Liberia: Will it Hold? History Offers Chilling Lessons for Latest Political Party Alliance?
Monrovia – Egos, greed and the quest for power have always been at the center of reincarnated variations of attempts at alliances aiming to unseat a sitting government in Liberia through the ballot box.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh,
As far back as the October 1985 presidential elections when Commander-in-Chief Samuel Kanyon Doe completed his transformation from a military man to a full-fledge civilian, the opposition in Liberia have always missed opportunities to unite for the common good of themselves.
Egos have more than once, come in the way, even against the wishes of supporters of political parties, the heads, certain of victory, often become fond of settling for self to their own detriment.
No Alliance in ’85
In the 1985 elections, the first since the April 12, 1980 coup that brought Doe to power and ended decades of Americo-Liberian rule, four political parties, including Doe’s National Democratic Party of Liberia, Jackson Doe’s Liberian Action Party, Dr. Edward Kesselly’s Unity Party and school teacher, Gabriel Kpolleh’s Liberia Unification Party all entered the fray.
Doe, despite a ridiculous human rights record, reports of corruption and a state of uncertainty, won in an amazing landslide fashion, securing 264,362 of the votes for 50.93 percent, just enough to avoid a run-off. The constitution states that a candidate must secure 50+1 percent to be declared a first-round winner.
Article 83 (b). It reads thus, ” Except for president and vice president, all elections of public officers shall be determined by a simple majority of the valid votes cast in any elections. Elections of president and vice president shall be by absolute majority of the valid votes cast. ” This is the provision after the 2011 referendum.
The other three – LAP, secured 137,270 for 26.45 percent; LUP secured 59,965 for 11.55 percent and UP’s 57,443 for 11.7 percent of the votes. Combined, the three opposition parties featuring some of the best political minds at the time, accounted for 49.7 percent of the votes. many political pundits and diplomats weighing in at the time opined that a union of those three parties could have made it difficult for Doe to win, especially in an election marred by allegations of widespread fraud and rigging.
Missed ’97 Opportunity
By the time Charles Taylor completed his transformation from a rebel leader to a politician in a bid to contest the 1997, the stakes were even higher.
Mr. Taylor’s campaign marred by chants, among other slogans, “He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him,” failed to deter twelve others from forming a united front, although murmurs of such floated in the air.
In fact, all twelve – Unity Party, All Liberia Coalition Party (ALCOP);
Alliance of Political Parties (ALLIANCE); United People’s Party (UPP); Liberian People’s Party (LPP); National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL); Liberia National Union (LINU); People’s Democratic Party of Liberia (PDPL); National Reformation Party (NRP); Progressive People’s Party (PPP);
Reformation Alliance Party (RAP) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) – were each certain of victory.
Of course, Mr. Taylor, swept the opposition in an election watched by the United Nations Observer Mission and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the back of an 89 percent voter turnout and a lopsided margin with 75.3% of the vote. His closest competitor, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf collected only 10 percent of the tally.
Field of 22 – An Open Field in ‘05
In 2005, the field was wide open, paving the way for all, drawing a whopping 22 candidates to the ballot. The contestants included a wide variety of characters all eyeing the presidency, namely: Liberia Destiny Party with Nathaniel Barnes at the top of the ticket, Charles Walker Brumskine’s Liberty Party, Sekou Conneh’s Progressive Democratic Party(PRODEM), Samuel Divine, an independent candidate, David Farhat, Free Democratic Party(FDP), Armah Jallah, National Party of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Unity Party, George Klay Kieh, New Deal Movement, Joseph Korto, Liberia Equal Rights Party, Robert Kpoto, Union of Liberian Democrats, Alhaji G.V. Kromah, All Liberia Coalition Party(ALCOP), Roland Massaquoi, National Patriotic Party, John Morlu, United Democratic Alliance, Alfred Reeves, National Reformation Party, Varney Sherman, Coalition for the Transformation of Liberia, Togba-Nah Tipoteh, Alliance for Peace and Democracy, the late Margaret Thompson, Freedom Alliance Party of Liberia, Winston Tubman, National Democratic Party of Liberia, William V.S. Tubman, Jr. Reformed United Liberia Party, George Weah, Congress for Democratic Change and the late Joseph Woah-Tee, Labor Party of Liberia.
Held on October 11, 2005, the election saw Weah, a former world football star and Sirleaf, a former World Bank employee and finance minister finishing first and second, respectively to advance to the second round run-off, which Johnson-Sirleaf won 59%-41%, according to the National Electoral Commission.
Sirleaf did managed to edge Weah with a lot of the smaller candidates, jockeying for jobs, who endorsed her in the second round, thus securing her win.
2011: Another Failed Effort
Six years later, Sirleaf faced off against fifteen opponents, even as her government battled against allegations of corruption and a damning report by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission.
