Liberia: Opposition Bruhaha Draws Similarities That Triggered 2017 Alliance’s Demise

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Monrovia – Critics and opponents of George Weah have often made fun of his lack of formal education. That handicap was a key reason why he lost the elections in 2005 to the Harvard-trained and more experienced Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. It also played a major role in Mr. Weah’s decision to play second fiddle, six years later as running mate to Ambassador Winston Tubman in the 2011 Presidential elections.

By the time the 2017 elections came around, talks of alliances and coalitions to take on the incumbent ruling Unity Party dominated the political stratosphere, culminating into a document dubbed The Ganta Declaration, in which political parties agreed to collaborate and work together for victory.

The formation was the brainchild of influential Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson. The declaration was signed in September 2016 and brought together about 20 opposition political parties who signed a communiqué to form a common political collaborative front against the ruling Unity Party (UP) ahead of the October 2017 elections.

The Demise of the Ganta Declaration

The parties, led by the late Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party, Weah and his Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), the newcomer Alexander Cummings and the Alternative National Congress, Senator Johnson’s Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR), and Mr. Benoni Urey of the All-Liberia Party, at the time appeared to be a strong statement of intent to challenge the ruling establishment.

Other parties involved in the Ganta Declaration included the Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE), Movement for Progressive Change, All Liberia Coalition Party, Victory for Change Party, New Liberia Party, Vision for Liberia Transformation, Union of Liberian Democrats and Liberian Nation Union (LINU).

In only a matter of days, the Ganta Declaration was dead.

A sticking point at the time centered around the fact that all of the four political parties were angling to pitch the idea of either one of them heading the ticket with Weah serving as a vice standard bearer.

In trying to configure a ticket, ALP’s Urey detested the idea of the coalition being centered around Brumskine and Weah. More importantly, Mr. Urey felt that formulating an alliance just to put Weah and Brumskine together was unfair to the others, going as far as to suggest that the entire program was a set up. In the end, all the parties came to the conclusion that they would all run on their own and whoever emerged into the second round would enjoy the support of all the other parties.

Urey raised a lot of roadblocks and was engaged in a near-fistfight with the late Brumskine in the home of Senator Johnson.

The lack of trust amongst the key political leaders was a contributing factor the alliance’s demise.

Weah Bolts; Forms New Alliance

Not too long after the collapse, Weah and his CDC formed an alliance with Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Party, and Alex Tyler’s Liberia People’s Democratic Party (LPDP). Nathaniel Barnes Liberia Destiny Party later joined the alliance.

Many political observers at the time said it Weah and the CDC had not abandoned the Ganta Declaration he would not have been able to form a coalition with NPP and the LPDP and could have very well been entangled in similar predicament members of the Collaborating Parties that includes LP, ANC, ALP and UP now find themselves.

At the time, Mr. Weah came under a lot of scrutiny for embracing the political arm of former President Charles Taylor. In hindsight, however, the move paid off and proved Weah to be a political genius as the former World Footballer of the Year, now fully became entrenched in politics.

Mr. Weah and the CDC’s decision to form an alliance with the NPP and the LPDP was not only greeted with mixed reviews but also threw a monkey wrench in the efforts resulting from the Ganta Declaration.

Multiple sources privy to the behind-the-scenes discussions at the time said Mr. Weah felt some degree of disrespect amid dissenting egos incapable of striking a deal or coming up with a clear-cut conclusion, settling in the end, for a vaguely worded statement agreeing not to attack or castigate each other.

The Ganta Resolution concluded: “Opposition political parties that are signatories to this declaration hereby make a seldom pledge not to castigate or denigrate each other in any manner and form. In the event of disagreement among or between political parties the matter shall be refer to the joint technical committee for resolution.”

Weah Insisted on No. 1

What made the Weah arrangement with the LPDP and the NPP work was simple. Mr. Weah insisted and got the agreement from the other two parties that he would head the ticket under the new formation now branded, the Coalition for Democratic Change.

