Liberia: Why the Ruling CDC May Win - How the Opposition Could Lose Upcoming Senatorial Elections

opinion

Monrovia — Two scenarios are likely to play out when the dust settles after the December 8 Senatorial Midterm elections: President George Weah's ruling Coalition for Democratic Change could cement itself into strong contention for a second term with sweeping victories in the fifteen senatorial seats up for grabs - or the opposition Collaborating Political Parties could deal the incumbent a deadly blow that could make it nearly impossible for an incumbent victory in 2023.

Over the last few weeks, several candidates have put forward their names. A total of one hundred eighteen contestants will vie for 15 seats in the pending December 8 Midterm elections. Out of that number, 18 women will contest in 12 of the 15 counties.

While much attention is being placed on the December contest, political watchers on both sides of the aisle agree that the pending election would mark a make or break for both the ruling party and the opposition.

Abraham Darius Dillon won his way into the Senate with an emphatic victory over Paulita Wie last August, defying immense odds - and with the backing of the four-party coalition - his Liberty Party, All Liberian Party, Alternative National Congress and the former ruling Unity Party, broke the institutional fabric of Mr. Weah's CDC.

En route to his victory, Mr. Dillon secured a total of 102,549 votes representing 55.74 percent while his closest rival Wie, obtained 63,971 votes representing 34.77 percent. The last time anyone scored such a lopsided victory for Montserrado was Weah, when he contested in 2014, winning the county seat that includes the capital, Monrovia, with 78% of the vote, defeating Robert Sirleaf, the son of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who received 11% of the vote tally. In the 2014 Senatorial by-elections, Mr. Weah won with 99,226 votes or 78% of the vote for the Montserrado county seat, when he defeated Robert Sirleaf, the son of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who took just 11%.

THE BASE APPEAL: WHO'S WINNING THE GROUND GAME?

With the December 8 elections only two months away, the ruling CDC appears to be in desperate mode to reclaim its king status in Montserrado County.

With the exception of Saah Joseph, who won his Senate seat to replace the vacancy left following the ascension of Mr. Weah to the Presidency, no incumbent has won the county in Liberia's recent history.

Thus, the urgency for the ruling CDC has been evident over the weeks leading into December and its Chairman Mulbah Mulbah acknowledges that the party is setting its sights on the vote-rich county it lost to Dillon. "The loss of Montserrado, which remains the strongest of the strongholds of the mighty Coalition for Democratic Change, did not suggest the strength of our opponent, but that the CDC was too disunited, distracted & demobilized to win."

For Morlu, the disastrous loss was a wake-up call for the party. "From top to bottom, the sleeping giant, the Mighty Coalition for Democratic Change, has been robustly and rudely awakened."

After the loss, Chairman Morlu says, the party went back to the drawing board in a bid to appeal to its base. "In the aftermath of that defeat, we weren't complaining, but reverted to the drawing board, asking the hardest questions that pointed to a pathway we painfully, yet gladly embraced. We went back to the constituencies, the people; held consultations, went to a reinvigorating national retreat, re-evaluated our approach, and by this ignited the might and vigor of the mighty Coalition for Democratic Change as a reenergized and unbeatable political Fortress!."

Last week, the ruling party established campaign team with an approach of re-enforcing its political strength from the grass root, especially in Montserrado County where 500 campaign managers are expected to work along the national campaign committee ahead of the December senatorial elections.

Chairman Morlu says the campaign is largely focused on the party's grassroots base. "The CDC is fully structured in the 17 districts; each district has 30 zones and each zone has 45 zonal leaders, led by a chairman. Hence, each zone. Zonal heads are campaign managers of their respective zones in the districts which means Montserrado alone has around 500 campaign managers, which is besides the national campaign committee."

So far, the plan appears to making inroads, not so much for its effectiveness but more so due to the uncertainty over the state of the opposition, particularly the Collaborating Political Parties. While the ruling party has been trying to appeal to its base, the opposition alliance appears to be struggling to hold and failing to galvanize its base.

Individual candidates like Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence(Liberty Party, Grand Bassa), Senator Abraham Darius Dillon(Montserrado County) and former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai appear to be making some headway but insiders are concerned that the CPP may not be doing enough to galvanize its bases ahead of the December elections.

