Monrovia - When images showing President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Senator George Weah breaking grounds for a major road project in central Liberia went viral on social media Thursday, speculations heightened about the Liberian leader’s ‘open-secret’ support for the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).
“What happened today in Gbarnga brought tears to my eyes - This Vice President and former Minister of Finance Augustine Ngafuan were there for that road. For Pres. Sirleaf to take the opposition party along to do the groundbreaking is provocation” – Rep. Edwin Snowe, Unity Party Campaign Manager
The closely contested runoff election is less than five days away and political campaigning have entered its crucial stage for Unity Party’s Joseph Boakai and CDC George Weah.
Observers are wondering why VP Boakai, a native of Lofa County and an advocate for the Gbarnga-Menikoma road project, was left out of the groundbreaking, while his political foe was placed in the spotlight alongside the president.
For some, it is an emphatic confirmation that Pres. Sirleaf is backing Sen. Weah as her successor.
But others are arguing that Sen. Weah’s running mate and fellow senator Jewel Howard-Taylor, opted to defer her role to her party’s political leader at the program.
While social media users fiercely debated online using popular Facebook platforms and pundits analyzed the situation, top brass of the Unity Party were left with red face.
At an endorsement program from executive officials of the Liberty Party, Representative Edwin Snowe described the president’s alleged snubbing of Ambassador Boakai, as a “slap in the face”.
Snowe called on voters in Bong and Lofa Counties to express their anger against the president by voting Joseph Boakai.
“You can curse a man in the streets but when you walk in his house in front of his children and insult him that is a thin line between joke and provocation,” said Rep. Snowe, who is also campaign manager of Unity Party.
The lawmaker’s frustration is being shared by many pro-Boakai and has also overshadowed the significance of the groundbreaking event for the construction of the 81 kilometers Gbarnga-Menikoma Road project that connects Bong and Lofa Counties.
President Sirleaf tried to claim the storm when she described the road project as “Boakai’s own”.
“I am so sorry that my vice president Joseph Boakai is not here to dedicate this road along with me but this is his project,” she said.
Following a barrage of criticisms of her, Pres. Sirleaf appeared on state radio, to react, rubbishing the speculation as “falsehood” and warning those “spreading misinformation to desist.”
She denied campaigning for the CDC at the event and insisted she was performing a national responsibility.
While in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County attending his endorsement from the Liberty Party officials and the religious community, VP Boakai also tried to play down the tension.
"Today our leader broke ground for Lofa County road, that means they are leaving plenty things behind that they can't end from now to January," he said.
Rep. Snowe says Amb. Boakai has been quiet, extended olive branches and has written speech of reconciliation, which he (Boakai) would continue as a reconciler after winning the December 26 vote.
Thursday’s road groundbreaking incident renews debate about the relationship between the two long-time political allies and how it’s now gradually deteriorating.
At the same time, Weah is bagging the advantages, as observers assert that the backing from Sirleaf to Weah now looks even more palpable.
On Wednesday, the CDC political leader won the support of Jeremiah Sulunteh, vice standard bearer of the Alternative National Congress, in Bong County, a day before he and his vice standard bearer Jewel Howard-Taylor showe up at the groundbreaking program.
Sen. Weah did not speak, but his deputy thanked the government for the initiative before highlighting Pres. Sirleaf’s role in improving road networks in the country.
Keeping the commendation afloat for Pres. Sirleaf is gaining political dividends for the CDC.
It’s the kind of politics that appears to be amassing support for the opposition from the outgoing President, some observers say.
On the other hand, stalwarts of the UP are bemused and rattled.
They are lashing at their former political leader for turning her backs on the party she helped made vibrant in Liberia’s body politics.
But Pres. Sirleaf remains insistent that she will campaign for no one, but would rather remain presidential throughout the electoral process albeit fueling assumptions of a hidden support for one side.
Reporters Selma Lomax and Gerald Gerald Koinyeneh contributed to this story