Tuesday is historic in Liberia; the country will be going to the polls to elect a president and 73 representatives. Tuesday’s elections will witness for the first time in 73 years the smooth transition from an outgoing government to a new one. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will be ending her two term constitutional mandate.
When she won elections in 2005 and assumed office on January 6, 2006, she promised to revive the economy, restore public trust in government, provide adequate health and education, make corruption public enemy number one and put Liberia back on the international arena.
After two terms starting January 2006 and ending January 2018, President Sirleaf will be leaving power with having brought public trust back in government with the restoration of civilian authority throughout the country; freedom of the press; and putting Liberian back on the international arena, as exemplified by the many international award she has gained, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.
Infrastructurally, in terms of electricity her administration has brought at least 10-25 kilowatts of electricity, particularly in Monrovia and its nearby environs while there is some electricity in parts of Nimba, Grand Gedeh and Maryland Counties provided through the West Africa Power Pool.
With roads, she said before her government leaves office all county capitals would be linked by paved roads from Monrovia. But as of the writing of this article, only Gbarnga, the capital of Bong County has been linked by paved road from Monrovia.
With freedom of the press, her administration performed better than her two elected predecessors (Doe and Taylor). There are about 100 radio stations, about thirty regularly published newspapers and at least five television stations in Liberia.
Most of the radio stations are basically community radios serving rural Liberia. But the freedom of the press does not preclude independence of the press, as many of the media houses are tied to politicians and political parties. This has been reflective in the numerous slanted newspaper headlines and slanted news stories and magazine programs on radio stations this campaign season – which automatically give you a feel of the political leanings of the media outlets.
Educationally, she describe the education system as a mess, but she did not do much to improve the ‘messy’ educational system, particularly when students have consistently performed miserably in the high school matriculation exams administered by the West African Examination Council.
Her legacy is also blurred by an economy she is leaving that has both stagnated and stagflated.
She once boasted that her government had received foreign direct investments (FDIs) of US$16 billion. Yet this has not trickled down to the ordinary people. One such investment is New Liberty Gold Mine (NLGM) established in Gola Konneh District in Grand Cape Mount County in 2015 at the initial cost of US$250 million.
A subsidiary of Aureus Mining Inc., NLGM has failed to improve the lives of the people. In December 2015, failure to initiate mitigation measures as advised by Golder Associates of Ghana in its Environment Impact Statement of the NLGM of June 2012, the mining of gold led to the pollution of both the Mafa River and Marvoe Creek.
Equally as she leaves office, having increased salary and made salary payment current, her tenure has been marred by massive corruption in all sectors of the country. In one of her addresses to the nation, she described corruption as a vampire that has eaten the fabric of the society.
Today there are 20 presidential candidates vying to replace President Sirleaf. Among the forerunners are George Weah, Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC); Vice President Joseph Boakai, Unity Party (UP), Charles Brumskine, Liberty Party; Dr. Joseph Mills Jones, Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE); Alexander Cummings, Alternative National Congress (ANC); Prince Johnson, Movement for Reconciliation and Democracy (MRD); and Benoni Urey, All Liberia Party (ALP). But the two that are likely to emerge as the top forerunners are Weah and Boakai.
But the cards seem to be in Weah’s favor than Boakai’s. Weah is youthful and a little over half of Liberia’s population comprises youth. His football career has been more a plus than a hindrance. Despite the fact that he did not attend the two presidential debates organized by the Deepening Democracy Coalition in August and September, his ranking is still high among ordinary Liberians.
His party seems to be the better organized this time and has been campaigning exceedingly hard in counties where his party did not fare well in both 2005 and 2011. This impetus has been invigorated in his Coalition hierarchy by members of the former ruling National Patriotic Party and the newly founded Liberia’s People Democratic Party (LPDP).
Boakai’s campaign has been hindered by several factors. First there is the downward trend of the Liberian economy. As of the writing of this article the Liberia economy was suffering hyperinflation; the Liberian dollar had depreciated against the US dollar at the rate of 122 LD to 1 USD. A gallon of gasoline is now US$4 and a 20 kilogram of imported rice, the country’s staple, US$20.
Secondly, Boakai himself sometimes ago admitted that the UP government had ‘squandered’ many of the opportunities afforded them to improve the lot of the ordinary. This statement is now coming back to hunt his campaign. People are telling him that his admission means his government has failed the Liberian people.
Thirdly, many Liberians do not want continuity of the UP rule. They see this as a blanket endorsement of eventually promoting the creation of a one party ruled state.
Moreover, to give the UP another six years will not be following the trend in most ECOWAS nations where most ruling parties have not gone more than two terms. Take Ghana, Benin, Senegal and Nigeria where each ruling party never served beyond two terms.
Lastly, giving his age, there is fear that Boakai could be another Mohammedu Buhari. This fear has been increased in Boakai’s use of a chopper to complete his campaign tour while his challengers were traveling throughout the country by motor road and getting stuck in the mud for hours.
But the possibility of the presidential election being a one shot race is slim. That could only happen if Boakai pulls at most 20 percent of the vote and the remaining candidates other than Weah pull a combined total votes of 25 percent. If that occurs than Weah will have 55 percent of the votes. Other than that if Cummings, Brumskine, Johnson, Jones and the other forerunners pull surprises, there will surely be a runoff.
Kpanbayeazee Duworko, II - A political and social commentator; and an Instructor in the Department of English and Literature, University of Liberia