Liberia’s Primary Snub: From ‘Political Leader’ to ‘Standard Bearer’


Monrovia – In the months leading to his decision to complete his transformation from an army man to a civilian, it was simply a matter of choosing a running mate for Samuel Doe.

From ‘Political Leader’ to ‘Standard Bearer’, Coronation Still the Norm as 2017 Presidential Election Nears

The lowly-ranked army officer whose People’s Redemption Council (PRC) ended more than a decade of Americo-Liberian rule, consulted Dr Amos Sawyer to become his Vice-President. When Dr. Sawyer declined, his relationship with Doe turned sour as he faced numerous threats, the burning of his house and the banishment of his political party, the Liberia People’s Party (LPP), which was later accused of endangering the democratic process.

Doe then turned to Dr. Harry Moniba and the rest is history.

Long before the Doe era, the Grand Old True Whig Party had to endure a controversy when President William V.S. Tubman was handpicked by his immediate predecessor, Edwin Barclay, when many expected Clarence Simpson who had served as Barclay’s secretary of state and harboured an ambition to be President too was overlooked for the cigar-smoking Tubman who went on to rule Liberia for 47 years becoming the longest-serving head of state in the country’s history.

Charles D.B. King went unopposed before heading into the controversial 1927 elections where he defeated Thomas J. Faulkner of the People’s Party in an election dubbed as “the most fraudulent ever” with an entry into the Guinness Book of World Records. Despite there being fewer than 15,000 registered voters, King received around 240,000 votes, compared to 9,000 for Faulkner.

Ahead of the 1985 elections, Jackson F. Doe edged David Farhat to clinch the nomination of the Liberia Action Party (LAP).

Not much has changed since the dog days of the Doe era. Liberia’s political configurations continue to be structured around personalities rather than institutions.

So much so that if Presidential elections were held today, it is pretty clear who will be at the helm of most of the political parties eyeing the presidency.

A clear hint emerged out of the conventions of two newly-established political institutions held so far. Benoni Urey’s All Liberia Party(ALP) and Alex Cummings Alternative National Congress(ANC) but tipped the high-profiled personalities as their political leaders heading into the 2017 Presidential elections; joining the likes of Charles Walker Brumskine and George Manneh Weah as political leaders of the opposition Liberty Party and the Congress for Democratic Change(CDC).

In most instances, stature, power and prestige factors in the decision-making of parties gunning for power.

The ANC had earlier courted veteran Liberian journalist and corporate lawyer, Kwame Clement but has since laid down the welcoming mat for Cummings.

Cummings won on white ballot after Mr. Lafayette E. Gould, the current party chairman declined nomination to contest for similar position following his nomination by Watson Yeanue, a Nimba county delegate, leaving Mr. Cummings as the lone candidate to contest.

“Haven’t consulted with my family, I hereby decline my nomination to contest for the political leadership position,” he said.

“I want to thank you for the confidence reposed in me,” said Gould. Gould, in a statement at the Party’s Bentol Convention, disclosed that the presence of Cummings in the ANC has added value to the party.

Cummings, a former executive at Coca-Cola immediately promised to deliver electricity, better education in six Years signalling that the die has already been cast in stone that he will be the party’s standard bearer.

Ironically, the situation appears at least to be unsettled in the ruling Unity Party where Dr. Toga McIntosh has been making the rounds in hopes of gathering support in his quest to challenge Vice President Joseph Boakai in a primary to contest the 2017 presidency.

McIntosh may have seen an opening after the incumbent President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf declared that while she supports Vice President Boakai’s bid, the vice President still has a lot of work to do and must work tirelessly to get what he wants.

“Anybody who gets it will get it the way I got it,” she said.  “They will go and they will campaign for it and they will fight for it, they will set their targets and they will get it.”

Dr. McIntosh has repeatedly said he is aware of the challenges ahead in the party primary especially against the VP and has been trumpeting what he terms as the beauty of democracy as his trump card in challenging the VP’s Presidential quest.

Liberia which was dominated by a one-party system for the better half of a century; has rarely had a system of primary which is modelled after the American political system during which a series of Presidential primary elections and caucuses are held by political parties in each U.S. state and territory to form part of the nominating process of the U.S. Presidential elections.

According to U.S. historians, the U.S. has never specified the process but political parties have developed their own procedures over time. Nevertheless, some states hold only primary elections while others hold caucuses.

In Liberia, the party convention formats are usually in the form of coronations with very little opposition standing in the way of the personality already established as the party’s political leader.

With the 2017 Presidential elections within sights, political observers say the convention coronation is unlikely to change the outlook of what is building up to be a very intriguing play for the highest office in the land.

Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]