Liberia: Fights, Distrusts & Egos Threaten Opposition Alliance’s Best Shot at Taking on Weah
Monrovia – People’s Unification Party’s Victor Varney Watson’s impressive victory in last week’s Senatorial By-Elections in Grand Cape Mount County dealt the latest blow to the collaboration of political parties dubbed, CPP, comprising the former ruling Unity Party of ex-Vice President Joseph Boakai, Charles Walker Brumskine’s Liberty Party, Alexander Cummings’ Alternative National Congress and Benoni Urey’s All Liberian Party.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
“No political party as I see it, based on my political experience will win this election without a coalition. I don’t think any political party can win on its own, given the number of parties. So, if you see people negotiating, dialoguing and all, it’s because they all realize that some coalition has to be made for a particular party or parties to be competitive.”– Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Former President of Liberia in an interview with FPA in 2017
The alliance came together on February 21st, this year with all four figures who were standard-bearers for their respective parties affixing their signatures to what was supposed to be a six-month rotational leadership format with Mr. Urey becoming the first to lead the four-party coalition.
The resolution was full of promise with the leaders assuring their respective constituencies that unlike previous alliances, this one would work.
For Urey, that process began with the four-party leaders affixing their signatures to the resolution, acknowledging the fears and apprehensions of most Liberians. “Over the years we have heard the clarion call from Liberians both at home and abroad and also the call from our international partners of the need for the opposition to unite. Today at Unity’s Party headquarter we are announcing to the world that we are united. Today we will be signing a document that begins the process of the unity we have been craving for years. We have decided to put Liberia first and to attune our political agenda in the interest of Liberia and the Liberian people; and above our individual and partisan ambitions. We are taking the bold and concrete step which we hope will never be reversed or undone.”
The apprehensions over whether this latest alliance could work was valid. For the better part of Liberia’s most recent political history, several variations of collaborating forces have wilted just when many thought they would pull it off. In other instances, and against powerful incumbents like late President Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor, they simply failed to hold and eventually, went their separate ways, running on their own.
In 1985, Doe, was proclaimed the winner in an election he is widely believed to have lost to Jackson F. Doe of the Liberia Action Party.
That year, Jackson Doe secured 137,270 votes for 26.45 percent, Gabriel Kpolleh, a school teacher, secured 59.965 votes for 11.55 percent while Edward Kesselly of the Unity Party secured 57,443 votes for 11.07 percent. The constitutional requirement requires an absolute majority or 50% plus one (1) to avoid a run-off but many political observers at the time believed that a united front against Doe may have made it tougher for the incumbent to steal the votes.
In 1997, a similar scenario played out that saw Taylor win the presidency by a landslide, with 75.3% of the vote, despite campaigning on the slogan: “He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him.” His closest competitor, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, collected only 10 percent of the vote. Eleven other candidates failed to crack more than five percent.
“Over the years we have heard the clarion call from Liberians both at home and abroad and also the call from our international partners of the need for the opposition to unite. Today at Unity’s Party headquarter we are announcing to the world that we are united. Today we will be signing a document that begins the process of the unity we have been craving for years. We have decided to put Liberia first and to attune our political agenda in the interest of Liberia and the Liberian people; and above our individual and partisan ambitions. We are taking the bold and concrete step which we hope will never be reversed or undone.”– Mr. Benoni Urey, Leader, All Liberian Party
In two elections – 2005, that brought Sirleaf to power and the 2011 that saw her win re-elections, more than a dozen candidates had their eyes set on the presidency. Twenty-two contested in 2005 while 16 candidates contested in 2011, proving yet again that even with the odds stacked against them, the opposition came up short, when it mattered most for their constituents.
Lost Opportunities in District. 13 & Sinoe
Fast forward to now, echoes of the past appear to be seeping its way into today’s political quagmire amid distrusts, egos, infighting and indecisiveness amongst collaborating forces unsure how to deal with the unexpected realities now posing dangers to their once-promising alliance.
Last November, a splintered opposition failed to seize on the incumbent’s vulnerabilities as ruling party castaway-turned independent candidate, Edward Papie Flomo clinched the District No. 13 by-election to fill the seat vacated Saah Joseph, now a Montserrado County Senator. More than eleven candidates threw their hats into the ring. Flomo obtained 5310 votes for 34.4 percent.
District 15: Who Wrecked Telia’s Campaign?
In a district known to be a stronghold of the ruling party, its own candidate, John Weah Jr. finished second obtaining 4,878 votes for 31.6 percent. Cornelia Kruah-Togba, running on the forming ruling Unity Party (UP) and Journalist Oniel Robert of Truth FM contested the vacant seat.
The ruling party secured another victory in the Sinoe County Senatorial By-Elections that saw Augustine Chea of the CDC obtaining 4,106 votes for 36.8 percent while Romeo Thomas Quiah of United People’s Party (UPP) obtained 3,568 votes or 32.0 percent. Others are Morlu Clark Jabba of VOLT, with 497 votes or 4.5 percent and Othello Doe Nagbe CLP, with 2,980 votes, 26.7 percent.
