Liberia: Lingering Cummings-Urey Beef Threatening to Collapse Opposition CPP Collaboration


Monrovia – Regarded as the skeleton in the closet, no one, including former Vice President Joseph Boakai, Senators Abraham Darius Dillon and Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, appear ready to admit or acknowledge; a beef in the making since the February 2019 formation of what was first seen as a formidable opposition collaboration of  – the All Liberian Party, Alternative National Congress(ANC), Liberty Party(LP) and former ruling Unity Party(UP); appears to be in tatters.

Analysis by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]

Last weekend’s climax to the Nimba County primary of the Collaborating Political Parties(CPP) to elect the candidate to represent the opposition in the upcoming Senatorial Midterm elections on December 8, has once again exposed a lingering dilemma facing the four parties’ quest to make things difficult for the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change.

The chaotic end to Sunday’s primary has created a stalemate with the Alternative National Congress declaring that it will not accept the results of the primary that has declared the Liberty Party-backed Edith Gongloe Weh as the winner over the ANC-backed Taa Wongbe. The Liberty Party has however said it will accept the results despite the controversial climax with its chair Steven Zargo telling FrontPageAfrica Monday that his party supports the controversial election of Gongloe Weh over Taa Wongbe.

A rerun may be in the cards, but no one in authority of the CPP is speaking with certainty of a possibility. A meeting of the executive committee took place late Monday in a bid to resolve the impasse but no clarity was reached as this report went to press.

Egos Trips vs. Trading Barbs

The primary issue is being compounded by a lingering feud between the current head of the CPP, Mr. Alexander B. Cummings and the former head, Mr. Benoni Urey. Both men  have traded barbs over petty differences bordering egos even as the conundrum reaches a boiling point.

Mr. Urey has publicly declared that Mr. Cummings, in his own words, “was not fit to be President”, owing to his late arrival on the political landscape.

Mr. Urey says he prefers former Vice President Joseph Boakai.  “People  usually elect people who have worked in government. You don’t elect people who just come from a country and come to another country and want to be president. You elect people based on their experience and based on their reputation. And I think of the 3 candidates, Joe Boakai has the most experience; Joe Boakai has stood the test of time, and he’s a relatively decent person.”

As many took Mr. Urey to task over the timing and proximity of his comments, Mr. Cummings did not hold back, and has repeatedly expressed grave disappointment in Mr. Urey’s attacks, questioning the timing and impact of such a statement at a time when the opposition should be holding together. 

Mr. Urey’s assertions, Mr. Cummings said last October, is a deviation from the objectives of the CPP. “Those assertions are far from the truth. When the four (4) political parties agreed to come together on February 21, 2019 and we all affixed our signatures to the document, we decided to work together in a collaboration of independent parties and by 2023, put forth a single ticket for the Presidency in 2023.”

Mr. Cummings said at the time, he has supported Mr. Urey as the Chairman of the CPP and offered him his unflinching support during his tenure and also  made financial contributions and was on the campaign trail to support his daughter, Telia Urey’s quest for the District No. 15 Representative’s seat.

Despite the controversy, the beef between the pair remains unsettled and unresolved, prompting many political observers to suggest that the collaboration is in danger of a collapse if it is not resolved in time for the December 8, Midterm elections – and even more problematic for the 2023 general and presidential elections.

Multiple meetings and interventions between the pair have been made over the past year but the issue remains unresolved.

In the broad scheme of things, many political observers fear that Sunday’s drama may be a prelude to what could unfold when the parties meet in the aftermath of the December 8 Midterm elections to choose standard bearer and vice standard bearer to take on the incumbent President Weah.

Much Ado Over County Allocations

The crux of the latest episode has much to do not just with the ongoing primary but issues relating to representation, control and power play between the pair.

As part of the arrangement for the December 8 elections, the four-parties alliance was broken down as follows: The ANC was assigned Cape Mount, Maryland and Sinoe; the LP was assigned Bassa, Montserrado, Grand Kru  and Rivercess, UP was assigned UP, Bong, Lofa, Margibi while the ALP was assigned Gbarpolu, Bomi and Grand Gedeh. Both Nimba and RiverGee are up for contestation.

