Monrovia — Liberians will head to the polls Tuesday, December 8 to elect 15 new senators. Intense battles and very tight races are already afoot as the senatorial candidates engage in last minute activities ahead of the polls.
The nation-wide elections are widely expected to be a race between candidates from the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), which comprises of Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor's National Patriotic Party (NPP), President George Weah's Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and former Speaker Alex Tyler's Liberian People Democratic Party (LPDP), and the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), a conglomeration of opposition political parties, although others are contesting as independent candidates.
President Weah has for weeks been on aggressive campaign tours of nine of the 15 counties, endorsing candidates on the ticket of the CDC.
Analysts believed the elections are seen as a litmus test for President Weah's popularity, having been in power for almost three years, and the election, analysts say, could be crucial to the president's re-election in 2023 as he faces a challenge from a formidable opposition bloc.
Here are the eight most important battlegrounds ahead of Tuesday's polls:
Lofa County: Could former Vice President Boakai's support for Samukai be the difference?
A Unity Party wave in 2011 in Lofa County helped George Tengbeh from being the administrative assistant to former superintendent Galakpai Kortema to the Senate. On Tuesday, December 8, the senator will be relying substantially on what he has done in the county in the last nine years to win re-election.
When Tengbeh was voted as senator in 2011, he was seen as a political neophyte. It's believed he secured the job on the strength of Unity Party and its current political leader and former Vice President, Joseph Boakai, who is seen as the face of Lofa politics. But Tengbeh parted ways with Boakai and Unity Party and defected to President Weah's Congress for Democratic Change (CDC).
The outcome of previous presidential elections in the county has attested to the fact that Lofa is the stronghold of Unity Party. During the 2005 presidential elections, Unity Party obtained 26,875 votes, which amounted to 60.2 per cent of the total votes compared to the Congress for Democratic Change's 17, 733 which amounted to 39.8 per cent of the votes.
During the 2017 presidential elections, Unity Party obtained 79, 258 votes, amounting to 84 per cent of the votes, while President Weah's Congress for Democratic Change secured 14, 860 votes, which amounted to 15 per cent of the total votes.
Boakai on Friday, December 4 endorsed the candidacy of former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai, candidate of CPP. Boakai urged his kinsmen to vote Samukai "to protest against the hardship being experienced under the leadership of President Weah".
Boakai's endorsement of Samukai is seen as key a factor in deciding the next senator of the county, according to political pundits in the county.
Also, Lofa politics, ethnicity plays a key role in elections. Recent events leading to the end of campaign activities in the county attest to that. Mariamu Fofana, a Muslim and of candidate of the All Liberian Coalition Party (ALCOP), was endorsed by her kinsmen across the county, while Cllr. Joseph Jallah, from the Gbandi ethnic group, was endorsed in Kolahun.
At a recent endorsement of Cllr Jallah in Kolahun, residents made their intentions known though various banners with the inscriptions: "Your own is your own. We need a Gbandi senator, too."
Verdict: The odds favor Samukai
Bong County: A two-horse race?
In spite of the eight candidates contesting in Bong County, every objective analysis will narrow down to the race of two people: incumbent Senator Henry Yallah of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and District Two representative and Deputy Speaker, Prince Moye of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP).
Although the above assertion is debatable, especially by other candidates, who would contend that they have what it takes to win the race, the facts are glaring - the two parties on which Yallah and Moye are contesting are major parties at the national level - the election is therefore an outright war of political supremacy between the incumbent senator and the District Two lawmaker.
Not only are the major political players in Bong County polarized along party lines or queuing behind either Yallah or Moye, the rivalry between the CDC and CPP at the national level is also projecting these two men more prominently before residents of the county.
Very intriguing is the fact that both Yallah and Moye, who were elected 2011, are former school mates of the William V. S. Tubman Gray High School in Gbarnga and are also graduates of Cuttington University. Both of them have for the past eight years collaborated to commission several development projects in District Two including the construction of a bridge in the town of Tomue, the elevation of an elementary school to a junior high level in Gbenequelleh Town among others.
