Liberia: Opposition Alliance Risks Midterm Elections’ Losses with Messy, Indecisive Gamble
Monrovia – The opposition alliance, comprising the All Liberian Party, Alternative National Congress, Liberty Party, and the former Unity Party’s best shot at sending a clear message to the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change, is a strong performance in this year’s Senatorial Mid-Term elections. However lingering disagreement and dissent over the choice of candidates for key vote-rich counties appear to be splitting hairs and dampening the chances of capitalizing on the missteps of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change.
At a negotiations meeting held in February, the four parties divided fourteen counties amongst them with each party allotted counties in which they would field candidates.
Breaking Down the Counties
The breakdown was as follows: Benoni Urey’s All Liberia Party(ALP) was given Gbarpolu County, Margibi, Grand Gedeh; Alternative National Congress(ANC) was given Nimba County, Maryland County, Cape Mount, River Gee; Liberty Party(LP) was given Montserrado County, Grand Bassa County, Rivercess County while the former ruling Unity Party was given Bong, Lofa, Sinoe, Bomi. No space was allotted from Grand Kru where Senator Peter Coleman, formerly of the ruling CDC is the incumbent.
With gender and geographical representation keen to be a deciding factor, the February negotiations reportedly sought to play to the strengths and weaknesses of each of the parties and leaving it to them to field the best possible candidates with the best chance of winning for the alliance.
According to briefing notes from that meeting obtained by FrontPageAfrica, Margibi, was the only county contested during the negotiation by UP. However, during the negotiation UP relinquished Margibi to ANC. The rest of the counties weren’t contested which rendered the negotiation sealed on the three counties – Gbarpolu County, Margibi, Grand Gedeh, in favor of ALP.
For the ANC, Nimba was the only county contested during the negotiation by LP. Having negotiated, LP relinquished Nimba to ANC. The rest of the counties – Maryland, Cape Mount and River Gee
weren’t contested which rendered the negotiation sealed on the four counties n favor of ANC.
In the case of Liberty Party(LP), all counties – Montserrado, Grand Bassa and Rivercess –
chosen by LP were not contested. This rendered the negotiation sealed on the three counties in favor of LP.
For the former ruling UP, Bong was the only county contested during the negotiation by UP, ALP and ANC. Having negotiated, both ALP and ANC, relinquished Bong to UP. The rest of the counties – Bong, Lofa, Sinoe, Bomi weren’t contested which rendered the negotiations sealed on the four counties in favor of UP
A total of 15 Senators will be seeking reelection adding more intrigue. Those up for reelection are: Senators Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence (Grand Bassa), Dan Morias (Maryland), Peter Coleman (Grand Kru), Matthew Jaye (River Gee), Alphonso Gaye (Grand Gedeh), Edward Dagoseh (Grand Cape Mount), Henry Yallah (Bong), Thomas Grupee (Nimba), George Tengbeh (Lofa), Sando Johnson (Bomi), Armah Jallah (Gbarpolu), Oscar Cooper (Margibi) and Dallas Gweh (River Cess).
Over the past few days, the Senate Judiciary Committee has been holding a series of discussions aimed at finding the best solution to request the postponement of a referendum and the Senatorial Midterm elections, schedule for later this year, from the National elections Commission (NEC) due to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
A Push for Gender Balance
As far back as 2010, former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf began toying with the idea that the National Legislature give serious consideration to the bill seeking 30 percent women participation in political representation.
Last June, UN Women Liberia director, Marie Goreth Nizigama, argued that the current disparity between men and women in Liberia’s politics is not only scary, but also poses a serious challenge to Liberia meeting its international obligations on gender equality and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The 2008 census placed women at 49.5% of the total population and the National Elections Commission reported in 2017 that women made up 49% of the registered voters, yet there are currently 9 women in the House of Representatives out of 73 seats and one woman in the Senate out of 30 seats. That woman, Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence(LP, Bassa), says change is long over due.