As of the last census, Liberia's population sits at 4.94 million people. However, ahead of the 2017 Presidential elections, approximately 2.1 million Liberians were registered to vote in the presidential and legislative elections. This means, more than half of the population did not get a chance to vote. Nearly half of those registered to vote were women.

While the National Elections Commission(NEC) is yet to release the numbers of the recently held voters' roll update, the turnout in December will more than likely be the same or even less. This means, the parties which emphasize getting out the votes more will likely have an edge over those who do not.

In last year's special elections for Montserrado County, the four political parties - ALP, ANC, LP and UP rallied around Dillon and propelled him to victory. As he prepares defend his seat, critics say the ongoing ego tripping from the Council of Patriots against the CPP regarding who can pulled the most crowd, puts Senator Dillon in a complicated predicament, forcing between the CPP vs. the COP.

The Senator's attempt to play safe, political observers say, could hurt him against his main rival, Rep. Thomas P. Fallah, the ruling party's candidate.

This is where political observers say the incumbent factor could weigh heavily. The ruling CDC is setting its sights on two key races out of the 15: Montserrado and Grand Bassa County, but key races in vote-rich Nimba, Lofa and Bong are likely to draw keen interests for both sides.

For the opposition alliance, winning at least eight or nine of the seats up for grab, including Montserrado and Grand Bassa would certainly be a milestone achievement and put the CPP on a strong footing for 2023.

In Montserrado, the incumbent Dillon has been making the rounds in a bid to maintain his seat while trying to avoid the possibility of a one-year Senator label that could haunt him if he fails to win in December. "Their only message: Just remove Dillon and reclaim our seat", the Senator jabbed recently, in a bid to shrug off criticisms of his campaign.

Senator Dillon insists that the ruling party is resorting to lies and insults because they simply cannot find anything against him. "Since our opponents/enemies can not find anything credible against us, they are shamelessly resorting to calculated lies.

His opponent, Rep. Thomas P. Fallah of the ruling CDC has won his District No. 5 seat thrice in the last decade and has been racking up endorsements in hopes of unseating Senator Dillon.

Drawing stark contrast to the incumbent Dillon, Rep. Fallah says his strategy is working. "We were not there causing noise or attacking but we were discussing; where necessary we needed to disagree we disagreed. So, we'll change it, we'll shift the paradigm this time around to ensure that we have a better working relationship with the opposition."

Regarded as the microcosm of the entire country, Montserrado's weighs heavily on what happens in the rest of Liberia. Thus, the current state of affairs, brought on by a dismal economy, political uncertainties and the recent mysterious deaths of four auditors has the capital on edge amid concerns over security and implications for the country's foreseeable political future.

Amid the mounting toll of disenchantment against the ruling party, the December 8 elections, political observers say, should be a walk in the park for the opposition. However, the failure of the alliance to hold is leaving a window of opportunity for the ruling establishment to exploit.

Critics of the opposition say, not much is being done to hold the ruling CDC accountable for the economic lapses and recurring missteps bringing on misery in poverty-stricken communities across the country.

A DISJOINTED OPPOSITION

Keen political watchers are also troubled by the lingering tone of dissent within the opposition CPP alliance and the inability of its leaders to right the ship.

ALP leader Benoni Urey has made clear his dislike of ANC's Alexander Cummings and despite several attempts by CPP hierarchy to intervene, there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel that the feud will end any time soon.

Ironically, when the four political parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding in June 2018, momentum was high. In fact, Mr. Urey, trumpeted the signing as "a historic moment for Liberia". "Today, we are signing a document that begins the process of the unity we have been craving for years. We have decided to put Liberia first and to attune our political agenda in the interest of Liberia and the Liberian people, and above our individual and partisan ambitions. We are taking the bold and concrete step which we hope will never be reversed or undone," Urey said.

More than two years later, the collaboration appears to be hanging on a thread, allowing the ruling party to seize on the lapses and pounce its way into restating its claim to Montserrado County.

Earlier this year, former Vice President Joseph Boakai even cautioned CPP members against making negative utterances that could hurt the group's chances of holding together ahead of the upcoming Senatorial Midterm elections and the 2023 General and Presidential elections. Said Mr. Boakai: "The CPP will not work if you don't encourage the leaders, the voices you utter, the divisive words that you utter will make or break this CPP. It is not how many cars individuals can have but what we can do to showcase our country."

