Liberia: Violent Tones Rising in Buildup to Midterm Senatorial Elections in December

Monrovia — Whether sincere or not, the incumbent Senator Abraham Darius Dillon(Liberty Party, Montserrado) and his main challenger in the Midterm Senatorial elections on December 8, Rep. Thomas Fallah(CDC, District No. 5) appeared confident in a public display of what they termed, "Mature Politics" last weekend, during the state funeral of fallen District No. 9 Representative Munah Pelham Youngblood.

"We are friends and we all should be and remain friends, not enemies because of politics," Senator Dillon posted on his Facebook page, shortly after the event at the Capitol. "Thomas Fallah and I entertained ourselves to some jokes and laughter yesterday at the Capitol Building. And this is how our politics should be. Maturity! Civility! Respect! Tolerance! Responsibly agree to disagree on the issues, but still hold mutual respect for one another! I invited him to come to stand by the #Light so he can feel and enjoy some benefit of being around the #Light, and he came. Then he said, "I won't cut the light off, but it is not easy." We laughed!!"

Words vs. Deeds

Barely 48 hours later, the tone of what was exhibited on the social medium took a radical turn when Senator Dillon, in Claratown, a ruling party stronghold he won in his bid to win the Senate seat last year, to launch the Friends of Dillon in Clara Town, District #14 Chapter, came under a barrage of stone-throwing that rocked the community as tension between rival supporters got out of hand.

The Senator and his entourage, thronged by scores of supporters were suddenly faced with a barrage of stone throwing from what Mr. Dillon believes were supporters of the ruling party. "Regina Sokan Teah is an official of the Executive, a former CDC Lawmaker. She knew that the recent call by Pres. George Weah to his followers to desist from violence was a mere talk," the Senator told FrontPageAfrica Sunday.

The Senator went on to challenge President George Weah to to demonstrate his words into deeds and press his followers to desist from attacking opposition figures. "I challenge President Weah to demonstrate his words into deeds by acting against Madam Teah for this unruly at of violence. I have no faith that he will act because he is simply the opposite of what he says or preaches. We thank our supporters for standing up against these provocative acts of violence being facilitated by the CDC hierarchy under the direct supervision and endorsement of Pres. Weah!

The Senator also paid homage to officers of the Liberia National Police for the protection and preventing serious harm to he and his supporters.

The attack comes barely a week after Mr. Alexander Cummings, Chair of the Collaborating Political Parties(CPP) and Rep. Yekeh Kolubah were greeted with a hostile reception in Zwedru by some citizens of that county who accused the District No. 10 lawmaker of a persistent wave of verbal attacks against President Weah.

Just like Sunday's attack on Senator Dillon, the attack in Zwedru escalated from the chanting of slogans to a frenzy of stone-throwing.

In the aftermath of the incident, the Ministry of Justice announced a full-scale probe in the incident involving opposition leaders.

Both Mr. Cummings and Rep. Kolubah have been asked to appear at the Liberian National Police headquarters Monday, August 11, 2020 to assist with the investigation.

On Friday, Moriah Yeakula, Mr. Cummings' Chief of Staff was a guest on the Prime Morning Live Talk Show but had to be rushed off the air as an angry crowd descended on the station.

Condemnation from Fallah

Rep. Fallah, used his Facebook post Monday to condemn the attacks on Senator Dillon. "The deplorable act of violence on display in Clara Town yesterday, is highly condemnable and I call on the police to properly investigate the matter. Too much is at stake, we must not fight against each other for "hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."

The lawmaker added: "Our history offer chilling lessons on why we should never resort to violence -- on why it is important to pursue the politics of ideas and development. These lessons teach us that violence for whatever reason is always bad and that people perpetrating violence should always be condemned."

The ruling CDC, now on the inside, looking out, is aware of how much the outcome of these elections will mean for its foreseeable political future.

Last August, Mr. Dillon, backed by the four-party opposition collaboration - Unity Party, Liberty Party, Alternative National Congress and All Liberian Party, cruised to an emphatic victory.

In final numbers representing results from all 1, 790 polling places or 100 percent in the Montserrado County Senatorial elections, Mr. Dillon secured a total of 102,549 votes for 55.74 percent to Paulita Wie's 63,971 votes for 34.77 percent.

