Opinion: Six Reasons Why Weah Will be Liberia’s Next President
Liberians return to the polls once more in a runoff to elect the successor of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf following more than a month of delay over accusations of fraud and irregularities that beclouded the October 10, 2017 vote.
This time the voters have two candidates: Vice President Joseph Boakai and Senator George Manneh Weah from an exhaustive list of twenty in the first round.
Momentum are high and some nerves are beginning to buckle as the country decides its 24th President.
It is not a tight race as controversies surrounding the elections seem to suggest. It is a one-sided race that favors the former-footballer-turned-politician, who is poised to win by up to 60 percent of the votes on Tuesday.
If the results turn out to be tight, it will be due to the unpredictability of those who did not turn out, invalid votes and dirty final voters’ roster.
Here are six reasons why Mr. Weah will be the next president of Liberia.
1. Just the Numbers
Numbers are discrete; they don’t tell the whole story. But that is nearly the opposite when it comes to elections’ results. Here, only numbers matter.
Senator Weah obtained nearly 40 percent of the total number of valid votes cast. Vice President Boakai obtained nearly 30 percent.
So, Weah has a less difficult task to obtain 50 percent and above. He is just around 10 percent to 50 percent, while Boakai has just over 20 percent.
There are other things to consider here, including the number of invalid votes, those who did not turnout and the dirty voters’ roster.
Because we do not have an idea on the standings of the two candidates in those categories, we focus on the results of the October 10 votes, which we have at our disposal.
The key to our analysis here is very simple. We target counties won by the pair. In places where neither of them won, we look into their position—second and third.
Then we match victories or runner up positions, looking keenly into the candidate’s distance from 50 percent and above.
The assumption here is that the candidate retains his position in the counties as he fights to get additional votes that fell to other candidates in the first round.
Also, we combine all of the counties in the Southeast so that we could be able to easily analyze.
If one candidate had won in the Western region of Bomi, Cape Mount and Gbarpolu, we would have done the same.
In an instance where the counties don’t have huge numbers of votes, we combine them for easy computation.
Boakai obtained the highest votes in Lofa County, higher than the victories obtained by any other candidate in the 15 counties.
He did an excellent job there, getting nearly 80 percent. But besides Lofa he was only able to win one more county, Gbarpolu.
Weah, on the other hand, won in 11 counties—Montserrado, Margibi, Bong, Rivercess, Bomi, Cape Mount and the Southeast (Maryland, Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, River Gee and Grand Kru).
Boakai’s impressive victory in Lofa gave him 91,324 votes. He scooped second place with 39,964 votes in Nimba, the second largest vote-rich county, where Weah performed dismally with 16,002 votes.
However, Weah’s sweeping victory in the entire Southeast matched Boakai’s victory in Lofa with about 9,000 votes left for soccer legend.
This automatically left Boakai with only Gbarpolu, where he won Weah by over 1,300 votes.
Unlike Weah, who had numbers to even surpass Boakai’s triumph in Lofa, the Vice President had no answer for Weah’s in Montserrado. The capital county has 778,291 votes, the highest registered voters countrywide.
Weah obtained 276,558 votes or nearly 50 percent of the valid votes cast here, compared to Boakai’s 155,651 votes or over 27 percent. That is a lead of a mammoth 120,000 votes.
Since we have counted Lofa, Gbarpolu, the Southeast and mighty Montserrado, we move to the remaining counties.
Weah also won in Bong, Margibi and River Cess, Bomi, Cape Mount and River Cess. River Cess, Bomi and Cape Mount obtained a combined 160,942 votes or eight percent of the total number of registered voters.
Weah got 46,155 valid votes cast and Boakai 35,677. There are 79,110 votes out there for any of the candidates two now, but that’s not the best news for Boakai as that number is not significant when spread across three counties.
Weah again did not do badly in vote-rich Margibi and Bong. He won the two counties—47,212 valid votes cast or more than 43 percent and 61,520 votes cast, more than 40 percent in Margibi and Bong respectively. Boakai was not far away here. He scooped 29,149 votes or 26 percent and 51,536 votes or 34 percent in Margibi and Bong, respectively
Bong and Margibi are interesting cases. Boakai has a Herculean task to perform in Margibi than he has in Bong in this runoff. Weah is closer to 50 percent than Bokai is in these counties. Weah scored a 28,000 combined lead in the two counties. Their votes account for more than 70 percent of the valid vote cast in Margibi and Bong.
Neither of the two candidates won in vote-rich Nimba and Bassa. Here, Weah and Boakai finished second and third respectively. With 279,601 or 13 percent of the total registered voters countrywide, Nimba is the second largest vote-rich county. Bassa, a distance away but quite impressive as well, has 145,523 or seven percent of the total registered voters.
Boakai won the two counties combined with over 6,000 valid votes cast. This is the only place where Weah has a more difficult job to do.
