Liberia: Desperate Times for Dialogue Ahead of June 7

(file photo).

Since the meeting (pictured) hosted by President George M. Weah on Unification Day, May 14, 2019 to establish dialogue with the Council of Patriots, all other attempts by the government have failed.

As 12 opposition political parties urge Gov't, CoP, Judicial and Legislative bodies appear to be undermining space for dialogue to take place.

With barely 4 days to the "Save the State" peaceful protest, scheduled for June 7, a dozen opposition political parties have urged the government and Council of Patriots (CoP) to pursue dialogue to overcome the impasse in the interest of the ordinary people.

Said parties include the All Liberian Party (ALP), All Liberia Coalition Party (ALCOP), Grassroot Democratic Party of Liberia (GDPL), Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR), Liberian National Union (LINU) and the United People Party (UPP).

The ALP, has already declared support, through its standard bearer, Mr. Benoni W. Urey, for the Save The State protest. However the party appears to also be leaving room for dialogue, as expressed through the signature of its vice standard bearer, Mr. Alexander Duopu. The ALP is one of the four collaborating opposition parties mounting pressure on the Weah administration to refrain from circumventing laws such as tenured positions and the national code of conduct. The other 3 political parties which ALP is collaborating with, Unity Party, Alternative National Congress and the Liberty Party are not signatories to the 12-party resolution for dialogue.

At a news conference on Friday in Monrovia, Aaron S. M. Wesseh, who read the statement on behalf of the 12 parties, said "it's our conviction that no amount of expressions of anger or acts of violence can change anything in the political landscape of this country and therefore insist that dialogue is the best way forward."

Roster of some of the political parties and their respective representatives who signed the statement, calling for dialogue between the Government and the Council of Patriots.

Mr. Wesseh said the country has gone through numerous demonstrations and protests to ensure that political and public policies are transformed to meet the desire of the Liberian people.

According tom him, the Liberian people are living witnesses to their own episodes including but not limited to the infamous April 14, 1979 riot, the August 22, 1984 University of Liberia (UL) students' riot, the sad event of the November 1985 aborted invasion and the December 24, 1989 beginning of the 14-year Liberian civil war.

He said all these uprisings did not bring to the Liberian people the expected desired results, therefore, "we the collective of diverse political interests of Liberia have seized the unique moment to make this clarion call."

Mr. Wesseh said the 12 political parties that are signatories to the resolution in pursuit of dialogue are in no way exhibiting weakness in their political objectives but rather promoting national unity and working to sustain the hard-earned fragile peace that both politicians and supporters currently enjoy.

"This is a call to give peace a chance to reign throughout this nation. In our estimation, there is no call greater than the advancement of the motherland. We as a people have a cardinal responsibility to uphold this cherished aspiration," Mr. Wesseh indicated.

He said in the genuine demonstration for the quest, Liberians need to close ranks and submerge individual interests in the supreme interest of the nation and the people.

"Let this call re-enforce the pledge of allegiance that we have made through our symbolism to the nation's flag, the Lone Star. This is the time for sober reflection when the perplexing question will stimulate the thoughts of all that have gone wrong. Indeed, there are formidable challenges facing the nation," he said.

He said it should serve as an attraction for all patriotic Liberians to amicably work through collective deliberation for speedy resolution of the issues as may be raised by the organizers of the June 7 planned protest.

"We want the government and the Council of Patriots to submit to the national peaceful and honest dialogue, beginning now. This modest beginning, when operationalized, will give relief to our people and avert unfavorable conditions that could undermine the peace and stability of the nation," Mr. Wesseh said.

Mr. Wesseh however, used the medium to call on government to set the stage for an inclusive national conference that will eventually follow dialogue with the Council of Patriots.

"It's our fervent hope and aspiration that government will explore every available means at its disposal to give these appeals their urgent considerations for the forward march of the nation. We are calling on the council of patriots and the government to create an enabling atmosphere for the dialogue to be executed without any hindrance," Mr. Wesseh added.

Undermining dialogue?

The call for dialogue by the 12 opposition parties comes at a time when the much-heralded "Save the State" protest has gained the attention of international bodies relevant to Liberia, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN). On the same day of the call by the twelve parties, the Council of Patriots were already meeting with a high-powered ECOWAS delegation which included the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Jean-Claude Kassi Brou.

President George Weah discusses the pending June 7 protest with a high-powered delegation led by President of the ECOWAS Commission, Jean-Claude Kassi Brou.

Since the meeting hosted by President George M. Weah on Unification Day, May 14, 2019 to establish dialogue with the Council of Patriots, all other attempts by the government have failed. Present at the May 14 meeting, were ranking officials of the UN, ECOWAS and AU, as well as officials of the Inter religious council of Liberia, the Traditional Council of Liberia and Civil Society stakeholders. Recent separate attempts over the past week by the Senate and the House of Representatives to dialogue with the protest planners did not materialize due to the Council of Patriots' refusal to meet with either body behind closed doors as was requested by the two legislative bodies.

However, ranking UN and ECOWAS officials visiting Liberia specifically concerning the June 7 protests, have been able to meet separately with the President of Liberia as well as the Council of Patriots.

Meanwhile, in spite of President Weah's acknowledgment of the constitutional right Liberians have to freedom of speech and of assembly, apparent surrogates of the government are attempting to get the Supreme Court of Liberia to place a stay order on the protest, which is protected by the 1986 Constitution of Liberia. The petitioners, known to the Court as "Citizens United to Sustain Peace and Democracy" have already filed a petition for an injunction on the protest. The Supreme Court has already written the Council of Patriots, inviting all parties to a conference on the matter.

Such moves by both houses of the Legislature and by the Supreme Court have been considered by the Council of Patriots as surreptitious at least and hostile at best.

"The CoP will not go to the Supreme Court. We will defy the Supreme Court," said Henry P. Costa, a popular radio talk show host and a key member of the protest organizers. "The Court wants to be disgraced. And what the Supreme Court is doing will bring it to a place of disgrace. We will ignore the court. I am not going to the Supreme Court to negotiate my constitutional right."

Costa referred to the Supreme Court as a "George Weah Supreme Court" and a "puppet Supreme Court". "When the CDC held protests in this town, did anybody go to the Supreme Court to stop them from protesting? We are very serious. We are not going to the Court. June 7 will hold," he said.

Legal experts argue that while the Supreme Court would be infringing on a constitutional right by simply getting involved or paying attention such a petition a prayed before it, since it is a conference, it would also be disrespectful and contemptuous on the part of the respondents (Council of Patriots, etc) not to attend the meeting. "Since it's not a hearing but a conference, the CoP should seek legal guidance first and give the Supreme Court the benefit of the doubt instead of ignoring it altogether."

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