High Stakes in Montserrado County

Not since Mr. Weah won his seat in the 2014 has any candidate won a lopsided victory in the county. Weah won the Montserrado seat that includes the capital, Monrovia, with 78% of the vote, defeating Robert Sirleaf, the son of then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

This is why the current ruling party is working to ensure that it defies historical convention and turn the tables in December. In the process, however, supporters of the party and the party's hierarchy appear to have adopted a win-at-all-cost mentality, that many political observers say is the driving force between the violent tone heading into December.

The wave of attacks have prompted key stakeholders to take notice.

Last week, the United Nations through its Resident Coordinator in Liberia, ECOWAS Ambassador and the Chargés D'Affaires of the European Union and United States of America in Monrovia called on all political parties and the Liberian populace to refrain from actions that could dampen Liberia's democracy and development.

In a Joint statement release in Monrovia on August 4, the heads of the diplomatic missions say they "fully support the concern expressed by the Inter-Religious Council, the Catholic Diocese of Cape Palmas, the Providence Baptist Church, the Legislative Caucus of Grand Gedeh, other religious leaders and political stakeholders, including President George Manneh Weah and his Government, over the use of hate speech and mob violence, and particularly, the recent attack against opposition politicians in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County."

The statement from the top diplomatic missions accredited to Liberia came in the wake of heightened tensions between the opposition and supporters of the ruling party in the wake of an attack against the Chairman of the Collaborating Political Party (CPP), Alexander Cummings and Representative Yekeh Korlubah of Montserrado County District #10 by pro-government supporters in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County.

The missions said while they support President Weah's statement condemning the attack, the Liberian government should swiftly investigate the incident "in an objective and non-partisan manner."

"We welcome President Weah's statement denouncing and repudiating the attack and urge Liberian authorities to swiftly investigate the incident -- in an objective and non-partisan manner -- and bring to justice all those found culpable. Such action will send a clear signal that threats and violence have no place in the democratic dispensation which the people of Liberia have established for their country," they wrote in the statement."

Post-Election Violence Part of History

Still bruising a legacy of a brutal civil war, Liberia has had a number of post-election conflicts.

In 1985, the election was followed by an attempted coup led by Commanding General Thomas Quiwonkpa, one of the original seven members of the People's Redemption Council which ended decades of Americo-Liberian rule and brought down the William R. Tolbert government on April 12, 1980.

Polling in the '85 elections was marred by allegations of widespread fraud and rigging after official results showed that Doe won the presidential election with 50.9% of the vote, just enough to avoid a runoff. His National Democratic Party of Liberia won large majorities in both houses of the Legislature. At the time, many independent observers believed that the Liberian Action Party's Jackson F. Doe, who officially finished second, was the actual winner. It was later revealed that Doe had the ballots counted in a secret location by his handpicked staff. The period after the elections saw increased human rights abuses, corruption and ethnic tensions, ultimately leading to the start of the first civil war and and Doe's overthrow and murder in September 1990.

On November 7, 2011, the Presidential elections runoff was thrown into deadly chaos after at least one person was shot dead during volatile scenes outside the headquarters of the then opposition CDC which had called for a boycott of the first round of voting.

The CDC claimed that the election was fraudulently conducted and urged their supporters to boycott the second round. They stated that the NEC had not investigated and concluded adjudication on all the complaints which they received in the first round - over 50 were filed, with 16 were still being investigated and 38 had been concluded. The NEC said at the time, that it was constitutionally bound to follow the statutory election calendar.

At the time, supporters of the CDC candidate, Winston Tubman, clashed with police near his beachfront offices. Armed police responded with live rounds and teargas, killing at least one person. Both Tubman and his running mate, Weah, were trapped inside the building suffused with teargas for much of the day.

"We are not only sad, we are very disappointed," Weah said at the time. The then running mate to Tubman added. "We were holding a peaceful rally and live bullets were used. To see people being killed is shocking. We are here trapped and unarmed and they keep shooting teargas. This is wrong," Mr. Weah said at the time.

In the 2014, Senatorial elections won by Mr. Weah, violent clashes between supporters of Mr. Weah and Sirleaf's son, Robert occurred but did not result in any casualties.

District No. 15 Reminder

As recently as last year, Ms. Telia Urey, a candidate in the disputed District No. 15 Representatives elections against the ruling party's Abu Kamara, came under a bloody attack which led to the damage of her bullet-proof Toyota Land Cruiser and injuries to she and several of her supporters who had gone to visit the headquarters of another candidate in the recently held elections.