2. Weah has more support
Senator Prince Johnson might not be the best person around but he is one of the best politicians in this generation. Johnson won an expectedly staggering 107,430 valid votes cast in Nimba in October or more than 53 percent. Boakai finished a distant second with 39,964 votes or 19 percent and Weah a way further distant third with only 16,002 votes or eight percent.
With Nimba the second largest vote-rich county with 279,601 registered voters, Johnson is a de facto kingmaker. Having pledged his support to Weah, it is most likely that the ex-warlord will deliver more than 60 percent of the Nimba votes to the ex-football star.
Boakai has the support of Benoni Urey but the All Liberian Party (ALP) obtained only 24,246 of the total valid votes countrywide or 1.6 percent. Thus, his support cannot serve more than a boost of morale.
Also, interesting, the splinter endorsement of Boakai by some executives of the Liberty Party—when Cllr. Brumskine announced that he would not support any of the runoff candidates—is not a victory for Boakai.
Some executives of the same LP had pledged their support to Weah less than a week earlier. In fact, they were more powerful executives for that matter—Chairman Benjamin Sanvee, vice presidential candidate Harrison Karnwea and chief campaigner Musa Bility.
But that’s not the point. It was the Unity Party that stood alongside the LP and filed a prohibition to the Supreme Court against the National Elections Commission (NEC) for a rerun of the October elections. It was only expected that the appellants would join forces in an eventual runoff. In other words, it is a victory for Weah that Brumskine did not pledge support to anyone.
Brumskine topped Bassa with 49,889 valid vote cast or just over 50 percent, followed by Weah with 26,979 or over 27 percent. Boakai performed very poorly here with just 9,185 votes or nine percent.
The ANC scenario is not dissimilar. Alexander Cummings did not pledge support to either of the candidates. Cummings, unlike Weah, Boakai, Brumskine and Johnson, did not win any county. However, he obtained more than seven percent of the total valid votes cast countrywide. His best performance was in Maryland, where he finished second to Weah with over 21 percent of the votes.
Cummings showed solidarity to Brumskine alongside Boakai, but Cummings decided not to support Boakai or Weah. That, again, is a victory for Weah. Cummings appeared closer to Boakai than to Weah. Worse was when the vice presidential candidate to Cummings, Ambassador Jeremiah Solunteh pledged his support to Weah. Solunteh has a significant base in Bong County, where Weah finished above Boakai.
3. Change over Continuity
You can discuss the 2017 elections from many angles but the commonest is the choice between change and continuity.
Major opposition political parties opted to form a unity opposition in September 2016 in Ganta, Nimba County to end 12 years of rule by the Unity Party. Though the Ganta Declaration drifted into thin air, it showed that change” and “continuity” were the terms to mostly characterize then pending elections.
This became even more glaring when Weah coined his infamous “Change for Hope” phrase. To Weah and his supporters, now was time to change leadership for a new beginning.
Boakai offered no rebuttal. He ceded to the logic of change of a system characterized by corruption, nepotism and economic downturn. Boakai said he was a “race car parked in the garage” for a dozen years with its potential still to be unleashed.
Boakai did not want to be swept away by the wind of change; he wanted to be that wind. In so doing, he dissociated himself from President Sirleaf. “Opportunities were squandered” and he said “time was not utilized.” His fear of a popular reprisal at the ballot box pushed him away from his boss’ appointments of cabinet members over the years.
With his experience, modesty and corruption-free track record, Boakai has been likened to late President William R. Tolbert. He has been more articulate, than Weah, who doesn’t speak without a debate of grammar and rationale—from “WAEC school fee” to his recent speech in Nimba about education.
Unfortunately for Boakai, distancing from Ellen has been vainglorious. His race car metaphor does not seem to suffice and an estranged relationship with President Sirleaf has not played well for him. Their relationship took another dive when Weah ended up dedicating Gbarnga-Lofa road alongside President Sirleaf, while Boakai rallied in Bassa.
Weah has been the smarter, mercurial politician. He graded President Sirleaf 80 percent for her achievement, a sharp contrast to his years of opposition to her. While Weah’s statement didn’t settle in with common view but it was a pragmatic political statement and he has the support of the President in practice.
Boakai knows this very well. His bold assessment of his boss has suddenly changed to a conciliatory tone, but it might be already too late.
Not even his diplomacy of recent will win the support of the “iron lady” who finds forgiveness a foe. He had thought in the beginning that dissociating from Ellen would be the trump card but he ended up being trumped himself. In the process, he lost Ellen and the argument of not being an integral part of her regime.
4. Identity, geopolitics favor Weah
Both Weah and Boakai are all native Liberians and enjoy the support of the majority native voters but it is Weah who enjoys more of their demography.
First, Weah has a huge following among the youth. Fifty-two percent of registered voters are between 18 and 32 years.
Second, Weah has a huge following in poor communities that comprises 54 percent of the population, according to the World Bank. That explains his popularity in Montserrado that has many slum communities. They identify with Weah who grew up in Clara Town but conquered the world with his football skills.