With that out of the way, it was a foregone conclusion that former Taylor’s First Lady Jewel Howard Taylor and influential Senator from vote-rich Bong County would serve as running mate to Weah, edging out LDP leader Barnes and embattled Speaker Tyler.

The new bloc had thus, satisfied Weah and the CDC’s long-held view that its political leader must head any ticket. Mr. Nathaniel McGill, Chair of the CDC at the time had been adamant that the CDC would not go second to another party.

Ironically, Mr. Weah threw pointed jabs at the other politicians who he believed had been unable to form an alliance, going as far as to slam Senator Johnson, who he said abandoned the opposition in the second round of the 2011 Presidential race. “We all say the same thing but in different tones. We have been in this for more than 10 years, speaking of the ills in society and the reason why it continues is because we refused to come together [due to] our self-ego and personal aggrandizement.  If we have the interest of the Liberian people, why are we all running? I believe in teamwork, and I think with a better team one idea and one vision we can liberate our people.”

For McGill, the CDC had always maintained that an effective collaboration with other political parties was necessary for a successfully victory in 2017.

Urey vs. the Framework Wahala

Fast forward to the current opposition reality, getting the CPP collaboration to work has not been easy.

It all started in August when Mr. Urey, political leader of the ALP alleged that high-ranking members of the CPP had altered the framework of the political body, despite it being existence for over a year. Mr.  Urey failed to mention the names of those he believes altered the framework, neither did he mention which part of the framework has been tampered with.

In an August 18 communication to the chair of the CPP, Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, Mr. Urey stated that his allegation stemmed from information gathered from impeccable sources and its validity cannot be doubted. 

He alleged, “Madam Chair, this letter essentially seeks to inform you that the All-Liberian Party (ALP) has reliably learned that certain portions and clauses within the organic framework document of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) have been dubiously, viciously, and purposefully altered allegedly by some nefarious individuals within the hierarchy of the CPP – and replaced by ‘Alien Clauses’ to engender ulterior motives.” 

He added, “While the ALP would not cast aspersions and make fast conclusions now, however, the unimpeachable sources from which we gathered this information, we can by no means possible doubt its validity. We are also cautioned not to take this information for granted because if such subversive maneuvering is not decisively foiled and dismissed, the CPP must brace for a fate of fatal consequences. It is no gainsaying that such a despicable and woeful act, if permitted to happen, will spell upon the CPP a brazen doom.”

The yet-to-be proven allegations from Mr. Urey has put the CPP at war with itself.

Both Mr. Urey and the former CPP head, Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence of the Liberty Party have outrightly pointed fingers at Mr. Alexander Cummings of the ANC who they have directly accused of tampering with the framework documents.

Mr. Cummings had insisted that he did not alter the Framework Agreement; but acted honorably in registering the CPP.

“We have all known, and I believe the public expected, that our decision to come together would have moments of disagreements. But no disagreement should weigh against our collective resolve to always put the interests of the Liberian people first, which is to hold the Weah government accountable; help to ease the suffering of Liberians under this corrupt, incompetent and wasteful government; and democratically end the failed Weah administration as a one-term presidency,” Cummings says.

The Brumskine-Urey Wahala

The framework disagreement draws similarity to some of the issues that led to the demise of the Ganta Declaration.

Like in 2017, Mr. Urey’s role as a spoiler is currently serving as one of the distractive forces in the CPP’s quest to hold.

During the discussions surrounding the Ganta Declaration, many of the key players involved in the negotiations recall an argument between Mr. Urey and late LP political leader Charles Brumskine.

The argument started when Mr. Urey raised an issue regarding the legal structuring of the Ganta Declaration which, he said was prepared by Cllr. Brumskine. Cllr. Brumskine took offense with Urey’s comment and then stated in a boastful tone that he was the most learned and most read lawyer in Liberia. Urey came back at him saying that he won’t allow Cllr. Brumskine to talk down to him as he is known for doing to others,” said one of the sources.

The pair had both served in the government of President Taylor, Brumskine as President Pro Temp and Urey, as Mr. Taylor’s aide and head of the lucrative Bureau of Maritime Affairs, now Liberia Maritime Authority (LMA).

