Liberia Votes 2017: Political Parties Target First-Time Voters
Monrovia – Young people between ages 18-22 comprise 21 percent of the 2,183, 683 registered voters, making them the largest number of voters in Liberia’s 2017 elections.
Report by Bettie K. Johnson Mbayo, [email protected]
With 40 days to the October 10, 2017 elections, presidential hopefuls are reaching out to young voters. They are using sports, scholarships and other activities to lure young voters.
Augustine Ngafuan, national chair of the ruling Unity Party, said the UP is reaching out to high schools and universities to engage young people about their concerns. The national campaign includes a representation from first-time voters.
“Education is the main concern for first-time voters,’’ he said.
‘They want opportunities for employment after they leave school and that’s why (Boakai) is emphasizing on road improvement because if it’s done, the economy will open up and many people will be incorporated in the job market.’’
Some first-time voters interviewed by FrontPageAfrica said they will vote for candidates who speak to education, job opportunities and other issues that affect them.
Eddie Harmon, 19, a senior at the College of West Africa (CWA), said he’s excited to be voting for the first time.
‘’That’s my right, and I’m happy to make a choice for my country,’’ he said.
Harmon said he is interested in voting for a president who is concerned about improving science education.
Many Liberian students, he said, are not prepared for the West African Senior School Certification Examination (WASSCE), a standardized test for secondary students in the West African region.
Liberian students, he said, cannot compete with their peers in the region because science education is poor.
Most public and private schools don’t have adequate science laboratories, so students only learn the theory of biology, physics and chemistry, with no practical experience.
At CWA high school and college, students share the same laboratory as the United Methodist University.
Sometimes, the high school students don’t have access to the lab because the school’s schedule conflicts with UMU, said Harmon an undecided voter.
‘I am asking them to prioritize the sciences,’’ said Harmon, referring to presidential aspirants. ‘I will vote.’’
Sarafina Zubah, 18, said she wants a president who will prioritize education. As a junior student at CWA, Zubah is concerned about taking the WASSCE next year.
“The WASSCE will be a challenge because of the lack of laboratory,’’ she said.
Zubah said she won’t be casting her first vote to the Unity Party because the ruling party has failed to improve education in the country.
She is considering voting for the Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC) headed by Senator George Weah and Senator Jewel Howard Taylor.
‘I don’t want the same party that we suffered under,’’ she said.
”We want a better school life. I will not vote for someone who will not help the youth. I want to see more youth in school that will be a good thing because education is best.’’
Taa Wongbe, an executive of the Alternative National Congress, said the ANC is responding to young people’s concerns about the lack of jobs and skills to enable them to find jobs.
Alexander Cummings, the ANC’s standard bearer, plans to provide vocational and technical education for young people.
‘’Many youth do not have the opportunity to continue their education after high school,’’ he said.
Cummings, he said, has provided scholarships and job opportunities for many young people.
Cecelia Dahn, 21, junior Student of United Methodist University on Ashmun Street, she’s glad to vote for the first time.
“I’m from Ghana, my family left during the war, I’m happy to have a voting card for the first time because I’m going to make a decision for my country and its people.”
Dahn is a supporter of the Alternative National Congress, “I’m supporting the A.N.C because I want a leader with the charisma to lead and I think Cummings has it.”
“He has addressed every issue affecting the youths, so I will even campaign for him among my peers,” she said.
Bobby Cole, a 12th grader at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Duala, is also excited to be voting for the first time. He hopes that the elections will be fair and peaceful.
‘I want the elections to be peaceful,’’ he said. ‘There can be pressure during elections, but the political parties owe it to us, so they must be peaceful.’’
Nehemiah Hoskins, 18, said he is proud to be making a decision about the future of Liberia.
“Voting is important because it is my right and I have reached the voting age, so I shouldn’t sit back and watch the older ones vote,’’ he said.
‘We want free and fair elections. If a party doesn’t win, they should accept the results and help the new government to improve the country.
Samora Wolokolie, secretary of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), said the party is reaching out to all voters, not just young people.
First-time voters, he said, have not had experience voting.
“The first-time voters concerns are not different from usual voters,’’ he said.
‘’They have not had an experience of voting people and being disappointed. What they’ve had is either their parent or relatives voting for them and making decisions which they believe is the best for them.’’
Owen Hoff, 22, started working as a mason after he dropped out of high school in 2016 when he completed the 8th grade.
He plans to vote for the Coalition for Democratic Change headed by George Weah. Hoff said he hasn’t read any political party platform, but he’s committed to voting Weah.
“I’m excited because if I vote, it will effect change for the youth,’’ he said.
Emmanuel Browne, 22, of 19th Street, is also excited about voting for the first time. Browne doesn’t know who he will vote for.
He will decide when he enters the poll booth on Oct. 10.
“I haven’t gone to any one of the campaign headquarters, but I know the day of election, I will vote,’’ he said.
Adama Kromah, 19, is a petty trader who sells on the Airfield area. Kromah dropped out in the 11th grade.
He said he wants to vote because Liberia needs a new leadership that will address unemployment, education and the drug problem affecting young people.
Education, he said, should be the priority for the next government.
The Liberty Party when contacted via Darius Dillion and Kla Edward Toomey refused to speak to FPA as to what they are doing with first time voters.