Liberia: Cyrus, Jallah and Kortimai in Three-horse Race in Lofa County Senatorial By-election – Several Factors to Determine Where the Votes Would Go
VOINJAMA CITY, Lofa County – Thousands of voters will in two weeks file out in Lofa County to elect a new senator to fill the vacancy of former defense minister Brownie Samukai, who lost his seat following the Supreme Court ruling for money laundering.
No fewer than six candidates are participating in the election, but it is expected to be a fierce battle between businessman and humanitarian Momo Cyrus, an Independent candidate, Cllr. Joseph Jallah, a proxy candidate of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), and Garlakpai Kortimai of the former ruling Unity Party.
In this analysis, FrontPageAfrica suggests that the outcome of the election would be influenced by a number of factors, including party structures, religion, voter turnout, and geo-political balance.
Lofa currently has 187,775 registered voters. Of this total, upper Lofa has 87,497 registered voters, accounting for 46.6 per cent of all registered voters.
Upper Lofa is comprised of two electoral districts, including Districts Four and Five, including Salayea, Voinjama, Zorzor, and Quadu Gboni.
There are 47,685 registered voters in District four, including Voinjama and Quardu Gboni, as well as portions of Zorzor District, which finishes in Konia town.
This represents 54.49 percent of registered voters in upper Lofa. District five, which encompasses the entirety of Salayea and a sizable portion of Zorzor, has a total voter population of 39,812, or 45.5 per cent of all registered voters in the area.
Regrettably, these two electoral districts have historically had low voter turnout during voting periods, particularly during extraordinary senatorial elections like as the one scheduled for May 10,2022.
In the most recent election in 2020, only 30,190 voters out of a total of 87,497 voted, constituting 34.50 percent of all registered voters in the area. This means that 65.5 percent of registered voters in upper Lofa did not vote.
If this pattern persists in the upcoming By-election, no political scientist is required to determine who is disadvantaged, given that this pattern of political division between upper and lower Lofa has existed for the last 16 years and continues to exist now.
Another factor to consider when evaluating who would be disadvantaged in the upcoming by-election is the issue of invalid votes, which is mostly attributable to a lack of voter education in the region regarding voting processes.
In 2020, there were 949 invalid votes out of 30,190 total votes cast, or 6.73 percent of the 14,096 total votes cast in District Five.
District Four recorded a total of 1,129 invalid votes out of 16,094 total votes cast, constituting 7.01 % votes cast. By combining these numbers, it is safe to state that upper Lofa had 28,112 valid votes and 2,078 invalid votes in the 2020 elections, representing 6.88 % turnout of 30,190 registered voters.
Much work need to be done in order to significantly minimize the number of invalid votes.
With these announcements regarding upper Lofa’s position in the pending by-election, FrontPageAfrica can confirm that despite low voter registration and turnout, upper Lofa is ready to field six of its best offsprings in the by-election, including Sumo Kupee, Galakpai Kortimai, and George Samah are all from Zorzor District, while Momo Cyrus and Mariamu Fofana are from Voinjama and Quadu Gboni, respectively.
In this analysis, our regional reporter Selma Lomax weighs in on the strengths and weaknesses of the three leading candidates ahead of the June 28 by-election in Lofa County:
Many powerful young people, particularly in Upper Lofa’s Voinjama Administrative District, regard Momo as a beacon of hope, a new power dynamic in Lofa’s body politics.
As a fervent promoter of youth development and sports, Momo is credited with leading the County to its first two trophies (football and kickball) since the foundation of Lofa in 1964 and the beginning of the National County Sports Meet in Liberia.
He has worked for the county, primarily in the Voinjama District, where he is from. Despite having no political records in the county, he has remained involved in conflict resolution, the most recent being a standoff at the Lofa County Community College between disgruntled faculty members and the administration, during which a resolution was signed and later overturned by the Lofa County Community College Board of Trustees.
He is a business-minded young man who founded one of the largest private security organizations, SEGAL, which employs many Liberians, including Lofians.
Many of his critics feel that his decision to run is a ploy to keep Senator Stephen Zargo from running in 2023, further eroding Zargo’s popularity. He is a newcomer to Lofa politics, with many believing that because of his proximity to Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee, he is the choice of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change, and that his participation would see the CDC gain more ground in The Voinjama District than in previous elections.
Despite the fact that this claim could not be independently proven, it has an impact on his candidacy.
OPPORTUNITIES IN THE BY-ELECTION:
Cyrus, a Lorma ethnic group candidate from Voinjama, may only have a 20% chance of being elected senator and an 80% probability of not being elected senator of Lofa county if the existing variables play out against him. This could be owing to his first appearance in Lofa politics, and while he is a famous name, his critics feel he is a newcomer to the Lofa political theater and has no past political records to be trusted with the top post.
With fewer votes registered in Upper Lofa, as well as the voting pattern, and the fact that the current senator, Stephen Zargo, comes from Voinjama District, Momo is in a difficult position to win. This is most likely a political experiment for him.