Today, Mr. Urey is at war with Mr. Cummings of the ANC, drawing striking similarities to the failed Ganta Declaration.

Similarly, like his feud with Mr. Brumskine, Mr. Urey’s ongoing issues with Mr. Cummings is already threatening the survival of the CPP, making increasingly likely that the ruling CDC will likely have an easy ride to reelection in 2023.

Perhaps the most striking similarity is that of Talk Show host Henry Costa, a strong supporter of Mr. Urey and the ALP.  As he has been doing now, Mr. Costa supported Mr. Urey’s position in 2016, when he shot down the Ganta gathering as a much ado about nothing: “I regret to inform you all that the much talked-about meeting of opposition political parties in Ganta, Nimba County, was a failure,” he chimed on his Facebook page. “Nothing was accomplished. They met, lectured, ate and drank. No goals were set, and certainly no plans to advance the conversation for a possible coalition for 2017. It is a sad day for Liberia.”

Jackson: ‘Educated’ Out of Touch

Political economist Samuel P. Jackson, a supporter of President Weah’s second term bid says the ongoing bruhaha in the CPP is proving that educated Liberians are out of touch with the everyday average people. “Educated Liberians behave as if Facebook is the best medium to reach voters. They make countless circular arguments believing they can sway voters. While the so-called educated Liberians dabble in egocentric arguments the president is trying his darndest to connect with ordinary Liberians. The controversy over a 16-page Framework document is also irritating voters.”

Many political observers say the current leaders of the CPP could take a cue from Weah and how he handled the 2016 controversy by setting aside their egos for the good of their supporters.

The unfolding realities offer a clear reminder that once again as it was in the election of 1985 when President Samuel Doe bulldozed his way to victory; in 1997 when Charles Taylor achieved similar feat and 2011, when the opposition party leaders failed to unite and challenge the incumbent.

After bolting the on the Ganta Declaration in 2017, Mr. Weah was clear: “When we are having such discussion, it’s good to listen to avoid sounding redundant. We all say the same thing but in different tones. We have been in this for more than 10 years, speaking of the ills in society and the reason why it continues is because we refused to come together [due to] our self-ego and personal aggrandizement.”

At the time, Mr. Weah resonated the refrains of what many Liberians were thinking.

To his credit, Mr. Weah did put aside his ego in 2011, when he settled for second place to veteran diplomat, Ambassador Winston Tubman.

Cautionary Reminder from EJS

As Liberia limps toward the 2023 general and presidential elections, it is becoming increasingly clear that the opposition is in a self-destructive mode with the CPP collaboration seem bent on disintegrating with each political party within the collaboration feeling they can take on the incumbent CDC on its own, a belief former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has previously shot down.

In a FrontPageAfrica interview back in 2017, the former President made it clear that an opposition without a strong alliance would be difficult to sell in today’s Liberia.  “I don’t think any political party can win on its own giving the number of parties. So, if you see people negotiating, dialoguing, it is because that they have all realized that some coalition has to be made for a particular party or parties to be successful.”

Sirleaf’s former ruling UP finds itself in a rather tricky predicament: Are Liberians ready to bring the former ruling party which ruled for twelve years, back so soon? Many political observers are unsure that the UP is on the same level as the CDC was when it was in the opposition, an angst and fatigue of going against a two-term ruling party.

Ironically, in 2017, every major party ran on a mantra of change, CDC, Change for Hope, ANC, Real Change for Liberia and Liberty Party, New Era, Real Change.

The question is, are Liberians willing to give the UP another shot at change after only a six-year hiatus?

Running on its own raises daunting questions for all of the parties in the opposition and is not without its own gamble.

Debating the Numbers Game

The Liberty Party, Alternative National Congress and the All-Liberia Party all appear to have lapses and handicaps should they attempt to run on their own.