“This will be my biggest female fight because I believe in Edith and I have made it clear to the CPP that we must realize the 30 percent portion of female participation. Right now, we are not even at ten percent. We can’t have all men. It’s something that I will fight, I’m not agreeing.”Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence(Liberty Party, Grand Bassa)
The Grand Bassa lawmaker has not hidden her desire to see more women representation in the legislature. “We do not have 30 percent and any county we have a strong female capable of winning, we will fight for that person. It doesn’t matter which party they are from, we will conduct Voters’ Perception Surveys to get a sense who has the best chance of winning and based on that we can make our case.”
One case, the Grand Bassa Senator is pushing is that of Edith Gongloe Weh, a former Superintendent of Nimba.
Weh put up a strong showing in the 2014 Senatorial elections, giving the incumbent Prince Johnson a good fight in key districts in the vote-rich Nimba.
Senator Lawrence sees her as one of the sure bets if the opposition alliance is to make some gains in the Midterm elections. “This will be my biggest female fight because I believe in Edith and I have made it clear to the CPP that we must realize the 30 percent portion of female participation. Right now, we are not even at ten percent. We can’t have all men. It’s something that I will fight, I’m not agreeing.”
Roseline Sneh, a former Grand Kru County Superintendent is also said to be heavily courted to run in Grand Kru. She previously ran on white ballot in the primary of the Movement for Economic Empowerment or MOVEE and contested for theelectoral district#2 legislative seat in the 2014 elections. Sneh finished an impressive second to then- Independent candidate, Albert Chie. This time around, she faces the incumbent, Peter Coleman.
Coleman, briefly resigned from the ruling party but returned to contest ahead of the upcoming Senatorial elections.
While many see Gongloe-Weh, owing to her strong showing in the 2014 elections against the incumbent Senator Johnson, as the CPP’s best shot at Nimba, the ANC appears to be already decided on fielding the little-known Taa Wongbe, a Cummings’ loyalist, a decision that is not going down well with some members of the collaboration.
“I am a prodigal son, a son that was part and parcel from the beginning of this party, but I don’t know, maybe that malaria got my head and I went the other way. But distinguish partisans, I have come back home and I am moved by the reception that you have given this prodigal son,” Senator Coleman declared following his return in 2018.
Gongloe or Wongbe? ANC’s Nimba Quagmire
While many see Gongloe-Weh, owing to her strong showing in the 2014 elections against the incumbent Senator Johnson, as the CPP’s best shot at Nimba, the ANC appears to be already decided on fielding the little-known Taa Wongbe, a Cummings’ loyalist, a decision that is not going down well with some members of the collaboration. “Why is the ANC saying they have candidates lined up when we are still in the process of scouting the best candidates?, an executive of the CPP said at the weekend. “We have to win at least between eight and 10 of the upcoming races and we must have winning candidates. It’s not about party or individual but the ultimate goal, which is to win,” the source, speaking on condition of anonymity said.
Cummings has quietly defended his decision to stick with Wongbe against growing opposition within the CPP. This was evident during the February meeting when the ANC went the distance with LP in pursuit of the county, with LP finally giving in.
Had LP won the tussle, Gongloe would have been a sure bet to run on the CPP ticket. Bearing some kind of miracle, it appears that ANC and Cummings appear likely to swallow the bitter pill to what political watchers say, could be its own detriment, and Cummings as well.
The Nimba quagmire is already generating a quarterbacking scenario as to whether the CPP rushed in designating counties to early.
Weh, a long-serving Superintendent received votes from nearly all the polling centers in the County in 2014 and pushed Senator Johnson to the limit.
Like 2014, the upcoming elections in the county is also expected to resurrect an aging concern that of the Gio dominance in the county. Currently, the two Senators from the county belong to the Gio segment of Nimba, something that has rattled a few nerves amongst the Mano-speaking population, in previous elections.
Things have been so tense that there have been some suggestions that the county be split into two in a bid even the tribal tilt. The Gio ethnic group occupy the upper portion of Nimba while the Manos settle in the lower part of the county.
In fact, in 2018, Rep. Roger Domah(UP, District #7, Nimba) rejected murmurs about splitting the county into two. Domah cautioned the county caucus against meddling in citizens’ politics with talk of splitting the county.
