CAPITOL HILL, Monrovia – The race for the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives of the incoming 55th Legislature appears to be shifting in favor of the current Deputy Speaker Cllr. Jonathan Fonati Koffa. Amid intense lobbying and behind-the-scenes causes, the Deputy Speaker has received the backing of over 40 current and incoming members of the House of Representatives.
By Gerald C. Koinyeneh – [email protected]
“We, the undersigned Representatives hereby declare Representative Jonathan Fonati Koffa as Speaker of the House of Representatives and urge our fellow Representatives to support this resolution as a demonstration of our shared commitment to fostering effective and principled leadership within the 55th House of Representatives,” the lawmakers said in the resolution they signed in affirmation of their support to Rep. Koffa.
The potential contenders
Following the October 10, 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections, and following his decisive victory, Rep. Koffa declared his intention to contest as Speaker of the House in the upcoming 55th Legislature. Soon, several names emerged. However, three names have consistently made the headlines.
In addition to Cllr. Koffa, Deputy Speaker, other names include Musa Hansan Bility, Representative-elect, District #7, Nimba County and Chairman of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), and Rep. Richard Nagbe Koon (UP, District #11, Montserrado County).
Bility, an audacious go-getter is said to be leaning on his fellow CPP lawmakers, independent candidates and fellow freshman lawmakers. However, while he is expected to put up a stiff competition, Observers say his status as a freshman lawmaker may hamper his chances of winning.
Incumbent Richard Koon, Unity Party stalwart is being supported by his party, which is expected to regain its ruling party status in January 2024. While he will get the support of the executive, and other lawmakers whose parties are affiliated with the UP, pundits say the numbers are far less to put up a stiff fight.
Cllr. Koffa has served as deputy speaker of the 54th House of Representatives for the past three years. As Deputy Speaker, Cllr. Koffa is credited for having the ability to work with his colleagues across the aisle to ease the tension that earlier engulfed the House’s chambers in the first two years of the 54th Legislature.
His colleagues recognized that in their resolution. They said he was their preferred candidate for the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives owing to his experience and expertise in parliamentary procedures demonstrated through his leadership positions, legislative accomplishments, successful management of the office of the Deputy Speaker, and his legal understanding.
The lawmakers noted that the Deputy Speaker is the right choice owing to his commitment to bipartisanship and ability to foster collaboration amongst members of various political affiliation and ideological backgrounds.
They added that the Grand Kru District #2 lawmaker is dedicated to upholding the principles of equity and fairness throughout the legislative process.
The membership of the House of Representatives is 73, and a candidate needs a simple majority of 37 to win.
Cllr. Koffa Gets Party’s Blessings
Cllr. Koffa’s endorsement by his colleagues came after his Party, the outgoing ruling Coalition of Democracy Change (CDC), declared him as its candidate for the Speakership of the incoming 55th Legislature.
The election for Speaker of the House of Representatives is expected to take place on January 15, 2024, the 2nd working Monday of the new year.
In a meeting on Friday, December 1, at the party’s headquarters in Congo Town, CDC chairman Mulbah Morlu announced that after consultation with the party’s executives and legislative caucus, it has endorsed the candidacy of Koffa, the Representative for Grand Kru County District 2, to contest in the Speakership Election.
In a statement, the CDC said after extensive internal consultations between the National Executive Committee and the CDC legislative caucus, the party has concluded that, given the thin nature of the election returns, a balanced government regionally and politically is in the best interest of the Liberian people.
“In this light, the party intends to support its caucus’s quest for the speaker position and has endorsed the candidacy of Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, a well-balanced political and regional partisan, as its sole candidate for speaker. Therefore, we are calling on all independents and like-minded members of the incoming 55th legislature to support Cllr. Koffa as the consensus candidate,” said CDC Chairman Mulbah Morlu.
In a statement following his endorsement, Koffa thanked the party for their confidence reposed in him but stressed that as a Speaker, he he will not turn the gavel into a partisan legislature simply because they are in opposition.
He promised that he would be robust if given the speakership mandate and that, under his gavel, accountability and transparency will definitely be ensured. In his first 100 days, he promised to install electronic voting in the House of Representatives.
“The ruling government can trust me as a Speaker because I will work in the national interest,” Koffa said.
The Deputy Speaker also told journalists that he has billed himself as a bridge builder and is poised to work with other national stakeholders to preach unity in the deeply divided country.
Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker Koffa is a lawyer, a Juris Doctor — who previously served as chairman for the Liberty Party (LP). During the second term of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, he served as Minister without Portfolio and led the Special Presidential Task Force to investigate the Sable Mining Case — the company’s alleged attempt to acquire an iron ore concession in northern Liberia after the watchdog group, Global Witness, made accusations of wrong-doing in a report.
Having lost his first attempt at the Grand Kru County District #2 Representative seat in the 2011 elections, Cllr. Koffa recalibrated and was elected in 2017.
From 2018 to January 11, 2021, he served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, and from January 11, 2021, up to the present, Cllr. Koffa has served as Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.
If elected Speaker, Cllr. Koffa, 60, will make history as the first Representative to be Deputy Speaker and subsequently elected as Speaker. He will also reshape the power dynamics on Capitol by taking the speakership position from the ruling party.