Numerically, judging from the results of the 2017 elections, the former ruling Unity Party secured 446,716(four hundred, forty-six thousand, seven hundred and sixteen votes for 28.76 percent; Brumskine’s LP secured 149, 495(one hundred forty-nine thousand, four hundred and ninety-five votes for 9.62 percent; Cummings’ ANC secured 112,067(one hundred, twelve thousand, 67 votes for 7.26 percent; Urey’s ALP managed 24,246(twenty-four thousand, two hundred and forty-six votes for 1.56 percent.

The X-Factor in all of this is Senator Prince Y. Johnson. The usual Kingmaker secured 127,666(one hundred, twenty-seven thousand, six hundred and sixty-six votes for 8.2 percent. Whichever way his support tilts could prove pivotal in 2023.

The million-dollar question for many is, will these numbers remain the same at the end of the 2023 elections? More importantly, which parties, running on their own will be capable of improving on the numbers from 2017 and how will those numbers shift the debate in the new dispensation and political configuration.

Individual members of rival parties are already preparing for the worse, with very little sign that there would be light at the end of the tunnel for the CPP. “People are frustrated by the daily running of the CDC’S administration and the disunity within the CPP is not healing their frustrations,” says Fubbi Henries, a member of the ANC, who lost his bid for the House of Representatives in the 2017 general elections.

As it is right now, according to former Vice President Joseph Boakai supporter, Patrick Honnah: “it is not still impossible for the CPP to hold regardless of who emerges head. But honestly, the damage caused in recent weeks is severe. CPP demonstrated how difficult it is for a group of educated people to work together with some understanding. Educated people would rather prefer an uneducated person to lead than their fellow educated person.”

Odds Stacked Against Disjointed Opposition

As far as numbers go, Weah and the CDC dominated the opposition for years. In 2005, the party obtained a plurality of votes in the first round of voting, garnering 28.3% of the vote. This qualified the party to compete in a run-off election against Sirleaf, the second placed candidate. However, he lost the run-off to Sirleaf on 8 November, garnering only 40.6% to 59.4% for Sirleaf.

Six years later, in 2011, the results were pretty much the same, especially in a field of more than a dozen candidates contesting for the presidency.

In the first round of the presidential election, incumbent President Sirleaf led the field with 43.9% of the vote, followed by CDC candidate, Winston Tubman with 32.7%. Once again, no candidate received an absolute majority, forcing Sirleaf and Tubman to faceoff in a run-off election held on November 8, 2011. Tubman alleged that the first round had been rigged in Sirleaf’s favor and called on his supporters to boycott the run-off. However, Sirleaf the winner of the run-off on 15 November 2011 with 90.7% of the vote.

Ironically, in both elections, Mr. Weah’s party, as an opposition alleged that the election had been rigged through voter intimidation and ballot tampering.

Ahead of the 2023 elections, Mr. Weah is turning the tables and confidently foreseeing a second term while his opponents are still battling egos and mired in a state of uncertainty. “In 2017, they pronounced that I’ll never become President in this country, now I’m the President. They’ve come again, they say I’ll be a one-term President, my work will speak for me. The Liberian people will go to the polls, and I’ll defeat any individual that will come in that race. Next election those people will be crying ‘They cheat me, they cheat me, because I’ll beat them unmercifully.”

President Weah is predicting that he will win all 15 counties in 2023 unlike 2017 where he won 14 of the 15 counties.

With so much lurking on the horizon ahead of the 2023 elections, the man who has repeatedly defied the odds about his perceived lack of education remains a force, much to the credit of a divided opposition facing an uncertain fate. “With all their education and experience, they have governed this nation for hundreds of years. They have never done anything for the nation,” Weah said of his critics in 2005. Nevertheless, the former World Footballer of the Year took steps to address his education lapse, pursuing a degree in business administration at DeVry University in Miami, Florida in the United States of America.

While the jury is still out on his performance as president so far, President Weah’s boast is being bolstered by the fact that those looking to unseat him at the polls in 2023 are struggling to come to terms with the unfolding reality that their egos and infighting are stifling their chances. Nevertheless, political observers say, their survival, like his will largely depend on the state of Liberia’s political and economic outlook, when voters head to the polls in 2023.

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