In August, after a brutal and violent campaign, the ruling party’s Abu B. Kamara emerged victorious over the CPP-backed Telia Urey in the crucial by-election to fill the vacancy left by the death of Representative Adolph Lawrence, who died in a car crash along the Robertsfield Highway in Margibi County earlier this year. Kamara accumulated a total of 8,678 votes, representing 49.2 percent, to Urey’s 6,868 votes or 38.9 percent of the total votes.
While many were quick to point the blame for Urey’s loss on a series of violent campaign skirmishes in the community which struck fear into voters toward the end, strains between rival ALP and ANC supporters on social media during the final days of the campaign reportedly kept ANC partisans away from the polls, proving costly to Urey.
Meltdown in Cape Mount
Similarly, the Grand Cape Mount race to fill the vacancy left in the aftermath of the death of Senator Edward B. Dagoseh, got off to a rugged start with fiery exchanges between supporters of the former ruling Unity Party claiming ownership and rejecting the candidate put up by the ANC.
The differences led to back-and-forth negotiations in which no one was willing to back down.
In the end, the ANC took the high road by withdrawing its candidate, Simeon B. Taylor from the race.
In a statement, ANC said it took the decision in the interest of the Liberian people, because of its desire to collectively rescue Liberia from the poor leadership of the CDC in 2020 and 2023 and because of its commitment to keep the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) together.
Despite the ANC’s gesture, the decision came a little too late as the National Elections Commission which had already spent thousands of dollars to print ballots refused to remove Taylor’s name from the ballot.
In its decision, NEC said it had declined ANC’s request to withdraw Mr. Taylor because Mr. Taylor had refused to consent and sign the withdrawal form. NEC said the elections law requires the consent of the candidate before a withdrawal is affected. ANC aggressively disagrees and objects to NEC decision and interpretation of the law, and is exploring legal options to contest the decision. ANC says it cannot be forced to sponsor and field a candidate it no longer supports.
Lost Momentum After Dillon’s Victory
Although ANC expressed disappointment over NEC’s decision, Taylor’s decision not to withdraw made it difficult for the CPP to field a united candidate with the former ruling UP putting up Dabah Varplah as its candidate. The eventual backing of the CPP collaboration did little to sway voters that the CPP was serious about putting up a united front.
In the end, Watson, a lecturer at the Cuttington University (CU) emerged as the winner, obtaining 6,920 votes for 27.73 percent. Ironically, Taylor, listed on the ballot as an ANC candidate finished second. Had the CPP held their nerves, they could have gathered more than 8,000 votes, just enough to win the county. Dabah obtained 3,291 votes for 13.19 percent while Taylor received 4,932 votes for 19.76 percent
The CPP’s failure to maintain the momentum following Abraham Darius Dillon’s important Montserrado County Senatorial by-elections has baffled many, coming in the midst of an economic meltdown and political uncertainty for the ruling CDC government.
In a year marred by the saga over the missing LD16 billion and the US$25 million mop-up money controversy, voters overwhelmingly gave Dillon victory with massive percentages in territories-controlled by the ruling party.
Urey, Cummings Feud
With the 2020 Mid Term and 2023 presidential and general elections on the horizon, time may be running out for the collaborating parties to put their acts together although a series of unfolding issues appear to be presenting more problems for the collaboration.
Key among them is what some political observers see as a brewing feud between the ALP leader, Urey and ANC leader Cummings. Urey has reportedly told some close aides that Cummings would never be President in Liberia, at least under his watch, a key reason why Mr. Urey is said to be holding on to the chairmanship of the CPP even though his term has expired.
At the collaborative signing in February, the ALP’s political leader and standard-bearer was declared the first six-month rotating chairman and the agreement, stated that the four leaders were convinced that a fair, transparent and competitive democratic process is vital to Liberia’s long-term prosperity and security, recognizing the role of political parties as indispensable partners in national development as well as strengthening Liberia’s young democracy.
The six-month deadline should have ended on August 21st, 2019.
Brumskine Equation; UP’s Dilemma
The feud is said to be the source of a series of intense social media exchanges between supporters of the two parties.
Adding to the uncertainty of the collaboration is the fate of LP’s Brumskine, who has been ailing for the past year.
Brumskine, the party’s founder and political leader has been seeking treatment abroad and is said to be serious ill putting his political future in a state of uncertainty.
A party’s statement recently through Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence asked partisans, well-wishers and the general public to keep the political leader in prayers. “Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine, is not well and is seeking medical treatment abroad. As the party seeks the special grace of God upon its founding father for healing, it makes a special request to all partisans and the general public to remember Cllr. Brumskine in their prayers,” the statement said.
UP’s Defiance, Entanglements
The former ruling party’s insistence on fielding a candidate from its own party appears to have come back to haunt them with the loss in Cape Mount. All four losses have been UP candidates, including what they insisted was their stronghold in Cape Mount, even with the support of the CPP.
