Liberia: By-Election Results Suggest Voters Rejected Politics of Ego, Numbers Boast
Monrovia – In the days leading to Liberia’s version of Super Tuesday – featuring four important legislative races, Nathaniel McGill, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs unveiled a scholarship scheme in vote-rich Bong County in hopes of luring voters to cast their votes for his choice for the county’s District race.
The minister made similar interventions in Grand Gedeh, Nimba and Bomi.
Alexander Cummings, political leader of the Alternative National Congress, similarly made the rounds in Bong, Nimba, Bomi and Grand Gedeh looking to shore up support for the Collaborating Political Parties’ candidates competing in the legislative race.
Grand Bassa County Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence and Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon both dared Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe on his turf in Bomi County to declare their support for Charles Brown against Senator Snowe’s candidate Finda Gborie Lansanah, wife of the late Lahai Lansannah.
Even Senator Prince Johnson, the former warlord, with massive influence in Nimba saw his Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction(MDR) candidate, Francis Nya Maweah perform dismally.
As vote tallies came in late Tuesday night, it was clear that the results would not reflect the expectations of the usual powerbrokers, complicating what is now likely to serve as a wake-up call for not just the opposition CPP alliance but the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change as well.
Although the National Elections Commission is yet to announce official results, numbers from polling stations recorded by observers suggest that the ruling CDC and the CPP are all poised to suffer massive losses.
In Grand Gedeh, which has been a stronghold of the ruling CDC for years, the ruling party lost to the Liberia Restoration Party (LRP) candidate, Erol Madison Gwion Sr. The county has voted CDC since 2005 when it was in opposition.
From the preliminary results which were pasted on the walls of the polling precincts and signed by party agents, Gwion polled 3,109 votes against the CDC candidate Mr. Jeremiah Garwo Sokan who garnered 2,698 votes.
In Bong County, James Kolleh of the People’s Unification Party is poised to win with 4,283 votes for 33.3 percent reporting. The CDC’s Melvin K. Salvage is second with 3,582 votes for 30.2 percent. In Bomi County, Finda Gborie Lansanah, widow of the late Senator Lahai Lansanah, running as an independent, leads with 3,945 votes for 42.2 percent while Varney J. Kpakpa of the LRP is running second with 3,229 votes for 34.5 percent.
So, what went wrong?
Amid the political machinations and intrigue that has defined Liberia’s political theater, why did voters reject the ruling establishment and the self-proclaimed alternatives in one go?
For the ruling CDC, insiders and political observers point to a controversial decision by Minister McGill to form an auxiliary band outside the party’s existing structure as a key reason the party is set to miss out on an important opportunity to score points over the opposition and solidify its chances for the 2023 elections.
Multiple sources within the ruling CDC confirmed to FrontPageAfrica late Wednesday that the McGill influence was also a factor in Grand Gedeh where the ruling party is poised to lose.
According to a party insider, candidate Jeremiah Sokan surfaced through McGill and Senator Zoe Pennoh’s connection while Madison Gwion, a member of the ruling CDC was heavily antagonized by Senator Pennoh found himself entangled in a rivalry between the two Senators Pennoh and Albert Marshall Dennis.
“Pennoh dictates the pace on everything taking place in Zwedru,” said a party source speaking on condition of anonymity. “His power comes from McGill. Madison Gwion was the favorite of the party but Pennoh-McGill decided otherwise because they didn’t want Marshall Dennis to come out stronger in a Madison victory because Gwion is very close to Marshall.”
The source said Minister McGill had called him Gwion to a meeting once and asked him to back off the race because they had chosen Jeremiah Garwo Sokan.
FrontPageAfrica has learned that the ruling CDC Caucus in Grand Gedeh is heavily divided with Pennoh, Rep. Grant on one side and Marshall Dennis and others on another.
In Bong County, party sources fear that McGill is overzealous about making himself into a political alternative.
The source cited the Margibi, Bong and Nimba cash and scholarship interventions as part of that plan in hopes that it will further expand further into other counties.
In Bong, McGill came under fire from rival candidates accusing him of favoring one side over the other. Supporters of the National Patriotic Party (NPP) accused the minister of supporting two candidates in the race.
Their charges against the minister came days after he was seen campaigning along with Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor in Gbarnga for the ruling party’s candidate, Melvin Savage.
Savage was endorsed at a political rally in Gbarnga by McGill, who reportedly contributed cash to his campaign. But partisans of Howard-Taylor’s NPP accused McGill of also playing double standard by supporting an opposition candidate despite his public appearance with Savage.
Terrance Benson, a partisan of the NPP, also accused McGill of financing the campaign of the People’s Unification Party candidate James Kolleh in a bid to prove that the vice president has lost hold of the county.
Vice President Howard-Taylor has also been engulfed in a feud with President George Weah on a number of key political decisions in Bong County, ranging from her honor as the county’s highest traditional icon to her refusal to endorse the candidate of the party in the 2020 senatorial elections in the county.
Though Howard-Taylor didn’t publicly endorse any candidate at the time, political pundits believed her actions may have hurt the party following the election of the opposition candidate Prince Moye.
Additionally, partisans of the NPP fear that the reported feud between President Weah and Howard-
Taylor is still fresh and visible, accusing Minister McGill to be on a mission in Bong to deface the vice president. “We still think the internal fight within the ruling coalition is still visible and it could spill over to the November 16 by-election in Bong County,” Deborah Flomo, partisan of the NPP told FPA recently.