Measuring 11,551 square kilometres (4,460 sq mi), Nimba is the largest of Liberia’s 15 counties with six statutory districts. As of the 2008 Census, it had a population of 462,026, making it the second most-populous county in Liberia.
Until 1964, Nimba was part of Central Province, which included present-day Bong County.
Nimba was one of five new counties created in 1964 by President Tubman with the aim of addressing the issue of unequal representation. Prior to 1964 Liberia was divided into five counties, Grand Cape Mount, Montserrado, Grand Bassa, Sinoe and Maryland, 3 provinces, and 4 territories namely Marshall, Bomi Territory, Gibi Territory, Kru Coast Territory and Sasstown Territory.
The provinces were Central Province, which includes present- day Nimba and Bong counties, Western Province which comprises present-day Lofa and Gbarpolu counties, and Eastern Province, made up of present-day, River Gee, Grand Gedeh, and Grand Kru counties.
Tough Potential Matchups for CPP
Even more troubling for Cummings, throwing Nimba away will now leave him with his hometown, Maryland County, where the incumbent Dan Morias is still solid, Cape Mount with Edward Dagoseh’s influence and River Gee where Matthew Jaye is also strong. Although Jonathan Sogbie, the party’s likely candidate in that race could put up a strong resistance. In 2017, Sogbie finished third with 1,204 votes for13.8 percent behind the winner Francis Young with 2,140 votes for 24.6 percent and ALP’s WUO, Ib Choloplay who came in second with 1,596 votes for 18.3 percent. An 0 for 4 result could seal Cummings’ fate as a serious contender for the presidency in 2023.
Political observers say, the complexities of the CPP arrangement in relations to the upcoming elections could weigh heavily on the alliance’s ultimate goal of winning majority of the Senate seats up for grabs especially when fifteen incumbent Senators are unlikely to go down without a fight.
Despite massive criticisms against many of the current Senators eyeing reelection, removing nearly all of them could eventually prove to be a tall order for the opposition, still indecisive and yet defiant in their choices and preferences regarding their respective candidates.
The difficulties is not just in Nimba but in other counties as well.
For example, Cummings and the ANC’s gamble and defiance on putting up Wongbe comes with a lot of risk. Besides the language barrier, Wongbe is new to the county politics. Political watchers say, Cummings is risking his political survival on an unproven candidate in the county where the CPP could have their best shot although the incumbent, Thomas Grupee could pose some resistance.
Even more troubling for Cummings, throwing Nimba away will now leave him with his hometown, Maryland County, where the incumbent Morias is still solid, Cape Mount with Dagoseh’s influence and River Gee where Jay is also strong. Although Jonathan Sogbie, the party’s likely candidate in that race could put up a strong resistance.
In 2017, Sogbie finished third with 1,204 votes for13.8 percent behind the winner Francis Young with 2,140 votes for 24.6 percent and ALP’s WUO, Ib Choloplay who came in second with 1,596 votes for 18.3 percent. An 0 for 4 result could seal Cummings’ fate as a serious contender for the presidency in 2023.
The same applies to the other parties in the alliance.
With murmurs that Senator Gaye will not be contesting after nine years in the Senate, Urey’s ALP could benefit with a strong candidate in the county. However, Margibi, bracing for the return of former Speaker of the House of Representative Emmanuel Nuquay and the incumbent Oscar Cooper could prove to be a tough one. Unseating former Pro Temp Armah Jallah could also be a challenge for the ALP.
Liberty Party could be the best of the four parties in terms of the potential for results. In the incumbent, Darius Dillon, the party will be a force to reckon with.
Dillon, backed by UP, LP, ANC and ALP, secured a total of 102,549 votes representing 55.74 percent while his closest rival, Paulita Wie of the ruling CDC, obtained 63,971 votes representing 34.77 percent.
Not since the election of George Weah, in the 2014 Senatorial by-elections, has a candidate performed so well in Montserrado. Weah won 78% of the votes en route to an emphatic Senate victory when he defeated Robert Sirleaf, the son of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who took nearly 11%.
