Monrovia — When two heavy weights of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) touch down in Monrovia Wednesday, it would mark the first public display of efforts aimed at bringing the ongoing elections impasse in Africa's oldest republic to a reasonable conclusion.
Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe, who recently succeeded Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as head of the regional body, and Guinean President Alpha Condé will arrive on a private jet a little after 9am at the Roberts International Airport.
Behind the scenes, ECOWAS mediators including Ivorian President Alhassan Outtarra, Senegalese President Macky Sall and Ghanaian President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo have been taking turns at trying to mediate in allowing cooler heads to prevail.
Whether it was getting President Sirleaf and her vice President Joseph Boakai to smoke a peace pipe or flying Liberty Party's Charles Walker Brumskine and Boakai to Dakar for consultations in the wake of post-first-round elections allegations of irregularities, ECOWAS has been busy of late - and for obvious reasons: Whatever happens in one country automatically affects the other.
Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have all taken turns at civil wars with former Liberian President Charles Ghankay Taylor largely blamed for offering financial support to rebel forces in Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone.
In the 1990s, the United Nations banned sales of diamonds from Liberia in an attempt to cut off Mr. Taylor's source of funds and thus limit the amount he could funnel to rebel insurrections in neighbouring countries.
For ECOWAS, the current elections in Liberia and next year's elections in Sierra Leone are crucial components to guaranteeing continued stability in the region.
In Liberia, concerns have been expressed over the possible influence of former President Taylor on the candidacy of Senator George Manneh Weah, who has as his running mate, Jewel Howard-Taylor, the former first lady and Mr. Taylor's ex wife.
On Wednesday, multiple sources confirmed to FrontPageAfrica that both Presidents Gnassingbe and Condé will meet with key opposition figures including Senator George Manneh Weah, Liberty Party's Charles Walker Brumskine, Alternative National Congress' Alexander Cummings as well as Mr. Benoni Wilfred Urey of the All Liberian Party.
The Presidents are also expected to meet with Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai of the ruling Unity Party as well as President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Agenda a Mystery
Following the first round of voting, Senator Weah obtained a total of 596, 037 votes, constituting 38.4 percent, followed by Boakia who obtained a total of 446, 716 votes, amounting to 28.8 percent.
The Liberty Party, LP of Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine obtained a total of 149, 495 votes, amounting to 9.6 percent, followed by Senator Prince Y. Johnson of the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction, MDR who got a total of 127, 666 votes, constituting 8.2 percent, while Alexander Cummings of the Alternative National Congress, ANC obtained a total of 112, 067 votes amounting to 7.2 percent of the total votes cast on October 10, 2017.
On the agenda with the top finishers from the first round Wednesday, Gnassingbe and Condé will likely be looking to find a way forward for Liberia in the wake of lingering concerns about the conduct of the first round of the elections.
The first round was marred by numerous claims of election irregularities. But only one party, the opposition Liberty Party made a filing in time of the deadline window.
The party, among other things is alleging that a lot of polling places were opened late and the National Elections Commission did not ensure that late opening Polls remained opened for at least 10 hours, as required by law.
The complaints note that there not sufficient lighting and adequate security which deprived voters who were registered at polling places of equal protection under the law, thereby depriving them of the right to vote and exposing the polling places to the the danger of vote fixing.
The LP's filing is being supported by the ruling Unity Party, and the opposition All Liberian Party and the Alternative National Congress.
The ANC which was not part of the initial backing of the complaints, issued a statement Wednesday adding its weight.
In a statement Tuesday, the party's Chairman Lafayette O. Gould urged partisans to remain calm as the legal options are being explored.
Mr. Gould said Following the October 10th election results, the party's Standard Bearer, Mr. Alexander Cummings, informed the public of the ANC intention to explore challenging the integrity and subsequent validity of the recent election outcomes.
"To this end, we engaged expert assistance and conducted a detailed review of our findings."
The complainants received a major boost late Tuesday when the supreme court issued the writ of prohibition prayed for by the liberty party, effectively putting a halt to runoff scheduled for next Tuesday until the full bench deliberates, meaning the November 7 runoff could be put off by a couple of days or perhaps a little more.
High Court Rules on Writ
The writ obtained by FrontPageAfrica reads:
You are hereby commanded to notify the National Elections Commission (NEC) and members of the Board of Commissioners of the said Body of the City of Monrovia, Republic of Liberia.
Respondents in the above entitled cause of action that upon the orders of Mr. Justice Kabineh Ja'neh, presiding in Chambers, they are to appear before the full bench of the Honorable Supreme Court Temple of Justice on Thursday, November 2, 2017, at the hour of 9:00 am to show cause why petitioners petition as prayed for should not be granted.
You are commanded to instruct the Respondents to stay any and all actions in respect of the pending Run-Off Elections scheduled for November 7, 2017, pending the disposition by the Supreme Court of the Petitioners' Petition.
You will further inform the parties that given the constitutional issues raised in the petition, coupled with the fact that election matters are not to be expeditiously heard and determined, that upon service of this writ and the Returns therto, the case is hereby docketed for the urgent disposition by the Bench En Banc.
You are further commanded to instruct the Respondents herein to file their formal returns to this write in the office of the Clerk of this Honorable Court on or before 2nd Day of November A.D. 2017.
Legal experts say the ruling means that the runoff will likely be scheduled after the whole matter if the LP loses. If the LP wins, a whole new election could be ordered, bringing the possibility of an interim government which some figures are said to be pushing from behind the scenes. The current President Sirleaf's tenure ends on the January 18, 2018.
While many diplomatic observers see the arrival of two high-profile regional leaders here Wednesday, the motives remain unclear as speculations heightened that regional leaders are uncomfortable about the prospects of a George Weah Presidency, largely due to the Taylor factor and concerns over regional security.
The concern for many regional and political observers is the fear of the unknown regarding Mr. Weah's supporters who could feel threatened by the reported resistance amongst some leaders in the sub-region to his bid for the presidency, fearing it could give rise to other footballers and athletes looking to follow Weah's shoes.
Condé, Gnassingbé Election History
Both visiting Presidents have participated in controversial elections of their own. Eyadéma has been the President of Togo since 2005. Prior to his election, he was appointed by his father, President Gnassingbe Eyadema, as Minister of Equipment, Mines, Posts, and Telecommunications, serving from 2003 to 2005.
Following President Eyadéma's death in 2005, Gnassingbé was immediately installed as President with support from the army. Doubts regarding the constitutional legitimacy of the succession led to heavy regional pressure being placed on Gnassingbé, and he subsequently resigned on 25 February.
He then won a controversial Presidential election on 24 April 2005, and was sworn in as President.
President Gnassingbé was re-elected for a second term in 2010. In April 2015, Gnassingbé won a third term, defeating his main challenger, Jean-Pierre Fabre, by a margin of about 59% to 35%, according to official results.
For his part, Condé spent decades in opposition to a succession of regimes in Guinea, unsuccessfully running against President Lansana Conte in the 1993 and 1998 presidential elections and leading the Rally of the Guinean People, an opposition party.
In 2010, President Condé was elected as President of Guinea in a second round of voting, becoming the first freely elected president in the country's history.
President Condé was re-elected in 2015 with almost 58 percent of the vote.
It is unclear how the visit of the two ECOWAS heavyweights will impact the ongoing elections impasse in Liberia.
But the coming days will no doubt be dominated by more courtroom dramas as the regional body intervenes and add its weight to the third successive post-election saga in a post-war nation on the rebound from war.