The reality, according to multiple party sources is that the party was divided going into the Cape Mount race, complicated by differences between Marilyn Dagoseh, widow of the late Senator Edward Dagoseh who reportedly favored Simeon Taylor.
Both Marilyn Dagoseh and Enish Fahnbulleh, a former UP Chair in Cape Mount favored Taylor.
Some UP stalwarts say, ANC’s inexperience in not doing a thorough background check on Taylor’s previous alliance with UP led to the feud between the two parties.
Furthermore, UP was already split heading into the race. Chiefs in the county had reportedly told former VP Boakai that the county was too conservative and would never embrace a woman Senator. “The former VP was told that it would be problematic because the area is conservative,” a source told FrontPageAfrica Wednesday.
Despite several efforts to keep the controversy from the public’s eye until after the elections, the damage had already been done internally as the party was dealt a massive defeat.
Ironically, Taylor, all along had been a member of the former ruling party but approached the ANC about running on their ticket. When the ANC agreed to field Taylor, UP felt offended that the party was not consulted by ANC, since in fact both were in the same coalition, before fielding someone who was previously a member of their party.
Taylor had actually written the UP that he was interested in running on the party’s ticket, around the same time he was flirting with the ANC. He later opted to go with the ANC, drawing ire from the former ruling party.
UP reportedly felt disrespected and insisted that if a member of one party in the coalition was jumping ship, the other should have been informed.
The CPP reportedly investigated the matter and Taylor was found to be in the wrong.
Will the Collabo Hold?
The intricate nature of the latest attempt at a collaboration has many already beginning to question whether this reincarnated version will hold.
Former President Sirleaf should know. In a 2017 FrontPageAfrica interview, Sirleaf said: “No political party as I see it, based on my political experience will win this election without a coalition. I don’t think any political party can win on its own, given the number of parties. So, if you see people negotiating, dialoguing and all, it’s because they all realize that some coalition has to be made for a particular party or parties to be competitive.”
The multitude of candidates in elections was a key reason driving the 2014 amendment of Liberia’s election laws.
For the foreseeable future, it appears that 2023 could see a smaller field of candidates contesting owing to the amended new elections law which could likely reduce the number of candidates.
Chapter 5A: Review of Party Results states: “A political party or independent Candidate shall be suspended if the candidate(s) nominated in an election for the Presidency or a seat in the Legislature receives insufficient support in that election, thereby resulting into none of the party’s candidate is elected. The law also states that if the total of all valid votes cast for the candidate’s nominated by the party is less than two percent of the total of all valid votes cast for all candidates in the constituencies in which the party contested, the commission shall suspend the party’s right to nominate candidates for the next two elections for the same office.”
Furthermore, the law says that: “If an independent candidate has contested an election for President or a seat in the Legislature and, in that election the candidate is not elected and the total of all valid votes cast for the candidate is less than two percent of the total valid votes cast for all candidates in the constituency that the candidate contested, the commission shall suspend the candidate’s right to be a candidate in the next two elections for the same office.”
The law however, does not apply to a political party that, at the time of the election had a member continuing to hold office as president or as member of the legislature. “A decision to suspend the right of a political party or candidate to contest elections may be appealed at the Supreme Court.”
Interplays and Intrigues
As the political parties making up the collaboration struggle to hold together, the entire alliance appears to hinging a number of unsolved conundrums. For example, the former ruling UP has been split since the end of the 2017 elections owing to lingering feuds between former chairman Varney Sherman and former standard bearer Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on the one hand; and Sirleaf and Boakai on the other. Although there have been some efforts in recent months to make peace, one party insider says the coalition partners – ALP, ANC and LP simply do not have the political capital to help resolve the rift within the UP. “The fallout from 2017 and the Boakai, EJS, Sherman issues are just too many and the coalition is unable to help the party, none of the coalition has the gravitas to help,” said a source speaking on condition of anonymity Thursday.
Political observers say, Mr. Cummings and his ANC, regarded as the rising force may need more time to build a solid political base of its own as they work toward solidifying its presence in the collaboration, before taking a stab at trying to intervene in the UP crisis.
For the immediate future however, the various interplays and intrigues are at least for now poised to keep a lingering sense of uncertainty within the collaboration.
The painful reality for some political observer is that, collectively, the four collaborating parties who affixed the signatures to the February 21st document represent 62% of their respective bases as reflected at the November 2017 election results. In their own document signed, they agreed: “This strength which is increasing in bounds must not be allowed to whither and dissipate along the separate paths we have pursued heretofore.”
What on paper appeared only a few months ago to be a united front, has since disintegrated into a struggle for power, greed, ego-tripping, chest-beating and a bunch of political parties sensing a vulnerable incumbent – and suddenly feeling confident about themselves, individually running on their own, opening the possibly of a long-drawn out wrangle likely to play out in yet another wild open political field in 2023, with a taste of a somewhat tricky prelude of a helter-skelter scramble in the upcoming 2020 Mid Term elections.