Gbarnga — Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor wouldn't say Tuesday who she will support in the Senate race in Bong County in an email exchange with FrontPageAfrica, but said she maintains her stance not to support the Coalition for Democratic Change's candidate, Senator Henry Yallah, despite appeals from Mulbah Morlu, chairman of the Congress of Democratic Change (CDC) and other members of the Coalition.
Howard-Taylor's National Patriotic Party (NPP) is one of three constituent parties that make up the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change.
Yallah is the candidate of the three collaborating political parties making up the ruling coalition: NPP, Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and the Liberia People's Democratic Party (LPDP).
"I maintain my stance that I won't be supporting Senator Henry Yallah for the Senate seat in Bong County. Senator Yallah is a member of the Congress for Democratic Change, and it's up to the party to make sure he gets elected, not me," she said.
Mulbah Morlu, chairman of the Congress for Democratic Change, expressed optimism during a political rally in Gbarnga Saturday that Howard-Taylor would support Senator Yallah upon her return to the country 'for the sake of the party'. "I know the vice president is party-disciplined and I know upon her return she will support Senator Yallah's re-election. She knows that the image of the Coalition for Democratic Change remains supreme in these midterm elections," Morlu said.
"The coalition needs the seat in Bong County and I know very well it's going to be possible. I understand the vice president doesn't support the re-election of Senator Yallah, but I am very optimistic that upon her return to the country she will reconsider her decision," he said.
Morlu said Howard-Taylor's support to the CDC candidate would be key to winning the senatorial election in the county in December. "The vice president has demonstrated political relevance in Bong County over the years by winning two senatorial elections in Bong County. Her support to the CDC candidate would be an added advantage in this process," he said.
Describing as pivotal the December election could be for President George Weah and Howard-Taylor, Morlu said: "The people of Bong County should reject anything that will bring a threat to the people of Bong County. I know the vice presidency is so precious to the people of Bong County. If that is true, then it should be protected. This election is intended for the people of Bong County to protect the vice president because a win for the coalition would signal an easy ride President George Weah and Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor in 2023," he said.
But Howard-Taylor, responding to Morlu's pleas to her to support Senator Yallah, said: "This is my final statement on this issue. I am not supporting Senator Yallah. Hope my response answers your question."
Asked whether she fears any backlash from the president and the Coalition about her decision, she replied: "The president believes in democracy and he knows it's my right to decide who to support. I don't think my decision will anger him."
Howard-Taylor's statements don't really come as a surprise. During a political rally in Yallah's Kokoyah District in 2018, Howard-Taylor branded him a "snake" and urged county residents not to re-elect him. "Senator Yallah doesn't deserve re-election," she said. "He is a snake who can't be trusted."
She told citizens that Yallah has failed to bring any significant dividends to the people who elected him. She promised to do everything in her power to ensure Yallah is not re-elected.
Howard-Taylor has high approval ratings from Bong County residents having won two successive elections in the county 2005 and 2014. In 2018 presidential elections, she played a pivotal role in helping the CDC win Bong County for the first time in three presidential elections.
Echoes of mixed feelings from party members
Already, partisans of the Congress for Democratic Change have taken to social media to air their dissatisfaction over Howard-Taylor's refusal to support Senator Yallah. Barsee Karr Barley, a partisan of the Congress for Democratic Change frowned at Howard-Taylor for not supporting Yallah in a post. "Madam Howard-Taylor, it was the party's support that made you the first female vice president after 170 years, a former senator and a former first lady. Now, you are refusing to do the same for our party candidates. Madam Howard-Taylor, your actions are not only deceitful, but show a great sign of disloyalty," he said.
Continuing, he added: "Madam Howard-Taylor, our vote, vote all mandate you to be vice president, which we don't regret, but we regret your actions against our party. Madam Howard-Taylor, you have no option but to vote and support all CDC candidates across the country, and failure on your part we will rally forces to expel you from our noble party."
Barley, in his post, said the strength of the CDC has been embedded in voting for their candidates over the years, and such strength must be maintained no matter the issues at stake. "Madam Howard-Taylor, every member of the Coalition with voting card must vote candidates of the Coalition because this is a mandate," he said.
Representative Acarous Moses Gray, in a rather silent jabs at Howard-Taylor, also sent a caveat when he posted on his Facebook page. "In 2017, we voted party line and in 2020 we must do the same but only party deviants of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) will not vote party line. Even Republicans and Democrats vote party line in the US Congress," he said.
'VP's Decision Tied to rumored rift with President'
Political observers in Bong say rumors of rift between the president and his Howard-Taylor has dampened the vice president's chances of supporting Yallah.
Few months ago, Howard-Taylor's close ally, Bong County Superintendent, Esther Walker, defected to Weah's CDC citing "personal reasons." Howard-Taylor and Walker created a strong bond as "big and small sisters" for 27 years before Walker's surprising appointment as superintendent of Bong, an appointment Walker owed to Howard-Taylor.
Some partisans of the NPP believed Walker's decision to break ranks with Howard-Taylor was masterminded by Weah, who reportedly wants to break up the NPP in the county ahead of 2023 presidential election.
Amos Barbu, secretary general of NPP in Bong County, believes the reported rift between the president and the vice-resident has undermined Howard-Taylor's decision to endorse Yallah. "You can't be breaking up the NPP and expect us to support a candidate on the CDC ticket," Barbu said.
A source close to Howard-Howard told FrontPage Africa Tuesday that rumors of Weah contemplating not to select Howard-Taylor as running mate in 2023 are making the vice president hesitant not to support Yallah, whom Weah's CDC supports.
Our source said that the vice president still wants to maintain a strong grip in the county even if Weah doesn't pick her as running mate in 2023.
VP Taylor supports Dumoe?
Howard-Taylor seems to be racing against time in selecting a candidate to support. It remains uncertain as to whom she would support in the Senate race.
Speculations are rife that the vice president would support her former office staff, Menikpakei Dumoe after a segment of the vice president's political group endorsed Dumoe's Senate bid.
Also, the chairman of the NPP in Bong County, Waifa Siapha, has been constantly seen at political rallies with Dumoe, making many to guess that her presence could be a mandate from the vice president.
The pending senatorial election, according to political pundits, is very crucial for Howard-Taylor and selecting a candidate could make or break her influence in Bong.
A win for her choice of candidate in December would cement her reputation as the most popular political figure in Bong, and a loss for whomever she supports would dent her popularity, especially with the 2023 presidential election looming, according to many.