As superintendent of Lofa from 2006 until late 2012 July, Kortimai was a strong supporter of the county’s growth and provided opportunities for many of his kinsmen, notably young people, to pursue their interests.
He was instrumental in guaranteeing the Unity Party’s two victories in 2005 and 2011 through his leadership of the party.
Kortimai is, on the whole, selfless and easy to get along with. He is a local entrepreneur that owns a peanut butter processing plant in Lofa County, which employs a large number of people.
He has a long background in Lofa politics and ran against incumbent Senator Sumo G. Kupee from the same Zorzor District in the 2014 midterm election. He finished sixth with 3,570 votes out of a total of 48,812 valid votes.
From the Gizzima Clan in Zorzor District, he has amassed considerable administrative authority and earned the trust of his kin in the inhabited towns of Fissebu and Yeala, as well as some areas of Zorzor City.
Kortimai has established positive long-term working relationships throughout the county, especially Voinjama, where it has a sizable network of supporters among the Lorma speaking community.
Many of Brownie Samukai’s followers regard him as a true fighter who stayed by them throughout Samukai’s court trial and believe that they may compensate him by choosing him to replace Samukai, who is legally incapable.
Kortimai has done little to maintain his political base, as seen by his political grass-roots hopping from the Unity Party in 2005-2012 to the Congress for Democratic Change in 2014, before returning to the Unity Party in 2022 and acting as Acting County Chairman.
Kortimai’s long-standing enmity with Sumo Kupee may have a detrimental effect on his election prospects. He has had little impact in Salayea District since 2012 and may soon lose a sizable portion of the Salayea vote.
With the current trajectory of events, he may garner a majority of votes from the Samukai Camp, but this will not be enough to overcome the districts 1-3 vote totals. With three candidates from Zorzor District, Kortaimai (Gizzimai clan), Kupee (Gizzimai clan), and Samah (Zeayama), Kortaimai’s chances are bleak, as Zorzor District votes will be chosen by the Bluyeama clan, over which Kortimai has little power.
OPPORTUNITIES IN THE BY-ELECTION:
Even with the Friends of Samukai’s blessing, Kortimai cannot maintain a commanding lead given that Samukai’s major supporters were in Districts 1,4 and 5, while Jallah won districts 2 and 3. Kortimai’s task will be to work intensively to ensure that the votes in these districts are from Samukai supporters. This appears to be unlikely given that Mariamu, who finished second to Samukai in district four, is also back in the race, and the return of Cyrus could further dent Kortaimai’s chances.
Kortimai may struggle in District five due to the presence of Kupee and Samah. Kortimai will have a 25% probability of getting elected and a 75% chance of not being elected if all of these things remain constant.
JOSEPH K. JALLAH:
Jallah is a significant political challenger in Lofa’s body politics, as evidenced by his consistency in finishing second in two successive elections (2014 and 2020) and third in 2011.
Since 2011, he has maintained political consistency in terms of vote totals. For example, when he ran in 2011, he finished fourth with 12,420 votes out of 91,402 legitimate votes cast with the participation of ten candidates.
Jallah finished second to Senator Stephen Zargo in 2014, with 8,570 votes out of 48,812 total valid votes cast, with the involvement of 9 candidates, including Kupee and Kortimai, who finished fourth and sixth, respectively. In 2020, Jallah finished second to Brownie Samukai with 13,968 votes out of 64,252 valid votes cast with 11 candidates competing.
There is little doubt that Jallah retains the trust of his kinsmen, particularly those from the Gbandi chiefdom and, by extension, the lower Lofa region, who views him as a true representative of them. Clearly, in all of these elections in which Jallah has taken part, he has had a considerable amount of support from the lower Lofa as opposed to the upper Lofa.
In 2011, he finished second behind former Senator Tengbeh in District one with a vote of 1,403, third to Tengbeh in District two with a vote of 1,975, and first in District three with a vote of 5,508.
In 2011, Jallah received 8,886 votes, representing 71.54 percent of his 12,420 votes, with the remaining 28.46 percent coming from Upper Lofa. Similarly, in the 2020 Midterm Senatorial Election, he received 11,157 votes from lower Lofa, accounting for 79% of his total votes cast.
Interestingly, with the exception of District One, where he finished fourth, he finished first in Districts Two and Three, with higher vote totals than in previous years.
Due to the lack of many possible candidates in the lower District, these figures are expected to rise in the by-election, putting Jallah in a far more comfortable position in Lower Lofa.
Many of his critics blame his three defeats on his “complacency and arrogance”.
What would have a detrimental impact on his votes is his alleged involvement in the Samukai’s trial, which he has since denied and challenged his accusers to prove. This may, to some extent, make it difficult for him to obtain the Friends of Samukai’s support.
If he does not diversify his support base in other regions, he may lose the backing of other districts, which could jeopardize his ambition.
OPPORTUNITIES IN THE BY-ELECTION
With all of these stated elements plus the fact that Jallah does not have a big challenger in lower Lofa, he may have a 60 percent probability of being elected as opposed to 40% if all of the existing variables persist in upper Lofa, where there are five probable contenders.