Liberia: Senator Joseph Nagbe’s Nomination Might Create By-Election amid Economic Meltdown


Monrovia – Lessons from the extremely low turnout at the recent senatorial by-election for Montserrado and Bong Counties seem to not have sunk down the thinking of President George Manneh Weah.

Report by Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]

Reasons for the disappointing numbers at the polls are diverse but all intertwined in one: economic hardship, which even led to the breaching of the Constitution leading to the postponement of the by-election.

At one point, Finance and Economic Planning Minister Samuel Tweah, termed the two counties’ senatorial by-election, which was intended to have replacements for President Weah and Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor, as “insignificant”.

He maintained that government could not afford spending US$3.9 million on the by-election. The country was economically pressed and the public and aspirants at the time were expected to understand and cope with the situation.

Liberians are generally welcoming and easily let go so there was no issue.

But many were taken aback by the fielding of two sitting lawmakers, members of the ruling establishment, to partake in the senatorial by-election for both Montserrado and Bong.

The ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) was not moved by the barrage of criticisms and questioning of its sincerity to the Liberian people and to their mantra — “pro-poor”.

The criticisms stemmed from fielding members of the House to contest the Senate seats for both counties had the probability of creating another by-election – of course, it has – another financial burden.

Feeling Deceived

But disenchanted Liberians, most of whom spoke with FrontPageAfrica on the by-election day and even after claimed that they boycotted the polls because they felt deceived by the government.

“The reason why I am not voting is that everything is high, even children school fees is very high, so I prefer to use the time I will take to stand in line just to vote to sell my market and look for my children’s school fees and not to waste my time standing in line to vote people who don’t care about you when they win,” Morneh Piach, a trader at Jorkpen Town market told FPA.

Morneh added that market women have agreed not to vote in all forthcoming elections because of the government’s insensitivity to the plights of its people.

“We are market women but we are not foolish,” Tenneh Kromah said. “The people said there’s no money for election, then why they putting people who already get position in the race? To create more hard time for us? Is that what the pro-poor means? Pro-poor means we should remain poor?”

Tenneh and Morneh are not alone in this frustration. Even members of the elite class expressed similar frustration over the decision of the CDC and so did members of the opposition political parties.

Fruit seller Elfreda Brown said it was “selfish” to have allowed Rep. Saah Joseph and Marvin Cole to participate in the senatorial by-election.

“Why would President Weah allow two sitting lawmakers from his party to contest the by-elections when he asked citizens to be patient about the economic hardship facing the country?” Brown asked.

“They sat 12 years observing the same wrongs,” Rachel Dunbar also a marketer said. “We expect them to bring the changes they told us, but to allow Rep. Joseph to contest, I think it’s unfair. If he wins, the country will go for another by-election, what sense does it make?’’

Wakeup Call

Madam Frances Greaves, Chair of the National Civil Society Organization Council of Liberia (NCSOCL) described the low turnout as a wakeup call to the government.

“It is a wakeup call, if we are not careful, no one will vote in future elections,’’ she cautioned.

Greaves said civil society organizations should reflect on the implications of the low turnout in the by-election and begin to map out a holistic strategy to engage citizens on the importance of voting in future elections, especially in 2020 for the senatorial elections and the presidential election in five years.

Statistics from the National Elections Commission show that less that 10% of registered voters in Montserrado County, known to be the stronghold of the ruling party, participated in the July 31, 2018 by-elections.

Of the 778,291 persons, who were registered by the NEC to vote in Montserrado in the 2017 Presidential and General Elections, only 67,308 persons turned out to vote in the by-election in the county.

This is less than 10 percent of the registered voters in Montserrado, which now hosts more than one million of the nation’s five million inhabitants.

Creating More By-Elections

As if President Weah couldn’t wait for the retirement of Associate Justice Philip A. Z. Banks, III from the Supreme Court’s Bench, he announced a nominee for his replacement just 24 hours after the retirement ceremony.

Cllr. Joseph Nagbe, a sitting Senator of Grand Kru County, is likely to leave a vacuum in the Senate to join the decision makers of the highest court.

This definitely means, burdening the National Elections Commission (NEC) with another by-election in Sinoe County.

While legal pundits are reserving their comments on Sen. Nagbe’s preferment, political pundits see the move as a contradiction to the President’s call for Liberians to remain patient for better times while enduring hardship.

“There is no time better than now to judiciously use meager national resources, but it seems President George Manneh Weah is quite unconscious of the economic hardship his people are faced with,” a prominent financial expert told FPA.

Commenting on the breaking news of Sen. Nagbe’s nomination, Merlinson K. Yardolo, wrote, “Begging for money all around the world and creating expenses on government.”

Another Boycott Looms

Sinoe County located in Southeastern Liberia is one of the most impoverished counties in the country. Bad road condition is a major factor for ever-increasing hardship in that county.

And in rainy season like this, prices of commodities skyrocket.

If Sen. Nagbe’s nomination is confirmed by the Senate, which is most likely going to be, Sinoe would brace for a by-election to be held within 90 days after the vacancy shall be announced. This would be just at the end of the Rainy Season.

However, fears of the Montserrado and Bong County De javu is already being preempted for the possible Sinoe County by-election, which will bring the number of by-election to two — the first being the one created in Montserrado following the election to the Senate by District 13 Rep. Saah H. Joseph.

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