The attack came after the National Election Commission announced a re-run of the elections at six polling places in the district after an election dispute hearing in which Urey claimed and proved electoral fraud. The ruling CDC had said that the Elections Commission's decision was influenced, hence, they would boycott the re-run.

That attack was the second time in a space of two weeks. On June 10, 2019, at least one person was injured and two others flogged following a political violence in run-up to the District No. 15 race. The incident in the Blamo Town community, Logan Town, reportedly left supporters of Ms. Urey's team seriously injured.

Mr. Martin Kollah, Chief of Office Staff in the office of Senator Dillon on Monday laid down a wave of elections attack on opposition figures that have not been addressed by the Weah-led government.

Among them, Mr. Kollah cited an incident in District No. 13 elections last year when Cornelius Kruah escaped death while campaigning, along with supporters of the four collaborating parties as well as Grand Bassa County Senator Nyonblee Karngar Lawrence but no culprits have been arrested. "The issue happened again District #15 with Telia Urey. We were part of that incident and we also escaped narrowly for our lives. Today, there is an investigation and the government has come up with no report."

Mr. Kollah said the recent recent incident in Grand Gedeh County speaks volume to the kind of violence that is permeating the political space of our country and we think this is not good for our body politics. "After telling the people of Clara Town thank you, we like to state categorically clear that Team Dillon will campaign everywhere, every place in Montserrado County. We have intelligence that there are some officials of Government who reside in some communities in Montserrado County, who have informed their political party and their political demigod that Dillon will not campaign in their communities as long as they live in those communities. We like to state and be very clear that we will campaign everywhere."

Added Kollah: "Yesterday should be the example. People of Clara town protected us. Every attack yesterday. We like to state clearly that if anybody thinks that we will not campaign in Montserrado County, they should go and sleep. We should all enjoy the peace and tranquility that are associated with campaigning. And people should peacefully campaign and peacefully ensure that their candidate are properly marketed. And let the citizens vote by themselves. To say that you will begin to pay people, to organize people, to say that you will issue threats that we will not campaign in certain communities, you wasting yourself."

With four months to December, many agree that the escalating tone of violence is presenting a tricky dilemma for Liberia's post-war survival and quest to add more successive transfer of power in its quest at democratic revival.

In recent months, there have been several calls on the Weah administration to soften the political rhetoric, particularly of its supporters.

Providence Baptist Church Pastor, Rev. Dr. Samuel B. Reeves Jr., in a recent pastoral letter said: "Mr. President, I would love reminding you about the recent utterances from some officials of the government, namely Monrovia City Major, Jefferson Koijee, who announced the setting up of a citizen unit to effect the arrest of citizens who disturb the city, the recent statement from the Superintendent of Maryland county, George Pratt who boasted of the government having under it's control the security of the state and Deputy Minister Eugene Fahngon who took to his Facebook page to justify the incident in Grand Gedeh. As president, these officials are directly accountable to you and as such you are clothed with the responsibility to bring them to check when their utterances undermine our peace."

Hard-fought Peace in Jeopardy

After coming under attack Sunday, Senator Dillon says not much will change unless President Weah sets the tone for his supporters by backing up his words with deeds.

The failure of the President and his administration to take a stern decision in the aftermath of last year's District No. 15 election violence between supporters of Kamara and Urey prompted many to raise concerns. The incident came after President Weah had denounce Ms. Urey' candidacy, declaring that no Urey would ever win elections in Liberia.

In the aftermath of the violence, opposition collaborating Parties sounded alarm for International Community Investigate "wave of national terror being imposed by our President"

While both Senator Dillon and Rep. Fallah appear to be doing their best to put up an amicable embrace of political maturity, lessons from last year's District No. 15 violence between supporters of Kamara and Urey offers a constant reminder of the imminent dangers post-elections post to Liberia's future.

More importantly, for the immediate future, many political observers are concerned that millions, if not billions spent in the aftermath of the civil war to steer Liberia on the path to peace could be wasted, unless something is done to lower the tension and tone in the run-up to the December elections.

As the European Union (EU) Delegation and the Embassies of the United States of America and the EU Member States (France, Germany, Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom) said in the aftermath of the District 15 post-election violence, in a joint statement, Liberia's future is on the line. "Liberia has gone a long way in consolidating democracy, peace and stability since the end of the conflict in 2003; and Liberians should not let any form of political or electoral violence jeopardize or reverse the progress made."

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