GBARNGA, Bong County — Bong’s high-stakes by-election in electoral District Two between 12 candidates is coming down to the wire as voters prepare to go to the polls on November 16.
But the tight election is expected to yield important clues beyond November 16 about the county’s political landscape going into the 2023 presidential elections.
The by-election is testing whether the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) can generate the voter enthusiasm that propelled President George Weah to victory here in 2017, or whether the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) can make it three successive election victories in the county.
Two of the recent polls in the county ahead of the by-election have gone against the ruling coalition, having lost the 2014 by-election and the December 2020 senatorial election.
In 2014, the CDC failed to retain the seat vacated by former Bong County senator now Vice President, Jewel Howard-Taylor. The seat was declared vacant after Howard-Taylor won as vice president to President Weah during the 2017 presidential elections.
Declaring the opposition candidate winner of the 2018 by-election, the National Elections Commission (NEC) said of the total votes tallied, the former Cuttington University president obtained 27,806 votes, amounting to 47.8 percent, while his closest rival Rep. Marvin Cole obtained 20,982 votes.
In the December 2020 senatorial elections, the CPP got the better of the ruling coalition when former District Two lawmaker Prince Moye won with thirty nine thousand three hundred thirty seven (39,337) votes constituting 51.28 percent, while incumbent Henry Willie Yallah of the CDC obtained twenty five thousand two hundred forty seven (25,247) votes, constituting 32.91%.
The NEC statistics reveal that during the process, there were 76,708 valid votes constituting 94.01 percent, while 4,891 votes constituting 5.99 percent were discovered invalid in Bong County.
CDC looking to make amends
In those two previous elections, this is the first time hierarchy has united to support the party’s candidate. The campaign has seen Howard-Taylor openly endorsed renowned Gbarnga businessman Melvin Salvage, while the Minister of State Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill Thursday led partisans of the Coalition to endorse the CDC candidate.
The vice president, while endorsing Salvage last week, said the election was crucial for the ruling coalition having lost two successive elections.
Declaring the by-election as a referendum for the CDC popularity in Bong, Howard-Taylor said: “We need to unite as a party to win the by-election. The CDC as a ruling coalition needs to send out a message to the opposition.”
The vice president called on partisans of the coalition to rally behind Salvage “to save the face of the party” in the county. “This is not about Salvage, it’s for the CDC. A win for us would be an added advantage for our party,” she said.
For his part, the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill, who was received in Gbarnga on Thursday by a massive crowd of party supporters, who thronged the Bad Happy Land field for the endorsement program, urged partisans to vote for Salvage for the continuation of development in the county.
“I have nothing to say than to remind you of the situation we met this country and the promises we made to you. We will consolidate on those gains and if you vote for our candidate Melvin Salvage,” he said.
Cummings, Bility campaign for CPP candidate
The standard bearer of the Alternative National Congress, Alexander Cummings and the chairman of Liberty Party, Musa Hassan Bility, also showed up in Gbarnga Thursday to campaign for the candidate of the CPP, Joshua Better.
Cummings urged residents of District Two to come out on November 16 and vote for Better the same way they voted for Senator Prince Moye during last year’s senatorial elections in the county.
The ANC standard bearer described election day as a day when all Liberians are equal, saying all votes carry the same impact.
He, therefore, asked residents of the district to choose if they wanted their lives to remain the same way it had been in the last three years or they wanted something better.
Cummings urged residents of the district to come and vote, adding that the worst thing a citizen could do was to ignore such an important civic obligation.
By-election a litmus test for CDC in Bong?
Pollsters are looking to the by-election in Bong County as a predictor of 2023 presidential elections in the county, considering Bong being the third most populated county with an estimation of 333,481 people, according to the National Population and Housing Census 2008.
While no one can be sure of the outcome until after polls close the night of November 16, some pundits say one thing will be clear after this race, regardless of election results: the ruling CDC could face an uphill battle in Bong in 2023.
“The ruling CDC is going to struggle to win Bong County in 2023, regardless of what happens in this bong By-election race,” said Jerry Peterson, a political analyst in the county.
Campaign has tightened in recent weeks, showing the candidates neck-and-neck in the race that was expected to be a relatively easy win for the ruling party candidate.
Opinion polls conducted by the media and pro-democracy groups in the county put the candidate of the People’s Unification Party, James M. Kolleh ahead of his rivals, followed by Independent candidate Edward Gboe, and Salvage is third in the pecking order.
Political pundits say the tight race could be a sign that President Weah’s declining popularity in the county is having a trickle-down effect on the party’s candidate in the district.
A win for Kolleh or Gboe could indicate that President Weah’s declining popularity and infighting in the CDC in the county has stymied voter enthusiasm about the party overall.