RiverGee County primary is still pending but is being ontested by UP, ALP and ANC.

Sunday’s chaotic climax in Nimba has made the process even more complicated and problematic for the collaboration.

As per the rules, no one party should have more than four counties. LP, already with four counties, actively advocated for Edith Gongloe Weh as its choice for Nimba and its political leader, Karnga-Lawrence was quick to endorse the controversial results of Sundays primary in Sanniquelliie.

Ironically, Section 11.5 of the Final CPP Framework document of the four-parties coalition regarding the Balance Distribution of Candidates for primaries stipulates: “In a representation, no Constituent Political Party shall have less than 20 percent or more than 35 percent of candidates of the CPP, unless by the party personal and voluntary deferment. Furthermore, the Alliance shall endeavor to uphold a 30 percent quota for female participation in legislative candidacy selection. The constituent political parties shall work diligently to resolve this aspiration.  

Endorsements Amid Primary Controversy

Senator Lawrence who has been a strong advocate within the CPP for more women inclusion, trumpeted Gongloe, who contested the seat twice as a sure bet to win. “Edith we have done a lot together and will win this time together! Congrats on the VPS victory and The Liberty Party is in Nimba with the mandate to ensure the LP primary victory. Thanks to the chair of the advisory committee Mussa Bility for heading the Liberty Party Team. We remain the most mature and party of integrity. CPP Strong! Democratic process!.”

The senator’s endorsement was supported by Ms. Telia Urey, daughter of businessman Benoni Urey, and most recently, chair of the opposition alliance. “Congratulations to this amazing woman! I am so, so proud of you! You’re so courageous! We are with you to the end Edith Gongloe Weh.”

Where it gets tricky is the ANC’s contention that the process was anything but democratic.

In a statement on his Facebook page Monday, Mr. Alexander Cummings, head of the four-party collaboration was emphatic that the process was flawed.

Said Cummings: “The situation in Nimba yesterday was truly disheartening. We, as the CPP, cannot claim to be different and act the same. Violence is never the solution and will not be the solution in the CPP. We cannot conduct ourselves in such a manner and expect to win the confidence of the Liberian people. We must do things differently, and as I consistently say and quote, “we can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results.” What happened in Nimba reflects exactly that – doing the same old things the same old ways and expecting different results.”

As Political Leader of the ANC and current Chair of the CPP, Mr. Cummings said it is unacceptable to have had an executive of the ANC or any constituent party badly injured as a result of the violence. “Taa Wongbe also incurred damage to his vehicle during the process. Everyone deserved to be given a chance to participate in the primary process in a safe, free, and fair environment. That did not happen. The ANC considers the situation grave and serious, and its leadership will be meeting tomorrow to decide the way forward, after which I will also be meeting with my CPP colleagues.”

Late Monday, the ANC as a party issued a statement denouncing the results. “Mr. Taa Wongbe was maliciously and abruptly prevented from participating by supporters of Madam Edith Gongloe with the eruption of violence, led and orchestrated by the ALP,” the statement said.

The ANC described the situation as unfortunate and preceded by series of blatant violations of the process, which when ultimately failed to frustrate Taa, leading to premeditated attacks on him and the party’s delegates and officials. “The refusal of Madam Gongloe’s team to allow ANC’s candidate to enter the stage was avoidable and should not have happened. Also notable is that while Taa attended to his injured partisans, an inconspicuous regrouping of the other parties without notice to our candidate took place to announce LP’s candidate, Edith Gongloe Weh as the CPP’s candidate. The ANC will not support the outcome of any process it was prevented from being a part of as a member of the CPP.”

As tensions began to boil over Monday, Senator Karnga-Lawrence simmered down her earlier endorsement without condemnation of the violence, saying in a statement: “The CPP is a response to the call of the Liberian people to heal and unite not just the opposition community but also the country. We know we will face difficulties along the way but our determination to succeed for the  Liberian people should never be  underestimated. Therefore, we join in the condemnation of the violence, and look to address same to avoid a recurrence after investigations and consultations with the leadership.”

