful campaign launch, an observer also at the rally made a good point when she told me that UP, as a ruling party which has been in power for almost 12 years, was expected to fill the arena. "The party controls state resources and has supporters who have protégés".

The above point is true. The young man who promised to email me the picture informed me that he works for the government and his boss would appreciate the staff's attendance to the launch.

There is another point. While the UP launch was remarkable, and the party deserves credit for the turnout, a critical look at the attendance gives a different picture regarding the election. If we consider the 15,000 capacity of the stadium and add 5,000 for those who may have been sitting inside and around the stadium plus another 5,000 for people standing outside of the arena, we would have a total attendance of 25,000 people. This figure is only 3.22% of the registered voters of 777,572 people for Montserrado County for this election. It should be stated also that people were bused from nearby counties, including Margibi and Bomi.

In short, having a large crowd at a rally does not guarantee electoral victory. Mobilizing supporters and making sure that they vote would help achieve success.


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