9 October 2017

Liberia: Which Way? Liberians Decide Tomorrow

Photo: Rukshan Ratnam/UNDP
People stand in line to vote at Liberia's elections (file photo).

The third post-war elections to further fortify and coagulate a yet-to-be-grounded and appropriately nurtured democracy in Liberia is at hand.

The Tuesday (October 10) long expected several years, months and weeks ago has dawned. As they queue to vote, it will for themselves, their children and the future of 'Mama Liberia.' By all accounts, waiting for the D-day to cast for their vote has been an undeniable preoccupation as they seek means to replenish the wasteful years. With tomorrow quiet unassumingly gazing, the question, the complexity, confusion and indecisiveness are not going away. Down the tummy of their hearts is about which way is the "Narrow Road" that leads to freedom and everlasting peace. As The New Republic looks at the variables - the plethora of supports, the human Tsunamis pulled- could it be the "Devil or An Angel"?

Liberians face a tedious task choosing from among twenty presidential candidates to become the next president. Such task is being equated to the 'land and red sea' situation.

The political campaigns aimed at reaching out were exceptionally phenomenal, the gatherings of 'human seas' were incomprehensible, the terrains and atmospheres suggestively so rewarding, the receptions from [voters] quiet amazing so also the promises and pledges to do what is required and expected.

In all these, the candidates have spoken, thus placing the burdens of voting them to power on the shoulders of the voters. After such a mind-numbing nation-wide campaign period, Liberians are now poised to make the ultimate decision of electing one of the dozens candidates who have asked them for their votes as the next president.

As always, the race to the Executive Mansion has never been so easy. Its partakers have been people with diverse social, cultural and political persuasions, as well as different leadership styles and skills.

According to election experts, the complexity of elections ties to the difficulty voters at times face in choosing someone that represents their aspirations.

It may be because of this scenario pundits and critics continue to view the electoral process in the context of "the devil and the angel" scenario.

All the twenty candidates may not have the same speed, popularity and momentum, but as it is said, no candidate is less important in any race.

Today, people still are stuck in bewilderment since the triumph of Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton in the US elections. Choosing between the two was as difficult as it is choosing from among twenty candidates.

Since the 1997 special elections won by then rebel leader Charles Taylor, Liberian elections are never short of plenty candidates. About sixteen persons contested for the presidency including current President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

No matter how plenty the candidates, there is a strong sign that it is among four contenders. Given the supports received and the enthusiasm associated with the campaigns, the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), Unity Party (UP), Liberty Party (LP) and the Alternative National Congress (ANC) are named as the forerunners.

Who are they?

The CDC is parading George Weah, a former world-class footballer whose qualities on the field are said to be incomparable, as its flag bearer.

He is making a second bid for the presidency, having first attempted 2005. Judging from happenings, the unprecedented love from all Liberians, mainly the youthful population, he's tipped to win.

Though his first attempt, Weah's CDC went into the runoff with Unity Party as first and second runners-up in 2005. The party was defeated in the runoff but claimed it was cheated, and staged series of peaceful street demonstrations.

He ran as running mate to Cllr. Winston Tubman on the ticket of the CDC in 2011 elections. A current Senator representing the all-tribes Montserrado County, Weah is seen as a man to watch for. His CDC wants to depose the ruling Unity Party after twelve years of leadership.

Since 2005, he has shown troubling missteps that continue to hunt him his bid. His choice for running-mate in 2005 was J. Rudolph Johnson, then minister of foreign affairs in the government of late President Doe.

His choosing of Johnson became serious concerns for some Liberians as he was linked to the spoils of the Doe's brutal administration. Also, his decision to go as vice to Winston Tubman, another former Justice Minister in the Doe government, pricked national debate.

In the 2017, he picked former wife of detained President Charles Taylor who is accused of meddling in the electoral process. The decision to pick Madam Jewel Howard Taylor is being criticized both nationally and internationally. Many believed he was influenced by the former dictator to go along with Madam Jewel Howard Taylor.

Besides, the former footballer is facing criticisms for lack of speaking unguents. His critics see him as an incapable character for the presidency because of 'speaking or intellectual constraints.'

For them, the hectic and sophisticated nature of the presidency does not require the person of Weah who is seen as 'politically inept.' In spite, Weah remains the darling of most Liberians, mainly the downtrodden of society.

The love for Weah is always demonstrated during CDC's occasions such as the two election campaign programs. On August 16, Monrovia crawled on its knees to traffic as Weah's supporters, partisans and well-wishers filled every part of the already unkempt traffic-prone city.

Footages from Weah campaign activities in parts of the country signaled an unwavering strength and love for him.

Weah's close of campaign program at the ATS summed the debate about his chances to win the elections. "From what I saw yesterday, Weah will win; the crowd was far larger than the crowds of 2005 and 2011,"remarked a non-CDCian who claimed the CDC is not short of supporters.

Under the rains on Friday, October 6, partisans, supporters and well-wishers proved commitment and fidelity to the CDC and Weah, defying all odds.

This is the extent of Weah's political strength to pull numbers. Nevertheless, as new man wanting to be president, Weah is seen as "An Angel" that does not deserve the confidence of Liberians.

UP & Joseph Boakai

Founded by the late Gabriel Kpolleh, then a renowned teacher, the UP is in its political prime. With Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as standard-bearer, the UP mercilessly crushed all opponents to clinch the presidency in 2005 and 2011, thus extending its rule to twelve years.