They see him as an embodiment of what late President Tolbert would have said “from mat to mattress. In him they see that their own dreams and aspirations can come true.
Third, Boakai is the older of the two men and so naturally enjoys the support of the older generation and the educated minority. However, that doesn’t give him an edge. Liberia literacy rate is 47 percent, according to the World Bank. And 26 percent of the electorates are between 47 and 68+.
Geopolitics also favors Weah. He won 11 of the 15 counties. Fortunately for Boakai, only three of the 11 are vote-rich counties—Montserrado, Margibi and Bong. Just as Lofa voted Boakai, so did the Southeast for Weah.
Furthermore, if you look more critically, you can see that Weah has a huge support in the Bassa belt—Montserrado, Margibi, Grand Bassa and River Cess. He finished second to Brumskine in Grand Bassa but Weah won River Cess. How did that happen?
The CDC merger with the blood-stained National Patriotic Party (NPP) worked very well. Here, Weah decided to look for interest rather than seek humanity’s potential. The NPP evokes the dark days of former President Charles Taylor, 250,000 killed in the civil war and the despair of a once hopeful people.
Weah turned a blind eye to that and opted to gain the popularity of the NPP in places like Bong, Margibi and Nimba and other rural communities. Machiavellianism, to say the least. It worked in Bong that hosted Taylor’s capital city (Gbarnga) and in Margibi, his stronghold, and is poised to work in Nimba, where he started his rebellion nearly three decades ago.
5. The presidency is Weah’s destiny
Apart from his diverse support base, there is something that has, perhaps, never been spoken of at all: Weah’s supporters think he was born to be president. They don’t care whether he came and saw. They just want him to conquer.
It has been said by his detractors that the CDC was established to achieve that goal, though Weah has vehemently denied that. Action, they say, speaks louder than word. His supporters conduct themselves in a way that proves so by giving him excess adoration. Some salute his portraits. Some bow before it. They bring their own T-shirts for marking, with volunteer artists available at all times. In fact, CDC T-shirts are so valuable that they are on sale.
Songs sung and slogans chanted in his name are created freely. It is not just a Weahmania, it is like a religion. This is the reason why no one would dispute that Weah is the only politician who has an untouchable support base that assures him of a runoff any day.
The belief of the presidency being Weah’s destiny gets backing from a 73-year-old prophecy by Didho Twe in his 1944 Independence Day oration. “As the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so the great revolutionary forces which have influenced the progress of mankind have always come from the east and marched westward, but never from west to east, nor from the north to the south,” Twe said in that oration. “To fulfill her destiny, Liberia must turn her back to the east and march westward.
”Twe’s assertion might not be familiar to the youthful majority of Weah’s support base but it resonates well with Southeasterners and Southeastern-related communities in Montserrado.
Weah’s supporters have always looked for signs to prove that their man is ordained by God. They have summed up numerological clues to prove their point. In each of the elections he has run for president, they have tried to look for numbers and their links to him.
In 2005, Weah was placed on #14 on the ballot. They say that represented the number he wore on his Lone Star kit while playing for the national team. Because #14 could be reversed to be #9 when counting from the bottom to the top of the ballot, they saw it to be a spiritual reference to his number on his A.C. Milan kit.
They also saw the five in 2005 to have evoked 1995, the year Weah scooped African, European and World best player awards. And they are up to it again. They don’t see Weah being #17 on the ballot as a mere coincidence with 2017. It is a sign that this is Weah’s year.
6. Weah offers the chance for a stronger democracy
Democracy in Liberia has come a long way since the failure of the political system, amplified by the civil war.
Twelve years of uninterrupted peace and a significant improvement of the rule of law, freedom of speech and social liberties under Ellen has buried the despotic, dark days of Taylor. It will not deteriorate under either Boakai or Weah, but the latter offers a stronger case than the former.
Weah is the lesser experienced of the two, with lesser articulation despite being more schooled.
A Boakai presidency will be highly welcomed by the educated class, the upholder of the status quo. So, a Weah presidency will be a rebellion against a political establishment and the efficiency of the Liberian democracy.
A not-all-knowing person, Weah is in a natural position to listen and to be criticized. One pitfall in leadership is arrogance. This doesn’t stand in Weah’s way, not with his lukewarm presence in the Senate, his delinquency at the ECOWAS parliament or his apparent fear of debates.
His cabinet, for instance, will be one of the most scrutinized in the history of Liberia. Majority of the Senators, who pledged their support to Boakai, will be ready to deny any unworthy nomination and be more meticulous in the discharge of their duty. The same can be said about how they will treat bills emanating from Weah, the President.
Subsequently, opposition and advocacy will also peak during a Weah presidency as they will coincide with the fervency of him to deliver to his many expectations. Ellen’s expectations stemmed from her many years of experience and advocacy.
His will be a combination of moral uprightness and predestination. People will not be looking for the flowery nature of his speeches. They will be in an initial six-year longing of national prosperity.
Report by James Harding Giahyue