CDC and Senator Yallah
The second term bid of Senator Yallah has been characterized by intrigues mainly because of his face-off with Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor, who announced that she won't support his re-election.
But observers believed the face-off between him and the vice president could win him public sympathy. Because of the reported rift between the vice president and president George Weah, Howard-Taylor would be out to prove a point to President Weah and Senator Yallah that she is still a force to reckon with in the county.
A strong force in Bong politics himself, Yallah not only enjoys the backing of influential CDC lawmaker Marvin Cole of District Three and District Five lawmaker Edward Karfiah, but he also currently enjoys the backing of four members of the Bong Legislative Caucus.
President Weah was in Gbarnga last week to endorse the candidacy of Yallah, assuring partisans of the CDC: "I will do all I can to ensure that Senator Yallah wins the election. Yallah is a good man; I trust his ability."
President Weah said the CDC is not ready to lose an inch to the CPP ahead of the 2023 presidential elections. More than anything else, one thing Yallah has going for him is the support among the people. Most residents see his achievements across all sectors - education, infrastructure, health and others. The larger part of the impact he would make at the election would be based on the support from the electorates.
CPP and Rep Moye
The CPP and Deputy Speaker Moye have a chance to win the December election. In terms of presence and candidate's popularity in the county, Moye and CPP have what it takes to give the ruling CDC a good fight.
Three members of the Bong Legislative Caucus including Moima Briggs-Mensah of Bong's District Six, Rep. Robert Womba, lawmaker of District Four and Senator Henrique Tokpa have all endorsed his senatorial bid.
This connection would undoubtedly swing more votes to his side.
Moye, a two-term lawmaker, is said to have engaged in a number of commendable projects during his nine years as lawmaker of District Two. His ambition has been making waves across the county and might just spring a surprise Tuesday.
Ultimately, the determinant factors are the electorates. Thus, barring any unforeseen circumstances, a majority of Bong residents are waiting to see what the outcome of the ongoing power tussle would be in the county.
Verdict: A race too close to call
Margibi County: Will President Weah's endorsement swing votes in Jones' favor?
It's going to be a very tough battle in Margibi County. And from all indications, evening the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change is not in a position to boast that it is capable of freely attaining victory in that election.
The reason for this assertion is simply because the major contenders have their strength and weaknesses and the combination of these factors will surely exert telling consequences on the outcome of the election.
Former House Speaker James Emmanuel Nuquay's candidacy has caused ripples down the spines of some contenders. Nuquay, who hails from Upper Margibi, is expected to put up a good showing in Tuesday's polls in that part of the county because of the level of people-centered projects he initiated during his 12-year rule as lawmaker of Margibi's District Five.
But his support base in the district is expected to be challenged by the district's representative, Clarence Gahr, who is believed to be supporting the CDC candidate in the county, Ivar Jones.
Also, Nuquay's continued threats on the lives of residents of the county who oppose his bid took a toll on his campaign, with many describing him as "vicious" and an "unrepentant" person. In 2017, statements from residents of Margibi played a key role in the defeat of Unity Party when Nuquay contested as vice running mate to Amb. Joseph Boakai. Whether he addressed those concerns during the campaign remains to be seen Tuesday.
Rep. Ivar Jones of Margibi's District One is giving Nuquay, his main rival, a run for his money having made some considerable gains in a relatively short period of time with his salary waiver for the purpose of development.
The CDC lawmaker is being credited for utilizing China Union's Social Development Fund to construct a footpath bridge between Smell No Taste and Dolo Town communities. Also, an advocacy for government to give eminent land ownership to residents of Unification City could be a key factor as voters head to the polls Tuesday.
