Monrovia – When Abraham Darius Dillon won his way into the Senate with an emphatic victory over Paulita Wie last August, he not only defied immense odds in doing so but with the backing of the four-party coalition – his Liberty Party, All Liberian Party, Alternative National Congress and the former ruling Unity Party, also tore the institutional fabric of George Weah’s Coalition for Democratic Change apart.
Analysis by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
Dillon secured a total of 102,549 votes representing 55.74 percent while his closest rival Wie, obtained 63,971 votes representing 34.77 percent.
The last time anyone scored such a lopsided victory for Montserrado was Weah, when he contested in 2014, winning the county seat that includes the capital, Monrovia, with 78% of the vote, defeating Robert Sirleaf, the son of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who received 11% of the vote tally
The popularity of the self-proclaimed “Light” of the Senate continues to rise with many including the ruling CDC quietly fearing that he may be unbeatable.
That has not stop the CDC from working toward regaining lost grounds.
Over the past few weeks, multiple sources within the party acknowledged to FrontPageAfrica that the threat of Mr. Dillon’s invincibility is real which is why serious vetting is ongoing to find not just a suitable but a winnable candidate.
Among those reportedly being considered are Montserrado County District No. 5 Representative, Thomas Fallah, Rep. Acarous Moses Gray(District No. 8, Montserrado), Assistant Gender Minister Mamensie Kabba, former Deputy Internal Affairs Minister Paulita Wie, who ran against Dillon last August, Rep. Munah Pelham Youngblood(Montserrado County, District No. 9), Professor Wilson Tarpeh, Minister of Commerce and Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee.
Until Mr. Dillon’s victory, the CDC had since 2005, dominated Montserrado’s senatorial elections with the party’s candidates scoring important victories.
Montserrado is composed of Seventeen districts and as of the 2008 Census, it had a population of 1,118,241, making it the most populous county in Liberia.] The area of the county measures 1,912.7 square kilometres (738.5 sq mi), the smallest in the country.
Created in 1847 at the foundation of the country, the county is the oldest in Liberia. Montserrado’s County Superintendent is Nyenekon Beauty Snoh-Barcon. The county is bordered by Bomi County to the west, Bong County to the north, and Margibi County to the east. The southern part of Montserrado lies on the Atlantic Coast.
FrontPageAfrica now takes a look at those under consideration and weighs their chances of standing up to the challenge of making Mr. Dillon a short-term Senator.
One of the few holdovers from the Sirleaf presidency, Broh, who endured strong criticisms when the CDC was in the opposition, has suddenly become its surprising star.
When the Weah administration was struggling to deal with the deadly Coronavirus pandemic, it called on Broh, who performed a similar role during the deadly Ebola virus epidemic in 2014.
President George Weah appointed Broh as the National Response Coordinator for the Executive Committee on Coronavirus (ECOC) in Liberia, tasked with providing supervision toward a single set of national strategic objectives for defeating the Coronavirus disease. Broh, who is also the Director General of the General Services Agency(GSA), has also been coordinating the National COVID-19 multi-sectorial response plan, in coordination with the United Nations (UN), donor partners, Ministry of Health and National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL).
Broh, a former mayor of Monrovia, first served the Liberian government in March 2006 as the Special Projects Coordinator for President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s executive staff. In 2007, she was promoted to direct the Passport Bureau in a successful attempt to curtail and eliminate corruption and bribery within the division. In 2008, Broh became the Deputy Director of the National Port Authority. In February 2009, she was selected to serve as Acting Mayor of Monrovia in place of the previous mayor, Ophelia Hoff Saytumah, in the President’s effort to legitimize the MCC’s administrative and financial management. Although Broh was seated in February 2009 by appointment, rather than by the usual democratic election process, she was not officially confirmed by the Liberian Senate.
Broh has worked to clean up the capital city with measures that include citywide litter reduction campaigns aimed to increase public awareness of litter, sanitation, and overall public health. In October 2009, she implemented the revised City Ordinance No. 1, originally established by the MCC in 1975 to address public health, sanitation, and street vendors. The revision sought to address issues that have accumulated in the capital over the last two decades such as overflowing and unsanitary trash, makeshift structures and unregulated street vendors who sell foodstuffs to locals and tourists alike.
POTENTIAL OBSTACLE: The unconventional Broh is still haunted by her controversial flogging of market women and street sellers when the current players where in the opposition. A lot of CDCians still hold it against her.
REP. THOMAS FALLAH
A member of House of Representatives, representing District No. 5, Montserrado County, since 2006, Rep. Fallah could be the most difficult challenge for Senator Dillon. Prior to his election to the national Legislature, Fallah served as Administrative Assistant in the Bureau of Afro- Asian Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Prior to his time at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was General Coordinator of the Pit-Sawyers’ Association and Forest Products Dealers of Liberia. He also served as Chairman, Light Brothers’ Wood Association. He is a graduate of the A. M. E. University with a degree in Management.