CPP insiders readily acknowledge that lingering problems exist but very few are willing to address them or take it head on.

When the Declaration of Intent to Collaborate was signed at the headquarters of the Liberty Party in June 2018 among the ANC, LP and UP, relationship among the three parties sailed smoothly. But as the negotiations for collaborations continued, it was suggested that Urey's ALP be brought on board in order to further have more parties on board.

THE UREYS CONUNDRUM

So, in February 2019 the political leaders/Standard Bearers agreed to support the formation of the CPP and signed their commitment to the process at the headquarters of the Unity Party.

Insiders tell FrontPageAfrica that during the discussions among the Political Leaders, it was agreed that Mr. Urey of the ALP would serve as the first rotational chair of the CPP for a period of six months.

Despite the signing, insiders say, there has always been one constant issue involving Mr. Urey.

As chairman, Mr. Urey came under fire when he distributed buckets to residents in his Careysburg stronghold, on behalf of President Weah. Since then many have questioned his loyalty to the CPP and see him as a major distraction.

Much of Mr. Urey's angst is reportedly driven by his view that Mr. Cummings is new to Liberian Politics. He also has not hidden his views that the thought of Mr. Cummings becoming the presidential candidate on the ticket of the CPP is unacceptable.

Mr. Urey is also reportedly setting his sights on becoming a running mate to Joseph N. Boakai should JNB become the presidential candidate although many within the CPP are shutting down the thought, owing to concerns that it would be tough to sell Mr. Urey to the international community.

Just last week, the ALP also came under fire for trying to undermine the ANC's District No. 9 Special Elections' candidate, Fubbi Henries, aiming to fill the void left by the death of late lawmaker, Munah Pelham Youngblood.

The ALP reportedly tried to push the idea that each party field a candidate to run as independent, a play which was reportedly rejected by the other parties, paving the way for Mr. Henries to run as the CPP candidate.

The fracas is becoming more problematic for the CPP. In fact, an insider acknowledged to FrontPageAfrica Sunday that there is certainly cause for concerns and the public is right to be wary.

The insider said: "There is a very huge animosity between Mr. Urey and Mr. Cummings which has put their respective parties on collision course to the point where the Chairman of the ANC, Sen. Naatehn, has said he will never attend meeting with certain officials of the ALP."

The source also averred that Mr. Urey's daughter, Telia has become a serious headache for the CPP. "She is in the constant habit of disrespecting political leaders and she has no limit. It was even wrong for her father to place her on the Advisory Council of CPP, signaling signs of nepotism. However, both the Unity Party and the Liberty Party (the two biggest parties in the CPP) are constantly calming situations and are ensuring that the CPP will not fall apart as predicted by some people."

LESSONS FROM THE CAPE MOUNT SNAFU

The ongoing lingering issues are drawing stark comparison the Special Senatorial by-elections of 2019 when the collaboration failed to unite behind one candidate and paid a hefty price for a costly error in judgment and political calamity.

The ANC was forced to announce the withdrawal of its candidate, Simeon B. Taylor, from the race after running into disagreement with the rest of the CPP collaborators, particularly the former ruling Unity Party who had a candidate, Dabah Varplah, in the race, along with six others - Mathew Darblo of the Vision for Liberia Transformation (VOLT), Kula Fofana of the Coalition for Liberia's Progress (CLP), Daoda Metzger, an independent candidate, Victor Watson of the People's Unification Party (PUP), and Sando Wayne of the United People's Party (UPP).

The multiplicity of candidates in the race, was the key that saw the PUP candidate, Watson emerge victorious.

A little over a year later, it appears the CPP has learned from the mistake of 2019, with the recent endorsement of Taylor as the collaborating parties' candidate.

In Taylor, the CPP believes it has a proven consistent candidate to make Watson, a one-term Senator.

Even in the midst of a compromise on Cape Mount, the CPP faces an uphill task in Nimba where Atty. Garreson Yealue is said to be making some waves. The District No. 4 representative, enjoying the support of Representative Samuel Kogar (District #5, Nimba County) is counting the two largest districts in the county to propel him to an upset win.

Despite Yealue's ground game, Jeremiah Koung remains the candidate to beat with the CPP candidate, Edith Gongloe-Weh also expected to do well although both Dohr Cooper, the former superintendent and Gongloe-Weh will likely cancel each other out as they both hail form the same town of Glehyee Zorpea in Yarwin Mensonnoh County District.

