Liberia: Early Signs of Election Violence in Montserrado District 10 Incumbent, Ruling Party Clash over Voter Registration
MONROVIA – From all indications, the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) cannot afford to sit idly and allow one of President George Weah’s fiercest critics, Rep. Yekeh Koluba of Montserrado County District 10 to retain his seat in the House of Representatives after the October elections.
By Lennart Dodoo and J. H. Webster Clayeh
And Rep. Koluba, known for speaking uncontrollably in his criticisms of the President and his government is quite aware of the challenge that lies ahead in the October elections and seems not to be lackadaisical in his quest to thwart the efforts of the CDC. This is creating some tension in the District, especially in the Old Road Community which happens to be the heartbeat of the District.
Since the inception of the Voter Registration exercise, there have been reports of both sides trucking in prospective voters into the District to register – something that began brewing tension in the District.
Over the weekend, there were a series of rioting and clashes between supporters of Rep. Koluba, some members and supporters of the CDC, and the Liberia National Police, leading to injuries, and destruction of properties, and causing fear and panic in the District.
The latest of such clashes occurred on Saturday when the Youth League of the CDC, led by its chairman, Emmanuel Johnson, chose to march the streets of the District in a bid to create awareness on the ongoing Voter Registration exercise and to encourage residents of the District to register.
Johnson who was accompanied by hundreds of young people from the District said, it’s the responsibility of every responsible citizen to come out and register and he is encouraging all young people to get their voter registration cards.
“We want to call on the people of Liberia living in Montserrado, Margibi, Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, and Gbarpolu to come out en masse and register. As the CDC prepared for a first-round victory, you must register and we are here along with hundreds of young people who have joined us today in electoral District 10 to get our voter card. These courageous young men and women are poised to make history in October and the only way you can be a part is when you register like us,” he said.
However, what was apparently intended to be a peaceful match turned chaotic when the group failed to adhere to the Liberia National Police order to disperse to avoid clashing with supporters of Rep. Koluba. The police were forced to use tear gas to disperse them. However, the scene turned chaotic upon the firing of the tear gas.
As supporters began to run helter-skelter, some began terrorizing peaceful citizens, and marketers. Stores were forced to close and residents of the area had to run indoors for their safety.
It is unclear whether it is the members of the CDC Youth League that carried out the terror or just hooligans in the area who took advantage of the situation or perhaps, supporters of the incumbent.
Violence Condemned by CDC
Hours following the chaotic situation, the ruling establishment issued a press statement condemning the violence and its members who were involved.
“The CDC condemns all persons, including some of its partisans, who may have been engaged in the acrimonious act which resulted in an assault on peaceful citizens, destruction to properties, and infringement of the rights of many,” the party stated.
The CDC in its statement indicated that it would continue to encourage its partisans to eschew violence at all times and use the recourse of the law to seek redress.
However, the ruling party blamed Rep. Kolubah for the violence that occurred in the District and termed it as “act of gangsterism.” The statement also accused him of establishing a vigilante group that harasses citizens who to go exercise their democratic rights through the voter registration process.
The CDC called for the de-escalation of tension in the District and cautioned all actors of the violent act or those who were intending on regrouping to reignite the situation to desist and utilize the administrative or legal framework to seek redress.
At the same time, the CDC called on the Ministry of Justice to investigate the matter and ensure that perpetrators are brought to book.
Rep. Kolubah Counter Argues
Rep. Koluba has at the same time said the CDC government aided by the Liberia National Police wants to instill residents of the District as part of their strategy to win the District.
He also accused the ruling establishment of wanting to attack him in his own District but said he is ready at all times to defend himself.
“If I will kill somebody to defend myself, I will do that. Let them leave the citizens, I’m here let them come to me. Anybody entering my place will go to St. Moses,” he said.
Rep. Koluba said he has lost all confidence in the Liberia National Police, because, according to him, it has become partisan police that only acts on the orders of the CDC, thereby, leaving non-partisans vulnerable.