Rep. Fallah has served on several committees in the house including the committee on Youth & Sports
Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry Public Utilities, Planning and Economic Affairs.
Fallah has undertaken numerous projects in his district and the ruling party is keen to capitalize on his Lofa roots to score votes from amongst Lofains residing in Montserrado.
POTENTIAL OBSTACLE: While the lawmaker appears to be shoe-in to go against Dillon, he may fall prey to the incumbency fatigue and Dillon’s message of shining a light in the Senate. A county impressed with Senator Dillon’s quest to exposed ills in the upper house may not be ready, at least not yet to give the county back to the CDC.
REP. ACAROUS MOSES GRAY
A member of the House of Representatives since 2012, representing Montserrado County District No. 8, Rep. Gray has been in the trenches of the party for years and one of its strongest voices.
He won re-election 2018 despite facing a crowded field of opponents. He has served on several committees in the lower house, including Chair on Governance and Government Reform, member, Youth and Sports; Public Utilities, Executive and Maritime.
Rep. Gray has been one of the few ruling party lawmakers to openly supported benefits cuts for all 73 members of the House of Representatives to help salvage the economy.
In recent months, Rep. Gray has not hidden his criticisms of Senator Dillon, who he says, is desperate to return to the senate in the October midterm senatorial election.
POTENTIAL OBSTACLE: Gray, along with party chair Morlu has expressed some concerns over some decisions and actions of President Weah. The pair have reportedly been in the president’s dog house but there appears to have been some attempts to make amends on both sides.
Currently an assistant minister at the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection Services, Kabbah was one of fiery women of the CDC, during the party’s opposition days, whose regular calls to radio talk shows, trumpeting the party’s agenda propelled her to heroine status within the party.
Prior to her entry into government, Kabba was deeply involved in advocating for the rights of poor and struggling Liberians.
As a member of the Center for the Exchange of Intellectual Opinions, Kabba used her platform to advocate for women and was as strong voice calling for the intervention into the alleged trafficking of Liberian girls to Lebanon as well as demanding the Liberian government bring justice to the victims of sexual abuse.
While some party stalwarts see Kabba as one of the party’s strong heroines, others say she still has time to grow before given the opportunity to contest.
POTENTIAL OBSTACLE: A recent online magazine recently asked: “Where is yesterday’s Mamensie Kabba? Kabba, like many of the CDC’s youth are finding it hard duplicating their opposition play as members of government.
Koijee, the current mayor of the capital city of Liberia Monrovia is the firebrand former youth leader of the party. Once a fierce critic of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf during the CDC’s opposition days, Koijee’s stock has slowly deteriorated not so much to his own doing but the change of scenery from opposition to incumbency and the expectations that follow.
His transition from opposition youth activism to head of the city government came at a costly debacle for Koijee who boasts of being the first mayor to be confirmed by the Senate since the end of the civil war.
Despite his struggles, Koijee still commands the respect of the party’s youths. As the former National Youth Chairman for the Revolutionary National Youth League of the CDC, Mr. Koijee’s stint as County Coordinator, Montserrado for the Federation of Liberian Youth, the umbrella organization for all youth groupings gives him the leverage needed to play the role of a kingmaker, if he decides against making a strong case to contest and convince the party that he is the right candidate to go against Dillon.
POTENTIAL OBSTACLE: Koijee may have fallen prey to the incumbency meltdown and poor performance and perception of the ruling CDC in the county. While he still has control of some of the party’s die-hard youths, he may not have the crossover appeal as Rep. Fallah, who party insiders say is more likely to get the nod.
MUNAH PELHAM YOUNGBLOOD
A member of the lower house since 2006, Rep. Youngblood, a former Protocol Specialist, Actress and Administrator has served on several committees, including Co-Chair-Women Legislative Caucus Member – Foreign Affairs; Banking and Currency; Youths and Sports; Public Utilities; Gender and Child Development and Joint Legislative Modernization
No stranger to controversy, Rep. Youngblood who is still recovering from a long illness has not shied away from taking on Senator Dillon. In February, following a string of attacks on the Senator in which she referred to him as a “rat” and “protest Senator”, Rep. Youngblood, who spent almost the entire 2019 on sick leave in the United States where she was battling a protracted illness, has also thrown pointed jabs at Sentor Dillon’s level of education.
She told a CDC gathering last year, that she, the ‘cat was back’ to chase the rat that has been gallivanting in Monsterado County. “All the Muppets that were dancing to Tom and Jerry musing please note that the cat is here. When I see you where you not supposed to be, I am the cat, I have returned and I will eat you raw,” she taunted. “I am sending out an open point on behalf of the tripartite arrangement, the Coalition for Democratic Change, a conglomeration of political parties that are ruling this country that we are getting ready for you. And for me, I am not getting ready, I am ready.”