Jones' bid received a boost Thursday when President Weah endorsed his candidacy, urging residents of the county to support Jones "for more developments" in the county. The president's comments have divided opinions in the county, with many terming the president's statement as "not in the interest of the county that overwhelmingly voted him in 2017".
For the incumbent Oscar Cooper, one thing seems to be working in his favor is the incumbency factor. Cooper is believed to have laid the foundation for many development projects in the county, by embarking on infrastructural and human development in the last nine years.
Cooper says he is contesting on the basis of those achievements.
Whether his "achievements" will translate into votes remains to be seen on Tuesday.
Verdict: Odds in Nuquay's favor
Nimba County: Incumbent senator's fate hangs in the balance?
It is crunch time for Nimba County senator, Thomas Grupee. His fate hangs in the hands of voters who will decide in the next 24 hours if he deserves to win a second term in an election that promises to be tough and intriguing.
Jeremiah Koung of Nimba's District One is seen as Grupee's main challenger, but the man that stands strongly on the senator's political path is another Nimba County senator, Prince Y. Johnson, the man regarded by many in the county as the "father of Nimba politics".
The two senators have been at loggerheads since Grupee, who Senator Johnson helped to become senator in 2011, openly criticized Senator Johnson for contesting the 2017 presidential elections. Senator Johnson, obviously, is hoping to use Tuesday's election to get the better of Grupee.
Since he began running for office in 2005, Senator Johnson has enjoyed the overwhelming support of voters in the county, and it is expected that his support for Koung in Tuesday's polls could be the difference.
Former Nimba County superintendent, Edith Gongloe-Weh, who's contesting for the third time having contested in 2011 and 2014, is one candidate to watch.
A major strength of Gongloe-Weh is the apparent acceptance of her bid by the generality of residents of the Mano speaking tribe. Another strength of Gongloe-Weh is that she appears to enjoy more support of some of the political wigs in the county, including lawmaker Larry Younquoi of Nimba's District 8
Taa Wongbe, head of the Khana, will be on the ballot as an independent candidate after a disappointing primary that saw the emergence of Gongloe-Weh.
Seen as cool-headed and focused, Wongbe is reputed to have run a very vibrant campaign, touching the nooks and crannies of the county. Factors that would work for him are said to be legion, but the most significant among them is the strong political support he has behind him.
Verdict: The Prince Johnson's factor would be key for Koung
Maryland County: Alex Cummings' popularity under scrutiny
The Senate election in Maryland County is seen as a litmus test for the strength of the chairman of the opposition Collaborating Political Party, Alexander Cummings, who took time off to campaign for candidates of the CPP in South-Eastern Liberia.
The Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) is supporting the Senate bid of Eric Giko in his native Maryland County. Prior to Tuesday's polls, Cummings has used his time to indirectly campaign for Giko, touring him in the nook and crannies of the county donating food and non-food items to residents of the county during the heat of the COVID-19 crisis in the country. It's expected that Cummings' strength and popularity in the county will translate into votes for Giko.
The Senate race in the county has also turned out to be a proxy political fight between President George Weah and his Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor, both of whom supporting different candidates. James Biney is the candidate of the Coalition of Democratic Change while Dan Morias is contesting as an independent candidate having lost his appeal to the Supreme Court of Liberia for an injunction in the selection of candidates of the CPP.
Verdict: Tight race
Montserrado County: A clash of titans
Like other counties, the voters in Montserrado County are bracing up for a battle of titanic proportions. Not only is there a star-studded line-up between incumbent senator Abraham Darius Dillion and District Five lawmaker Thomas Fallah, each of whom is truly distinguished in his own right.
A county of over 649, 484 registered voters, according to the National Elections Commission, Montserrado has always remained a key election battleground in the country. Weah's Congress for Democratic Change has always shown strength here as demonstrated during previous presidential and legislative elections in 2005 and 2011.