THE JEWEL FACTOR

The ruling CDC though is not without its own issues with both President Weah and his vice president Jewel Howard Taylor on opposing sides regarding support to rival candidates in vote-rich Bong County.

The VP has been coy on who she will support but has reiterated her stance that she would not be supporting the Coalition for Democratic Change's candidate, Senator Henry Yallah, despite appeals from the party's hierarchy and other members of the Coalition. The VP's National Patriotic Party (NPP) is one of three constituent parties that make up the ruling CDC.

The VP's decision to snub Yallah could offer Rep. Prince Moye(Unity Party) a much-needed boost with the independent Menipakei Dumoe also making his case, riding on the tailcoat of former President Charles Taylor. Dumoe says if elected he would advocate for the release of the former President from prison in the United Kingdom, where he is serving a 50-year jail term for war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone.

WHAT'S THE ENDGAME FOR RULING CDC, CPP?

Lingering issues aside, the experience of the District #15 elections last year, suggest that the support of the four-parties behind a particular candidate is not a sure bet.

In the controversial District No. 15 race last year, the four-parties opposition alliance backed Telia Urey against Mr. Abu Kamara of the ruling CDC. After a hard-fought, contentious and violent elections, Kamara emerged victorious.

While the ruling CDC is aggressively mobilizing its base, the opposition alliance is going to war with itself, with members entangled in what political observers describe as an unnecessary squabble with the COP eclipsed by dividing loyalties of the likes of Dillon and Mr. Mo Ali, who are strong supporters of the COP but members of the CPP.

Despite the concerns over Montserrado, the incumbent Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence appears to be playing a strong ground game in Grand Bassa where her main challenger, former Senate Pro Tempore Milton Gbezonga Findley, rocked by allegations from former passport director Andrew Wonplo appears to be struggling.

For the ruling CDC, the key to winning lies in its ability to energize its base, something the opposition CPP has so far failed to do as it did in last year's elections won by Senator Dillon.

Mr. Morlu states that the CDC's gigantic political surge unfolding in Montserrado signals the launch of a monumental counter-offensive, which has degraded our opponent's political capability, leaving it completely diminished and disoriented. "Remember, South Africa's governing ANC in 2016 lost control of its stronghold, South Africa's largest city and economic centre, Johannesburg. And that loss, in part was due to a formed Coalition between the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters, an alliance that deteriorated, paving way for the ANC's Reclaim in 2019 when Geoff Makhubo was elected as Mayor."

Likewise, Mr. Morlu explains, the CDC is not only completely recalibrated, but solidly United and reorganized, marching forward with hundreds of thousands of its mobilized fighting forces, equipped to reclaim what he says is its legitimate base, Montserrado.

Mr. Morlu says the hard work put in will be seen by all on November 21st when an army of the party's grassroots revolutionaries will converge at the SKD Sports Complex for the official launch of its campaign with plans to shut down the county for a day."

Says Mr. Morlu: "Our anticipated victory Is not a mere wish, but a predictable optimism driven by hard work and a collective strategy of the best candidate who's blessedly campaigning in a county where the President has done so well in just two and a half years."

For the opposition CPP alliance, the key to victory may lie in revisiting the formula that worked for Senator Dillon last year. But amid lingering tension and distrusts within the alliance already causing headaches for supporters and sympathizers, many political observers fear the opposition CPP is allowing the incumbent CDC back in play with renewed confidence to make the December elections much closer than many anticipate.

More importantly, according to Mr. Amin Modad, Chair of the former ruling Unity Party, a unified approach by the opposition to provide a better alternative for the Liberian people is its best chance for a resounding victory come 2023.

Says Modad: "The CPP definitely provides that framework. Like any conglomeration of strong-minded individuals with different political views, you must expect some missteps; that doesn't meant that it will not hold. We are learning from these now and building a stronger collaboration. Nothing drives that resolve more than the common desire and obligation to give the country a better alternative; no one can deny that the aspirations of the Liberian people for better leadership, better governance, better economic conditions, better living conditions, etc. will best fulfilled with a change come 2023. Relevant to the UP, we have a renewed vision and energy focused on developing the party from within and rebuilding our political capital as the largest individual opposition party."

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