Liberia’s Opposition Alliance Debacle: Clash of Personalities, Egos, Ideologies Threaten Survival

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Monrovia – If members of the four institutions making up the Collaborating Political Parties were asked to choose who should be at the top of the ticket to challenge the incumbent President George Manneh Weah, it is becoming increasingly likely that many would settle for the political leaders at the helm of the party.

This would mean the Unity Party will back Joseph Boakai, the Liberty Party could throw its weight behind Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence or Senator Abraham Darius Dillon, the Alternative National Congress will tip Alexander Cummings while the All Liberian Party will likely lift the hand of its standard bearer Benoni Urey.

All four scenarios appear to be the crux of an ongoing debacle posing serious challenges to the survival of the collaboration.

Over the past few days however, supporters of all four parties have taken to social media to flirt with various variations of pairings they believe could put the CPP in the best position to take on the incumbent Weah government: Boakai-Cummings; Boakai-Dillon; Boakai-Urey; Cummings-Dillon; Cummings-Karnga-Lawrence are just a few of the many experiments being thrown in the air, with some hoping it sticks, while others are simply not so sure whether any would be strong enough to challenge an incumbent government with resources at its disposal.

The four political parties include the former ruling Unity Party (UP), the All Liberian Party (ALP), the Liberty Party (LP) and the Alternative National Congress (ANC). 

The collaboration was formed shortly after the 2017 general and presidential elections that brought the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) to power.

According to Chapter 8 Section 8.5 of the New Elections Law of Liberia, registered political parties may be allowed to form alliances and coalitions if they have a procedure consenting to the alliance or coalition formation, through a signed agreement by the absolute majority or 50 percent plus one vote of each membership of the executive committee of each constituent political party.

At the time of the formation, leaders of the four parties said all the right things. “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,” proclaimed Mr. Urey.

For Urey, putting pen to paper on a collaboration arrangement was only the beginning of the process of the unity many have been craving for years.

Addressing the question and apprehension many raised prior to the announcement, Mr. Urey, looking to allay fears said: “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.”

A Question of Maturity

Three years on, it appears those concerns about unity and ego are still lurking in the corridors of the CPP.

For starters, all four parties appear to have lost control of their bases and supporters. Leaders of all four parties have been accused of failing to keep their supporters in check – but more importantly guard against them going at each others throats.

It is in this backdrop that Senator Abraham Darius Dillon(Liberty Party, Montserrado) foresees the problem. “If everybody is too good to head the ticket and the other person is not good to head the ticket, why are we making the people to believe that we can come together?,” the Senator lamented in a Facebook Live Sunday night.

Senator Dillon wondered: “Where is our democratic maturity? If we believe that each of our standard bearers is the best to contest, why are we under one umbrella? The person who endorse Joseph Boakai has the right to do so, the person who endorses Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence should have the right to do so. But you can’t think your right to endorse Cummings is better than the other person right to endorse Joseph Boakai.”

For Dillon the writing on the wall points to imminent dangers if the CPP fails to hold it together. “Only CPP can defeat CPP”, he says. “Too much is hinging on what we do, how we do it and when we do it. Start to put the emotions, the sentiments, the impulse aside, egos, selfishness, me, myself and I attitude aside and let us allow reasoning to prevail.”

The Montserrado County Senator states that a united ticket is the only way to the CPP ending the George Weah-led presidency. “We have one ticket for 2023, one person will have to occupy that position, we have only one person amongst us in CPP from Unity Party, Liberty Party, Alternative National Congress and All Liberian Party. A united CPP is a first-round victory for this country against the ruling gang. If we do not do differently, if we do not act differently, we will be giving our people no incentive to think we are different from the gang. We will be arming our people to say it is better to be with the devil we know, than the angel we haven’t seen.”

Chilling Lessons from History

The devil analogy has been in the cards for Liberia for years – and many previous collaborations have failed to hold because there were simply too many egos running around and too many ambitions blinding politicians from seeing the big picture of what is really at stake.

In Liberia’s most recent political history, there have been several variations of collaborating forces.

The guarded skepticisms have been due to the fact that many of those collaborations 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.

For example, in 1985, President Doe, was proclaimed the winner in an election he is widely believed to have lost to Jackson F. Doe of the Liberia Action Party.

In that election, Jackson Doe secured 137,270 votes for 26.45 percent, Gabriel Kpolleh, a schoolteacher, secured 59.965 votes for 11.55 percent while Edward Kesselly of the U8nity 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.

During the reign of Taylor, 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.

At least thirteen political parties challenged Taylor in the ’97 elections, prompting Sirleaf to stress years later in an interview with FrontPageAfrica, the importance of opposition collaboration. “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.”

With the 2023 Presidential elections on the horizon, Senator Dillon insists that if the collaborating political parties fail to conduct themselves in such a way that will give hope to people, it will spell doom in 2023. “We will be arming our people with the reason and justification to support the devil that they know than the angel we portray ourselves to be but yet are not giving them the incentive. This country is in a deep, deep mess. No stranger will change it. No alien, Liberian will change this country. It will be a Liberian either from home or abroad, a Liberian, will change this country. A Liberian or a group of Liberians with the same mentality, the same mindset, same courage, pray for grace from God to change this country. The rate at which we are going, we may end up disqualifying every Liberian whether you are from or abroad. CPP, collaborating Political Parties, only CPP can defeat CPP.”