Dubbed “The Light” in the Senate, Dillon is expected to pose a formidable threat to a ruling party, still unsure who to put up against the LP Senator due to his rising popularity.
While it is unclear who his opponent from the ruling party would be, several names are being thrown around, including Commerce Minister Professor Wilson Tarpeh, Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee, General Services Agency Director Mary Broh and Assistant Gender Minister Mamemsie Kabba.
The incumbent, Karnga-Lawrence is also looking strong in Grand Bassa County, with her likely challenger, Gbezohnga Finley, Minister of Foreign Affairs still toying with the idea of running but is yet to announce his intent.
Findley, the former Pro Temp of the Senate has already missed the deadline to resign his position and it is still unclear whether or not he will contest.
That leaves Rivercess County where Dallas Gueh is the incumbent. Finding a strong candidate to go against Gueh could present an opportunity for the LP to score a sweep.
UP’s Boakai and the Lofa Quagmire
Like Cummings, Boakai is facing similar predicament in Lofa. Under the CPP arrangement for Lofa County, Boakai and the Unity Party have to decide and choose from the pool of possible UP candidates, including former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai, former Assistant Labor Minister/former GSA Deputy Director General, Cole Bangalu, as well as Lofa County District #4 Representative, Mariama Fofana.
The former Vice President, who is the Standard Bearer of UP, and the traditional Grand Uncle of Lofa has not yet given any indication about his preference.
Under the CPP arrangement candidates are to be presented within a time limit far ahead of NEC’s deadline for nomination of candidates. This hesitancy, and indecisiveness on the part of UP Standard Bearer, is reminiscent of the much-controversial delay in the naming of his running mate in the run-up to the 2017 presidential and general elections. Subsequently, his choice of running mate at the time became a surprise and a disappointment. Political watchers say another messy climax may be looming with lack of leadership and unclear path in selecting their choice to contest the Senatorial seat for Lofa County.
UP is faced with deciding between two of the three candidates who have been outspoken and active executive members of the Unity Party, Bangalu and Fofana, against a staunch supporter of UP Standard Bearer, but a nonexecutive member of the Unity Party and former Defense Minister Samukai.
Madam Fofana has reportedly laid out options which she is pursuing if she is not the candidate for UP.
Reports have it that Fofana has been a consistent proponent of 5-G passages for the ruling party (CDC) against UP’s interest. With this cloud of suspicion, it is reported that Fofana is considering the option of being a candidate for PUP (where she is a founding member), or the party of Hon. Alhaji Kromah (an alliance of cultural interests). There is a perception that Mariama has a stronger following among specific segment of the Lofa population, which shares commonality with border communities of neighboring countries. Such alliance seems to give her a lead since there may be homogeneity of interest. Finally, there are rumors that the UP-Standard Bearer is very unhappy with Mariama which might be a factor in his choice of candidate.
At the same time, Bangalu is relying on his portfolio as UP Executive Member, who has consistently been among the leadership who have organized and participated in discussions, and activities leading to primaries in selecting candidates for UP.
Examples include primaries conducted in Lofa with Francis Nyumalin, Cllr. Beyan Howard; Bong with Dr. Togba; and Montserrado District #13). It is reported that during these discussions, and pre-primary activities held to select candidates in these Districts, under the tutorship of Bangalu and others, political manipulation and machinations took place, which led UP to select candidates who were resoundingly defeated in the elections.
The most damning was the triumph of Nyumalin, who lost the UP primary but later ran on the ticket of the Union of Liberian Democrats(ULD) and won.
Bangalu is known to be a sports enthusiast in Lofa county and has been a staunch supporter and promoter of sports in Lofa, especially the football team. This could be an added advantage to his intention and a consideration for his selection.
