Liberia: Sen. Koung Vows to Discourage Pay-for-Play ahead of October Elections
The Political Leader of the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR) Senator Jeremiah Koung has expressed regret over the lack of a proper documentation which sealed the political marriage between his predecessor and kinsman Senator Prince Y. Johnson and President George Manneh Weah during the run-off of the 2017 general and presidential elections.
By Obediah Johnson, [email protected]
Senator Koung was elected as the party’s Standard Bearer in December 2022 at the party second National Convention.
His kinsman Senator Johnson is the Founder and political godfather of the MDR, a party he established barely few months to the conduct of the 2017 general and presidential elections.
It can be recalled that Senator Johnson endorsed President Weah for for the Nov. 7 run-off vote between the former soccer star and ex-Vice President Joseph Boakai.
He was the former rebel leader of the notorious rebel group- Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) which captured, humiliated, tortured and killed ex-Liberian President Samuel Kanyon Doe on September 9, 1990.
Senator Johnson accumulated 8% of the votes in the first round.
But speaking when he appeared as guest on Spoon Talk on Spoon FM 107.5 over the week end, Senator Koung disclosed that following his ascendancy, he was concerned about a proper documentation which prompted the support of the MDR to President Weah by Senator Johnson during the previous general elections.
However, he noted that, Senator Johnson did not provide any documentation.
Senator Koung maintained that the MDR is no longer one of the political parties that is still supporting or aligning with the governing Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) as a result of a pronouncement made by Senator Johnson withdrawing his support from the ruling party.
“Prior to my taking over (as political Leader of the MDR), Senator Prince Johnson, then Political Leader pulled out of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC). I was interested in seeing whether there were documents signed that we joined the Coalition, but there was nothing of such.”
“What I was told by the former Political Leader is that, during the second round of the 2017 elections, I remembered that time that there was negotiation to support JNB (Joseph Nyuma Boakai) and to support President Weah. And finally, the Senator took President Weah and I took JNB.”
He disclosed that as a result of his decision taken to support Ambassador Boakai during the run-off, he was not abreast with any details of the agreement Senator Johnson reached with President Weah.
Quoting Senator Johnson, the MDR Political Leader disclosed that it was agreed between the President and his kinsmen that five Deputy, Assistant ministerial and ambassadorial positions, public corporations, and other positions would be provided the MDR following the election of President Weah.
He said the agreement was reportedly signed by Counselor Charles Gibson (current Minister of Labour) and one Cllr. Zeon Mensah.
“The details of some of the papers they put together, I was not involved because, I was on the other side.”
He maintained that though Senator Johnson claimed that he and President Weah also affixed their signatures to the agreement, he (Koung) is yet to set his eyes on the document.
‘Before I took over, Senator Johnson withdrawn from the CDC already. His support was verbal and his withdrawal was verbal.”
His assertions run contrary to claims made by the party’s embattled Vice Chair for Political and Governmental Affairs Wilfred Bangura that the MDR remains one of the constituent parties that is supporting the re-election of President Weah.
Bangura is currently serving as a Deputy Minister for Administration at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
He told a news conference last week that the MDR remains deeply rooted within the CDC, adding that, “we are allies and my party worked very hard in 2017 to bring this government to power.”
Contrary to claims made by Senator Johnson that the MDR will not support the CDC and will field a candidate to contest the presidency, Minister Bangura disclosed that the MDR will not field a candidate in the October 2023 elections or subject itself to a Vice Presidential ticket to any political party in the country.
A mandate to contest presidency
But Senator Koung pointed out that he was elected at the party’s last convention to run for the presidency.
He said despite the mandate from the party, the MDR is holding consultations with other political parties because, the party has established that no one person or political party can win election in Liberia presently without forming a merger or alliance with other politicians or political parties.
“We went to our convention and I was elected as the Political Leader. My party has asked me to contest. Discussions are going on and you can be assured that once those discussions are concluded, I will speak to you in affirmative.”