Youngblood later told reporters at her Capitol Hill office she would not ruling out contesting the Montserrado Senatorial Seat. “If the people of Montserrado ask me to do [contest], I will listen to them. If my constituents want me to contest, I will listen to them. I will talk with my family and my strategic team, and we will get back to the public. I come from a political institution,” she responded when asked if she will contest in 2020.
POTENTIAL OBSTACLE: Rep. Youngblood’s health is still a concern for many who are unsure she will be able to face off with Senator Dillon down the stretch of what promises to be a grueling campaign.
Professor Tarpeh is one of the party’s seasoned and experience elders. A financial expert and administrator with over thirty-six (36) years of executive level experience in both private and public sectors, at home and abroad, Tarpeh has served as President & Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Agricultural & Cooperative Development Bank (ACDB), Executive Director of the African Development Bank Group, Minister of Finance, Executive Director of the Financial Sector Reform Secretariat, Office of the President of Liberia; Managing Director of the Atlantic Finance Corporation (AFC), Executive Vice President for Africa, DNR Investment Group. Prof. Tarpeh also consulted with the ADB, the United Nations Development Program, the European Union, United States Treasury, and the Government of Mozambique, among many.
He is a former Dean of the Graduate School of Business, and Vice President for Fiscal Affairs & Finance, respectively, University of Liberia, where he also teaches Accounting and Finance. He served on many corporate Boards of Directors, both in the public and private sectors. Until his appointment as Minister of Commerce and Industry, Prof. Tarpeh served as lead Counsel in the TARGUS Law Group, a high end law firm concentrating in corporate law.
Professor Tarpeh holds a Bachelors of Law (LLB) from the Louise Arthur Grimes School of Law, University of Liberia; a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Finance from the I. University of Pennsylvania; a Master of Science (M.S.) in Accounting from the University of New Haven, New Haven Connecticut, USA; and a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree (BBA) in Management from the University of Liberia.
Professor Tarpeh also attended a number of Executive Management Development Programs, including the Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); Fuqua School of Business, Duke University and the Italian Institute of financial Management, in Milan Italy.
POTENTIAL OBSTACLE: Tarpeh’s handling of the gasoline crisis earlier this year and the uncertainty over the controversial stimulus package could make him an easy prey for the tough-talking Senator. Also, some party stalwarts are unsure Tarpeh can pull it off against Dillon but see him as a strong voice who can go toe-to-toe with the Senator on the issues.
POTENTIAL OBSTACLE: Koijee may be a victim of the incumbent’s curse. A strong run would largely depend on how quickly the ruling party can turn things around.
The daughter of one of Liberia’s finest broadcast journalists, the late Paul Allen Wie was seen as the ideal candidate to defeat Dillon last year. But even after a dismal showing, the party, for a long time after flirting with the idea of prepping her up for a rematch.
POTENTIAL OBSTACLE: A ruling party looking to regain its footing in what was once its stronghold, appear to be unwilling to give Wie another shot.
The challenge for ruling party is that Montserrado has never really been an incumbent county. Even during the days of Samuel Doe, in the November 1985 elections, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf emerged victorious. Weah and the CDC dominated the county, as members of the opposition during the two terms of Sirleaf’s presidency. Now in the driver’s seat as the incumbent, the party faces an uphill task in recapturing the county.
For Dillon, who has been on the heels of the party and trumpeting his message of change, it doesn’t matter who the ruling party put up, he believes he has the upper hand.
“Your who put me there, have I disappointed you?”, the Senator, appearing with Alexander Cummings, head of the Coalition of Political Parties(CPP), asked a small meeting in Gbenba Town at the weekend. “CDC says they force to take the seat, your agree? We have to take over the Senate and change the country.”
The Senator explained that his presence is key to restoring hope for Liberia. “Let me tell you why we need light at the Capitol Building and in the country. When the place is dark for long that’s when people can do anything they please. If we don’t change the Senate, the country cannot change. The senate alone can change this country. With the Senate standing up for the people, anything the legislators want do, the Senate will block it, if the Senate fighting for you, anything the President want do, the Senate can stop it.”
It is a message, political watchers say, could prove pivotal for the ruling party in pursuit of regaining its footing in a county with enormous implications for the rest of Liberia. Many agree that the upcoming Senatorial Mid Term election is a litmus test not just for the CDC-led government but the opposition as well. A strong showing by the opposition could send a clear message to the establishment that its popularity is on the rocks. If the ruling party is successful in ousting Dillon, it could further embolden the incumbent’s strength.
For the foreseeable future, there appear to be cracks on both sides of the political divide. The Weah administration is struggling to resolve unsettling divisions within the country and boggled down by a dismal economy that could prove to be a major decider in whether or not the party has what it takes to unseat Dillon. On the other hand, the CPP and the opposition appear to be divided over how to proceed with some preferring a selective process to choose candidate against the preferred Voter Perception Survey. Whichever way it turns, the Mid Term elections later this year will offer a glimpse of what’s to come in 2023.