In 2017, the county's support for President George Weah proved to be crucial in an election that swept him to the presidency. But there have been signs of waning support for Weah and the Coalition in Montserrado following the overwhelming victory of opposition Senator Dillon in 2019 in a by-election to fill the vacancy of Geraldine Doe-Sheriff.
In that election, Dillon broke a previous record set by George Weah by securing a total vote of 102, 549 votes from all 1, 790 polling places, compared to Weah's 2014 votes of 99, 226.
Dillon appears to enjoy massive support from a wide range of supporters who believed he's lived up to some of his campaign promises. Dillon, during the campaign for the Senate seat, promised to be the "light in the darkness", promising to expose shady deals in the Senate. He also promised to disclose his salary, and promised to take home $5,000 and give the rest to the county through a County Development Fund for the purpose of carrying development funds. His supporters think he has lived up to that promise.
Fallah, meanwhile, has to his advantage the ruling CDC and the experience of being elected three times as lawmaker of electoral district five in Montserrado County. Since his introduction and with the support from the party, Fallah has shown that the race is not going to be an easy ride for the incumbent.
Grand Bassa County: Could Brumskine's Legacy Help Nyounblee?
Eight candidates including incumbent Senator Nyounblee Karnga Lawrence are expected to contest in the Grand Bassa County senatorial election. Senator Karnga -Lawrence is one of the five women on the CPP ticket and is one of the 18 women among the 118 candidates for the mid-term election.
Currently, Karnga-Lawrence is the lone female lawmaker in the Senate. She is the standard bearer of the opposition Liberty Party of the late Cllr. Charles Brumskine. She has to her advantage nine years of legislative experience in the Senate.
She has been a strong female voice in the Senate. Judging from what this newspaper has seen so far, Senator Karnga-Lawrence supports in the county are the women. She has managed to mobilize the women of Grand Bassa County and if she is to manage a re-election it will be credited on the women.
Karnga-Lawrence has an uphill task to retain the seat as Grand Bassa's Senator as she faces a serious challenge from Mr. Gbehzohngar Milton Findley. Findley is a former Pro-Temp of the Senate, and most recently a former Foreign Minister.
He comes to the competition with a worth of experience as a former senator of Grand Bassa and a former Pro-Temp. Findley is the ruling CDC's candidate. With his experience and the support from the ruling establishment, he stands a great chance.
Findley's chances of winning against Nyounblee are 50-50 judging from his defeat by Senator Johnathan Kaipay in 2014. As head of the Senate and member of the than ruling Unity Party, Findley saw himself being defeated by a "little known" Kaipay who had the support of Liberty Party, which Sen. Kargar-Lawrence now heads.
Bomi County: A three-horse race?
Five candidates including incumbent Senator Sando Johnson are contesting for the vacant position in Bomi County. Senator Johnson won Bomi on the ticket of the National Patriotic Party of former President Charles Taylor who is serving a 50-year prison term in the UK.
Currently, Sen. Johnson is the candidate for the CPP in Bomi County. He was chosen over many other loyal partisans since he broke ranks with the NPP, who are in a Tripartite Marriage with the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and the Liberia People's Democratic Change (LPDP).
The Incumbent senator has an uphill task as he faces up with the likes of Representative Edwin Snowe and former House Speaker Alex Tyler. Candidates Snowe and Tyler have proven to be hard rocks to crack.
Representative Snowe, in 2017 left Montserado County where he served as Representative for District #6 to contest for a seat in Bomi County. He won and is now contesting to be Senator of that county. He resigned his membership from the Unity Party to allow him contest as an independent candidate. He poses serious threat to the incumbent.
Another candidate with serious influence is former House Speaker Alex Tyler. Tyler, who won two successive election as Representative of Bomi County as member of the Unity Party, broke ranks with the UP in 2017 and established his own LPDP.
Tyler is the CDC candidate in Bomi. He has to his advantage the support of the ruling establishment and his experience as former Speaker for more than eight years. Tyler poses serious threat to the incumbent senator.