For his part, Samukai has reportedly been conducting a military-style strategy in preparing for elections 2020, when he began his efforts in April of 2018. Our investigation revealed that Mr. Samukai began a count-down strategy of 29-months to D-Day, from May of 2018 to elections day 2020. Throughout Lofa he has organized Friends of Samukai and have been successful in shaping the debate of elections 2020 long before some of his adversaries. Samukai has of late been engaging Officials and Executives of UP, including members of the youth wing of the Unity Party. Samukai major advantage is his deep connection with UP’s Standard Bearer, which is undisputed
The UP Standard Bearer is faced with a decision in which he doesn’t want to isolate any segment of the Lofa population. He seems to be following a thin line to have all segment of Lofa represented in the political sphere of the county. It is this kind of strategy that has people mummering that Uncle Boakai once again may disappoint partisans for being late and undecisive.
It is yet to be seen which way Unity Party may decide to field a candidate that is favored by the people of Lofa, and has the best chance of ensuring that Unity Party do not loose this Senatorial Seat to another party. It would be much easier if the Grand Uncle of Lofa County, who is also the Standard Bearer of Unity Party, were to clearly indicate his intention or his choice to avoid another case of lack of leadership and vacillation. If Unity Party looses this Senatorial Seat in Lofa County, it would mean that the Standard Bearer has lost his best chance of a solid base to contest in 2023. So the ball is in the court of the Standard Bearer and Grand Uncle of Lofa, to take a clear position for once and decide which way UP should go, without the rigor of confusion and division among UP partisans.
All this as the incumbent George Tengbeh, formerly of the former ruling UP appears to be on the ropes. Over the past few weeks, he has been flirting with the ruling CDC in hopes of running on their ticket in the upcoming elections. Tengbeh triggered a wave of criticisms recently when he filed a complaint against Senator Dillon to the Senate leadership, accusing him of opening rebuking his peers in the Senate.
A Dog Fight for Bong
Bong is poised to present perhaps the most intriguing matchup. Both the incumbent, Yallah(People’s Unification Party) and Prince Moye(District No. 2,UP) leading the way,
Both men have already been going at each others throats in the buildup to the elections. Last December, Moye, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives took Yallah to task over an alleged bill proffered to divide Bong County as a recipe for disunity.
Moye said dividing Bong County will also spur land disputes, urging citizens of the county not to support anyone who intends to boundary the County.
In 2018, Yallah announced that his intent to ensure that the lower fragment of the county gained county status through a legislation. Some citizens in lower Bong County were supportive of Senator Yaollah’s idea to divide the County, but others both from upper and lower Bong County are against the idea of dividing the County.
Incumbent Johnson vs. ‘King-Kong’ Tyler in Bomi?
The pair have also been at loggerheads since Moye spoke of his interest in seeking Yallah’s job.
In the wings is Menipakei Dumoe, Vice Chair of Administration within the Council of Patriots(COP). Dumoe has been flirting with the idea of running since his arrest in the aftermath of his controversial statement on Facebook: “We don’t need bags of rice. I say the poor in Liberia need AK47s so our leaders can take us seriously.
The Sinoe race could be interesting. The incumbent, Augustine Chea narrowly won the by-election last November, with 5,806 votes or 36.2 percent to his closest challenger, Romeo Thomas Quiah of the United People’s Party (UPP) who trailed with 4,772 or 29.7 percent.
Quiah is rumored to be courted by the CPP to contest under their banner this time around in hopes that the three-party backing could propelling him to victory this time around.
The Bomi race is poised to see the return of former Speaker Alex Tyler to the fold of national politics as he is expected to challenge the powerful incumbent Sando Johnson. Tyler is said to be looking for an assist from another former Senator Lahai Lansanah who could play spoiler as he and Johnson could split votes.
Johnson, formerly a member of the ruling CDC coalition from the National Patriotic Party wing, last week spoke of becoming a full member of the CPP in hopes of cementing his chances of retaining his seat. “As we speak, I am collaborating, I am working with the CPP because I believe in the framework document,” the Senator said.
With the much-anticipated framework agreement committing the four parties to the alliance now signed and sealed, the unfolding realities and potential dangers lying ahead may finally be sinking in as the parties ponder reshaping their focus in the coming weeks to revisiting the February agreement and weighing the pros and cons of what has already been set in stone amid the looming ramifications for the foreseeable future.