The Senator is now urging partisans and well-wishers to remain calm, and refrain from any actions or public utterances that will further complicate the situation as we work out what is best for the CPP.

Though the CPP comprise four leading opposition political parties, the Nimba County primary was intended to be a two-horse race with Taa Wongbe of the Alternative National Congress and Ms. Edith Gongloe Weh of the Liberty Party going to neck-to-neck for the senatorial candidate slot on the CPP ticket.

The winner of the primary will face the incumbent Thomas Grupee, former senator Saye-Tayor Adolphus Dolo, former superintendent David Dorr Cooper, and former Representative Garrison Yealue and Representative Jeremiah Koung on December 8.

Last Saturday, signs of possible disruption of the process and perhaps commotion among member parties became glaring, twelve hours ahead of the initial voting time as the All Liberian Party (ALP) headed by businessman Benoni Urey suspended all members of its Nimba County leadership.

The Liberty Party (LP), the Unity Party (UP) and the ALP all failed to meet up with the deadline for the submission of its delegates listings to the CPP Secretariat for the facilitation of the process.

On Monday, multiple sources confirmed to FPA that the alliance’s election commission met to resolve the issues resulting in the aftermath of the primary’s chaotic climax by reaching out to the ANC to have Wongbe run as an independent eventhough both Wongbe and Gongloe signed a pre-primary agreement to support the other if the lost the primary.

Divide Widening in CPP

Interestingly, when the Declaration of Intent to Collaborate was signed at the headquarters of the Liberty Party in June of 2018 among the the four parties,  relationship among the three parties sailed smoothly. As the negotiations for collaborations continued, it was suggested that Urey’s ALP be brought on board in order to further have more parties on board.

Sunday’s chaotic climax appears at least for now to have widened the divide amongst the four collaborating parties.

In the broad scheme of things, many political observers fear that Sunday’s drama may be a prelude to what could unfold when the parties meet in the aftermath of the December 8 Midterm elections to choose standard bearer and vice standard bearer to take on the incumbent President Weah.

In the final analysis, the struggle for power may likely be the final straw to break the CPP’s back as rival supporters and executives from the four parties go at each other’s throat for survival and supremacy although with limited options to choose from amongst Boakai, Senator Karnga-Lawrence, Zargo or Dillon; Cummings and Urey on the slate.

Urey appears to be positioning himself as a possible VP to Boakai, should JNB become the presidential candidate. However, he may be handicapped by his past association to former President Charles Taylor, now serving time in a London prison.

The international community may not favor such combination owing to Mr. Urey’s Taylor connection.

Urey, who was on both the United Nations travel and assets freeze ban in the aftermath of the war, has also come under fire for appointing his daughter, Telia Urey, to every single committee in the CPP including the Executive Committee, Advisory Council and even the Ad-Hoc Committee responsible for Voter Perception Survey and Primaries within the CPP.

The appointment has spurred chatters of nepotism, something Mr. Urey and the opposition has chastised former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and current President Weah for over the past years.

Even more complicated for the CPP, is the Boakai-Cummings dilemma. Boakai, who served as vice president for twelve years under Sirleaf, could make the case that he should head the ticket over Cummings. The million dollar questions is whether Cummings may be willing to go as a number two to Boakai.

Sources also say, some discussions are also said to be in the card to throw Edith Gongloe-Weh in the mixed as a possible VP in hopes of a vote-rich Nimba and Lofa combo for the CPP. However, combinations for now appear to be the least of the CPP’s problems. Whether they can hold together until at least the December Midterm is key.

It hasn’t helped the CPP’s dilemma that since assuming the chairmanship, the former chair, Urey has not appeared together with the current chair, Cummings in public adding more fuel to an already burning fire, spreading out of control.

For the foreseeable future, the uncertainty over what took place in Sanniquellie Sunday puts the CPP in a rather complicated dilemma, one which each party in the alliance appear to be quietly projecting its own interest despite a glaring case of dissent, chaos and confusion that has left the alliance more divided than ever and rapidly becoming its own worst nightmare as the incumbent President Weah and the CDC monitor the unfolding developments in anticipation of its next political play.