Liberia: Liberty Party Split?

Women protest outside the Elections Commission offices.

Barely two days after the National Elections Commission (NEC) announced the kickoff of activities leading to the runoff election scheduled for December 26, some members of the hierarchy of the opposition Liberty Party (LP) have endorsed the presidential bid of Senator George Weah of the opposition Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).

Those crossing over to the CDC are led by LP vice standard bearer, Harrison Karnwea; party chairman, Benjamin Sanvee; and campaign manager, Musa Bility. At a well attended endorsement ceremony held at CDC headquarters in Congo Town, Chairman Benjamin Sanvee said, "This country is at a crossroads and we believe Sen. Weah is the best choice to lead us through.

"We all believe in change. We all preached for change for the last few years, because we have hoped that change is possible today. The Liberty Party is not represented here in full and this is how far we've come as a country that we can even disagree in our various parties," chairman Sanvee said.

According to him, they decided to endorse the CDC because the Liberian people have spoken, calling on Sen. Weah to be grateful and humble.

"Our message to you is do not let your people down. This is the time that Liberia will rise, because you are the one that the Liberian people have been wishing to be given the chance," he said, adding that he and his colleagues from the LP are committed to opposition solidarity for which they had campaigned fearlessly.

"It was a tough campaign, because many people never imagine that this day would come and we would hold to the Ganta Declaration," he said.

Sanvee and his colleagues' endorsement of the CDC could not have come with much controversies, as the LP headquarters was emotionally charged early Thursday morning when partisans converged in their numbers to stage a protest over rumors that their party had finally resolved and was on the verge of endorsing the opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) in the ensuing presidential runoff election.

Several disenchanted partisans, most of who were from the youth wing, told reporters they had stormed the grounds of their beloved party to protect it from those they called invaders -- people at the top of the party's hierarchy who were on a clandestine endorsement move to lure the LP over to CDC.

However, anxieties over which way the LP, which emerged third place in the October 10 presidential and representative elections, would sway as the runoff election fast approaches, continue to grow. But LP's vice president for political affairs, Abraham Darius Dillon, said there is no need to rush as the party will communicate its official decision when the standard bearer, who is out of the country, arrives.

"Our partisans are here this morning because of rumors that LP is coming to do this or that and they are not aware of that so they came to find out what was happening," he said.

Dillon, however, noted that the LP as an institution has made no clear determination on who to endorse in the runoff. He said if any executive member decides individually to pledge support somewhere, "we will have to allow it because the law allows freedom of association and freedom of movement. What I want to say officially is that Liberty Party as an institution has made no clear determination as to who to endorse in the runoff. The party is deriving a decision that will be announced upon the arrival into the country of our standard bearer, Cllr. Brumskine."

But a joyous George Weah said at the occasion that the CDC's plan is to build a government that will work for the people. "The first six years, we will start your work; and based on the work we will do and how your life will be, you will call on us to go for another six years. We will do our best for the people of Liberia," Senator Weah said.

"We are humans and would make mistakes. We need your idea to make Liberia a better place and bring the necessary change we want as a country and people."

Meanwhile, Sen. Prince Johnson, at the endorsement ceremony, attributed the endorsement to the Ganta Declaration, which he said many people did not imagine would come to pass today.

"Today is a great day. Because as I sit here, I am thinking on the Ganta Declaration, and some people were making fun of us (because of the declaration); but it has come to reality," Nimba Senator told the audience.

Senator Jewel Howard Taylor lauded the partisans and supporters of CDC, including those from other opposition parties, stating "The new, reconciled Liberia is about to be born shortly."

She said the agenda of the CDC is the people's agenda, "and we will put Liberia first in everything and are prepared to work in uplifting the party's agenda and the change that Liberia deserves."

"Thank you for the choices you have made and your commitment. We have just begun and have many miles to go, because there will be many people watching to see us fail. Thank you for putting Liberia first and you will see the change," Senator Howard Taylor added.

Meanwhile, LP's Montserrado County chairman, Romeo Caulker, said: "I consider that endorsement as a black one because it is not an official position of our noble Liberty Party."

He noted that four members of a 21-member Executive Committee deciding to crossover to the CDC does not it any way mean that it is the entire LP. "These so called big hands are in no way LP. I think the planned endorsement has been thwarted by the military-wing of the party this morning," he added.

Caulker noted that the LP has been having meetings to ensure that a comprehensive structure, possibly a committee, is put in place to engage the two parties before coming out with a definite position, "but unfortunately these guys have decided to undermine the process by going the CDC's way."

The endorsement ceremony was scheduled for 11 a.m. but was later pushed to 3 p.m., after Chairman Sanvee and his colleagues met the resistance of LP partisans.

"We got here this morning under a special revolutionary mandate and we saw two buses and a truck being brought here to convey our partisans to the headquarters of the CDC. But we were able to stop the endorsement proceedings from here," said Caulker.

Several LP partisans told the Daily Observer that they are awaiting their political leader to officially dictate their next course of action. "Those officials are going as individuals and not the Liberty Party," they said.

Influential Grand Bassa County Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, on her official Facebook page, questioned the leadership ability and style of Chairman Sanvee.

"My Party Chairman, is this how you direct your partisans... .through your Facebook page?" she asked. "This process will not divide us, it will help us to streamline our party."

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