No Madam Sirleaf this time around, the ruling party is relying on the skills, maturity and shrewdness of Vice President Joseph N. Boakai. A humbled man as his supporters describe him, much is said to be at stake for Mr. Boakai stepping into the shoes his boss has been wearing since 2006.

A long time public servant with 'humble beginning,' serving as vice president for 12 years is an ingredient and advantage for his presidential bid. Many believe he has managed to sell himself over the years.

But as Weah or the CDC, Boakai and the UP are facing the strongest of resistance and criticisms for the current state of affairs. The economy has crumbled, prices are reaching all-time high and corruption is upgraded to 'vampire' under the UP administration.

Most Liberians see Boakai as an extension of Madam Sirleaf under whose administration things are rattling so negatively for the already impoverished citizens.

These are issues hunting the UP and its standard-bearer. Also, a strong inharmoniousness within the UP bordering on the role of Madam Sirleaf, is staggering progress, it is alleged.

Party stalwarts continue to bark at the President for 'not supporting VP Boakai, let alone its activities of the in the ace.' Boakai might have infuriated his boss by saying "he is racing car parked in the garage."

His comment is interpreted in some quarters as a form of suppression by the President. Specifically, Liberians are concerned about an aging VP Boakai become president. Most Liberians buy opponents' argument that VP Boakai is too old, too frail to lead.

They call him 'sleepy Joe'. More so, others argue that his running mate, current House Speaker Emmanuel Nuquay does not have democratic credentials to lead this country.

Those who know him say he as dictatorial as Doe or Taylor, thus creating apprehension about what the country could be if he was to succeed Boakai.

His comments about free speech and freedom of expression have echoed so well. He said there would be not much room for tolerance "if we win."

Another problem facing Boakai and his UP is the issue of corruption, which is at its highest peak in the governance history of Liberia. According to Liberians, UP has outlived its usefulness and there was a strong need for a fresh beginning under a new president. With a day to elections, it is believed that living standards for ordinary Liberians are badly biting.

Despite these issues, other Liberians are waving the Boakai-UP flag so high, insisting it is better to be with the devil than the angel. According to some Liberians, majority of Liberians supporting Boakai or the UP are those currently in the employ of government.

"These people want to retain their jobs, this is why they want Boakai as President," remarked an old woman wearing a T-shirt with the portrait of Alexander Cummings of the ANC.

Though nothing is impossible as learned, experts are concerned the UP could retain the Mansion on the back of "being in charge for twelve years and knowing the game."

LP & Charles Brumskine

The Liberty Party is said to be very strong in these elections. As such it is argued in some quarters it cannot be written off. For the third consecutive time, Charles Walker Brumskine is heading the Party's ticket for president. Twice he failed to reach the benchmark in 2005 and 2011.

A somehow frustrated Brumskine pulled out of politics at the close of the political season in 2011. Considering that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who he lost to twice was no longer running for office, he made a U-turn to challenge for the Executive Mansion.

Though there is no 'the politically towering Ellen Sirleaf', he and his LP do not still have smooth sail to power. Challenges from Boakai (UP) and CDC (Weah) are huge for the erudite lawyer who has promised Liberians 'real change.'

With a good agenda for education, corruption and the economy, he is being at the center of criticisms. He's seen as part of the Taylor makeup, part of the old political order, having served as Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate. He fell out with Taylor, resigned his position and eloped the country for the United States from where he announced his 'exploratory presidential bid' in 2004.

Arrogance and dictatorship are hunting him always. According to those who know him, Cllr. Brumskine still carries with him blood of tribalism. On campaign trials, he is accused of making tribal comments that it was time for "Bassa people" to take power.

But like the rest of the main candidates, Brumskine and the LP are not lagged when comes to numbers. The mammoth turnout at the party's campaign launch revealed the potential of Mr. Brumskine in the race, and why he should not be counted out.

He is one of those tipped to win presidency, thus putting him in the position of 'angel'. At the end of a long-winding and financially exhausting campaign period across the country, candidates will get their scores or grades within the time limit of 48 hours.

By this time, provisional results would become to emerge and the picture of 'who is who' will begin to show. Until then, as this paper gathers, it is a do or die battle for Liberians who are to choose between "devil and the angel."

ANC and Alex Cummings

A new boy on the political block is Alexander B. Cummings, a former Coca Cola Executive who wants to transport of successful managerial skills to Liberia.

Running on the ticket of ANC, a breakaway faction of the main Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) he is seen as angel to the political terrain Liberia has known over the years.

"He is a good man; he is not part of the spoils; he has not corruption stains, but he's new," said a voter who said she does not know who to vote for.

Besides being a new man, Cummings is seen by Liberians from many angles, as the allegation of him being gay is not going away. Though strongly denied, an answer to a question concerning gay life is shocking to most Liberians as it is hunting him. "As a Christian, it's a life I have struggled with," he said in response to question. Liberian society is abhorred to lesbianism or gay life.

At the height of a debate for a gay act, a law was passed, making lesbianism or gay life illegal in Liberia. Nevertheless the argument about 'being new,' Cummings has shown enormous strength of support, signaling the angel could be welcomed.

He has been campaign on making Liberia better, while bemoaning the country's current status after 170 years of independence. His campaign launch Saturday at the ATS signaled he is not ruled out of the race. Hundreds of Liberians came out in their numbers to prove that "it does not matter how long or short."

According to some Liberians, a Cummings in a runoff with any of the Parties will be elected president. If so, he will be the angel Liberians will eat with for six years.

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