Judging from his own experience, Senator Dillon said his victory was only possible because all four parties shared a common goal. “CPP decided to put the Ego, selfishness, sentiments, the emotions, the impulsive way of doing things, to put everything aside to say we are taking Darius Dillon for Montserrado. Liberians who do not have time for political alignment, who do not have time for political parties were touched by our simple but courageous message, they supported us and still do support us today – with their everything.”

A Question of Unlearned Lessons

While many in the CPP rallied around Dillon and a handful of others to score important victories in last December Midterm elections, not everyone is certain about the crossover effect into 2023.

For example, colliding egos in the Nimba and the District No. 8 elections last December exposed what many see as a major problem within the CPP.

Had all four parties rallied behind ANC’s Fubbi Henries for example, the collaboration could have had an easy victory in District 8, the seat vacated in the aftermath of the death of Rep. Munah Pelham-Youngblood.

Similarly, in Nimba, the margin of victory separating the winner Jeremiah Koung in Nimba from his main challenger, Edith Gongloe could just as easily gone to the CPP had everyone been on the same page and ANC’s Taa Wongbe had sacrificed his quest.

The failure of the alliance in those two races no doubt leaves  many unanswered questions.

Many are still unsure the process leading to the primaries will be free, fair and transparent and whether those who do not get the nomination will accept the results and support the chosen one, elected to go up against the incumbent Weah.

The Rules of the Game

Per ARTICLE 11, Section III, regarding the rules for the Elections of Candidates, aspirants of the Constituent Political Parties shall have up to and including Wednesday, December 1, 2021 to unanimously decide and name the CPP/Alliance’s Presidential Ticket, including naming a Vice Presidential running mate. In the event no consensus is reached, the nomination process shall proceed to non-binding Voter’s Perception Survey (VPS) and be determined at the Primaries.

Section 11.4 Nomination Process states: “The CPP shall utilize three nomination processes to deter- mine the selection of its Presidential, Legislative and other candidates: (i) consensus; (ii) Voter’s Perception Survey; and (iii) Primaries.”

Additionally, the rules further states that the CPP shall first engage in a process seeking to select the CPP/Alliance’s Presidential, Legislative and other candidates through consensus. A consensus emanating from this engagement shall be binding on the Constituent Political Parties and same shall be endorsed by the CPP. In the event, and only in the event, consensus cannot be reached, the CPP shall conduct a Voters Perception Survey (VPS) to facilitate the process of selecting and choosing of the Presidential, Legislative and other candidates of the CPP.

The collaboration guidelines also notes that under the circumstance where the CPP is unable, on or before December 1, 2021, to decide/agree on a Presidential Candidature, or is unable to name a Presidential candidate, it shall conduct non-binding Voters’ Perception Surveys (VPS) funded by the CPP for the purpose of informing the CPP and their Delegates to the Conven- tion/General Assembly of the “Voters’ Views” about the Aspirants’ political marketability and public preference for the Presidential and Legislative positions. The Voters Perception Survey (VPS) shall include the Standard Bearers and/or Legislative candidates of each of Constituent Parties of the CPP/Alliance.

A Question of The Cancer

In the build-up to the 2023 Presidential elections, political observers and insiders from each of the four collaborating parties all agree that lingering uneasiness within the CPP poses grave dangers to its survival.

For Senator Dillon, the distrusts amongst feuding supporters of the four-party collaboration may be a healthy doze of reality needed to put things in perspective albeit strong cause for concerns. “ANC is no cancer in CPP, UP should not be a cancer in CPP, Liberty Party, ALP, none of us should be cancer – or threat to the survival, growth and success of CPP. We are in a democratic process where ANC is justified and has the right to project a political leader.”

The debacle within the CPP has escalated in recent weeks with the two leading political leaders making the media rounds to explain why they should head the ticket.

Former Vice President Boakai, says he is confident of receiving the CPP’s nomination to be the standard-bearer to lead the collaboration in 2023. “If the CPP wants to win and take Weah down, Boakai is the man to do that this is in no disrespect to my colleagues in the CPP,” the former Vice President said.

For Mr. Cummings, he says he will throw his support behind whoever clinches the nomination. “I believe whoever wins the nomination we will stick together as a group and make Mr. Weah a one-term President. I’m gong to to my work to make my case to the CPP partisans, and then, the partisans will decide. I’m confident we will do the work and together, we can make President Weah,, a one-term President.”

Amid the competitive nature of the ongoing CPP process, Senator Dillon says the process should be embraced by all. “We are in a democratic process where Unity Party is justified to project a political leader the standard-bearer, ALP should have the right to project a standard-bearer. Same with Liberty Party. Liberty Party should be allowed and have the right to project their standard-bearer. We did not form CPP to ordain a particular person without whom CPP can’t survive. That was not the intent, that was not the motive, that was not the justification. We came together to pull our resources together, to bring our ideas together, to merge our principles together, our values, our vision for the country, bring them together so that, together, we can have the numbers and the unity in strength to defeat the evil that is over this country, to remove the gang that is ruling and wrecking this country.”

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