Senator Koung disclosed that these discussions are centered on ensuring a winnable ticket for the Liberian people in October 2023.
He denied reports that the MDR is holding discussions with the ruling party to return to the Coalition in exchange for financial reward.
He recounted the United States sanctions imposed on his kinsman Senator Johnson for being paid to play during the 2017 elections.
Senator Koung vowed not to follow similar path to avoid being sanctioned by the US government.
He, however, failed to clearly disclose whether or not he has been approached by the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) and the Unity Party (UP) of Mr. Alexander Cummings and Ambassador Joseph Nyuma Boakai to run as running mate to any of them.
“Nobody runs to someone and say ‘please make me your Vice President.’ If you do that to me, I will not even take you. Like I said, discussions are going on and everything is possible. What matters is Liberia and anything that we can do to get this country ok, I will be involved in it.”
Senator Koung disclosed that he has never been approached by the CDC to hold discussion or relinquish his quest or the mandate from his party to contest the presidency.
He said the MDR remains open to hold discussions with all sides, adding that, “we are not enemies and we are not fighting war here.”
Senator Koung, however, appears to be skeptical on whether or not he will contest the presidency on the ticket of the MDR.
His comments do not favor a call from his Political Leader emeritus Senator Prince Y. Johnson that the MDR will contest the presidency and form a merger with opposition political parties to unseat President Weah
Last week, he told the Voice of America last week that he has terminated an agreement he signed to support President Weah. He attributed his decision to the failure of President Weah and his government to benefit citizens of Nimba County since he ascended to the Liberian presidency.
Senator Johnson further disclosed that he is holding talks with other opposition political parties for collaboration.
“What we expected in the past is not what we see on the ground, we had believed that being the World Best, European Best, African Best, all the best, with his election, he would have attracted investors to Liberia to create jobs and alleviate the suffering on our people through their investments, but since his election, the world has abandoned us in the sense that no investors are coming. And what we are doing in the country is just ratifying loan agreements and you cannot build the country based on loans,” Sen. Johnson said.
Sen. Johnson claimed that a delegation from the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) comprising the former Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Nathaniel McGill, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dee-Maxwell Kemayah, Maritime Commissioner, Lenn Eugene Nagbe and the Minister of Finance, Samuel Tweah, paid him a visit to request him to reconsider his decision but, according to him, he turned them down.
The Nimba County Senator, however, said while his party, the Movement for Democratic Reconstruction (MDR) has opted to put a candidate in the presidential race, he also acknowledges that one political party cannot win election in Liberia.
“We are open to all parties, we’re working with the Unity Party, we’re working with ANC, we’re working with the newly certificated party, EFCC, all the parties on the ground, we’re working with them. One party cannot win elections without the other,” he said.
As for Senator Koung, he has been consistently calling for a merger or collaboration of opposition political parties to unseat President Weah.
MDR not divided
Speaking further, Senator Koung stated that despite the latest outburst from the party’s Vice Chair for Political and Governmental Affairs Wilfred Bangura, the MDR is not divided as being speculated in the public.
He observed that “when things get tough and because of jobs and other things, people will say what they can say, but the party is together and we are strong.”
He maintained that as the elections draw nearer, the party is not perturbed by defections.
“Since my election, there are lots of people that have joined the people and a lot of others are expressing interest. Some people will leave and it is normal in politics. To be a leader of a political party in Liberia is a challenging one; too many thoughts-some people coming to lie to bring different story about somebody.”
Senator Koung emphasized that he remains fully prepared to face challenges and others within the MDR ahead of the elections.
Senator Johnson and his political leader Senator Koung’s decision for the MDR to contest the presidency or support a particular political party would gamble the votes of citizens of Nimba if steps are not taken to avoid the reoccurrence of the 2017 “fiasco’ agreement.
Already, executives of the party are complaining that President Weah did not live up to his commitments which compelled Senator Johnson to support him during the run-off.