Multiple sources confirmed to FPA Wednesday that Minister Mcgill and others tried to control the party from the outside, instead of working with the party chair and hierarchy. “When that wasn’t possible, they began driving their own alternative plans; work outside the party and make it seem you’re simply zealous to forster the president’s re-election strategy,” one source averred.
For example, Rep. Melvin Cole, an antagonist of VP Taylor, is McGill’s chief executioner in the county. “He’s the sole authority there on McGill’s behalf. He’s also a fierce critic of the VP and the two are always at variance. He’s at the forefront of the scholarship efforts, which is carried out without the party,” the source stated.
All this against the backdrop that the ruling party has a leadership in the county led by Sayblee Weay, he’s chairman of Bong Chapter. “The party is caught in the middle of the McGill/Jewel fight, neither of them supports the party’s activities in Bong. McGill runs a private program to give himself a name brand while the VP runs a pro-NPP program.”
One party official is concerned that using resources in a by-election outside the party, or creating the impression that ‘Money wins’ continues to be a mistake that could come back to haunt the ruling party in 2023. “It happened in montserrado and the same mistake was just repeated in Bong.”
The party insider said, Savage was in all honesty, the choice of the party’s county leadership in Bong, but his campaign was hijacked by two power interests, both determined to show that Savage’s victory would be his/her and not the other’s.
“To be very honest with you, most of the party’s pre-2017 strength/momentum has been restored and reignited, owing to my experience in the USA and several counties I visited recently. If our guys will return support to the party and let the party handle critical Democratic decisions, Weah will be re-elected very easily, which is what we are all striving to achieve, but through the party’s institutional framework.”
In Nimba, the source said it was difficult for the party to support Sam Brown who is projected to win the race in Nimba because of Prince Johnson. “Sam Brown is a member of the ruling party and has always supported us. Senator Johnson insisted our support for him would cut off his fir our 2023 ambition.
The party faced a similar dilemma in Bomi with Snowe who had committed to supporting the ruling party in the 2023 elections which the source says, was crucial to its decision to remain neutral.
Political commentator Menipakei Dumoe says the By-Elections test run of the CDC’s new interior led victory strategy was supposed to be victory in Bong County District 2 by-election and Nimba County District 1 by-election. However, Dumoe says the results have proven otherwise as an opposition candidate from the People Unification Party won big in Bong and independent won ahead of PYJ candidate in Nimba. “These outcomes means declining popularity of the two influencers Weah was counting to help him make up for losses in Montserrado.”
THE CPP BLUNDER
While many political pundits are already trumpeting the projected losses from Tuesday’s elections as signal of what’s to come for the ruling CDC, the opposition itself have a lot of reasons for concern.
George Wisner, a prominent member of the former ruling CDC, in a Facebook post following Tuesday’s elections acknowledged that the result suggests the opposition alliance must rethink its strategy heading into the 2023 elections.
“We reiterate that there is a need for the CPP to unite. Sorry, but those who argue otherwise, disrespect us, and even brand us for working to unite CPP, either need to see the psychiatrist or need to learn some basic lessons in political psychology. “
Like the ruling CDC, the opposition alliance broke away from the unity formula that drove them to victory in Midterm elections last December and the by-elections before that took Senator Abraham Darius Dillon to the Senate.
Over the past few months, infighting and backstabbing over petting differences and ego tripping amongst the leaders of the various parties making up the CPP coalition.
The CPP entered the primaries as divided as ever with major disagreements centering on the organization’s framework, block voting and whether or not the parties should forego a primary to select the standard bearer or coronate one of the two main candidates, Joseph Boakai or Alexander Cummings to run against the incumbent Weah.
Some supporters of Mr. Boakai have been adamant that Mr. Cummings should give way for Boakai to head the ticket with Cummings as a running mate. Cummings supporters counter that the process should play out, ending with a primary to choose the best candidate to face President Weah.
In a recent interview on both the Voice of America and the BBC, former Vice President Boakai committed himself to the Framework Document of the CPP, especially the processes outlined therein for the selection of candidates for national elections.
Mr. Cummings has also expressed his willingness to abide by the framework. However, the commitment from both Boakai and Cummings has been eclipsed by the disagreement amongst the supporters from both camps.
Some political observers say, the opposition CPP alliance risk alienating Liberians sympathizers whose patience are running out amid the lingering disagreement and ego-trips within the CPP as everyone trumpeting themselves as the best person to face Weah – on their own – and defeating the purpose of why the CPP was formed.
For Wisner, the onus is on the CPP to hold or risk losing out to the ruling CDC in 2023. “You cannot take the Liberian people for granted, abuse their trust, and still beat your chest about numbers. As in modern warfare, the battle is not won relying on numbers but on proper planning and strategy. LIROI once again calls on the CPP to sincerely resolve all outstanding issues, recommit to the Framework Agreement, and refocus on the task for which the Liberian people reposed confidence or risk serious political consequences. We remain optimistic and will work with those who want to work with us.”
Samuel Sakama, a Boakai sympathizer aptly concludes that the just-ended by-elections is not just a wakeup call but a clarion call for the CPP to shift gear. “Both the ruling CDC and main opposition CPP must review these results and readjust going into 2023. We must listen to the voters. Unpopular presidential candidates will be rejected. Money alone won’t take any candidate there; we need to put forward candidates who the voters know and can relate with. Popularity will still be the most important thing going into 2023, not just good ideas! And those who intend to run as independents for the presidency can be hopeful.”