The field included: Glady’s Beyan, Grassroot Democratic Party, Charles Brumskine’s Liberty Party, Chea Cheapoo’s Progressive People’s Party, James Chelley’s Original Congress Party of Liberia, Simeon Freeman’s Movement for Democratic Change, James Guseh’s Citizens Unification Party, Prince Johnson’s National Union for Democratic Progress, Marcus Roland Jones’ Victory for Change Party, Jonathan Mayson’s Union of Liberian Democrats, Dew Mayson’s National Democratic Coalition, Manjerngie Ndebe’s Liberia Reconstruction Party, Kennedy Sandy’s Liberia Transformation Party, Togba-Nah Tipoteh’s Freedome Alliance Party of Liberia, Winston Tubman’s Congress for Democratic Change and Hananiah Zoe’s Liberia Empowerment Party.
Rumors of mergers and alliances were short-lived in the 2011 elections. The closest to something worth the competition came early when Dew Mayson’s National Democratic Coalition.
The field of fifteen sixteen result in a repeat of the 2005 elections as both Sirleaf and the CDC entered the second round after securing the most votes.
Sirleaf, the incumbent won the first round with 43.9% of the vote, followed by Tubman and the CDC with 32.7%. The NEC declared Sirleaf the winner of the run-off on 15 November 2011 with 90.7% of the vote.
A Field of 20 in 2017
With voters weary of a third term ruling UP government, the 2017 elections presented yet another fresh start for the CDC and other parties to stake their claim – and twenty of them answered the call.
Sirleaf’s Vice President Joseph Boakai replaced her on the ballot and the CDC dropped Tubman for Weah. The rest of the field included: Senator Prince Y. Johnson, Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction, former Coca Cola Executive Alexander Cummings, Alternative National Congress, businessman Benoni Urey, All Liberia Party, former Central Bank of Liberia governor J. Mills Jones, Movement for Economic Empowerment, Macdella Cooper, Liberia Restoration Party, Henry Fahnbulleh, Liberia People’s Party, Oscar Cooper, Independent, Macdonald Wento, United People’s Party, Simeon Freeman, Movement for Progressive Change, Isaac Wile, Democratic Justice Party, Aloysious Kpadeh, Independent, Kennedy Sandy, Liberia Transformation Party, George Dweh, Redemption Democratic Party, William Tuider, New Liberia Party, Jeremiah Wahpoe, Vision for Liberia Transformation, Yarkpajuwur Mator, Independent and Wendell Mcintosh, Change Democratic Vision.
The field 20 again made it impossible for one candidate to win the first round. In fact, despite the confidence expressed by many, it was a foregone conclusion before the first ballot was cast the Weah’s CDC, would be in the second round once more. It was up to the other 19 to scramble for the second spot.
Voter fatigue over the UP offered a slim chance that a party other than UP would join Weah in the second round. That proved not to be the case and for the third-straight elections, the same two parties were into the second round.
Weah’s CDC as they did in 2005, emerged victorious in the first round with 596,037 for 38.4 percent of the votes to Boakai’s UP 446,716 for 28.8 percent.
One year after Mr. Weah’s inauguration, the country appears to be deeply divided amid reports of widespread corruption and a rapidly-shrinking economy.
All this raising the specter of an interesting juxtaposition reminiscent of election years’ past and early chatters of which political party is capable of establishing itself as a formidable force to give the now ruling CDC a run for their money in the 2023 elections.
The predictability of elections from Liberia’s recent past, has led many political observers to conclude – even this early, that a repeat of ’85, ’97, ’11 and ’17 are in the cards for five years down the line.
Toward 2023, Some Skeptics Doubt New Alliance Will Hold
On Thursday, the leaders of the former ruling Unity Party (UP), Liberty Party (LP), Alternative National Congress (ANC) and the All Liberia Party (ALP) made an emphatic statement in hopes of putting the brakes on what has become a routine political play with pretty much the same ending.
The leaders – Mr. Joseph Nyumah Boakai of the former ruling Unity Party, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine of the Liberty Party, Mr. Benoni Urey, of the All Liberia Party and Mr. Alexander B. Cummings of the Alternative National Congress all took turns pledging support to a rare marriage of political convenience they say aims to hold the ruling CDC government’s feet to the fire.
No names were coined Thursday and head of a coalition announced. What many walked away from Thursday’s gathering, aptly set at the headquarters of the UP, was that new alliance would have a rotating chairmanship with Urey, the businessman the first on the cards.
The move is the first of its kind in recent memory for Africa’s oldest republic, which since April 12, 1980 has seen coup d’etats, allegations of assassination attempts and a long-running civil war, over of all things, power, greed, corruption and nepotism.
This time around, the major players are proceeding with caution, avoiding the trappings of the previous attempts. But amid the excitement amongst their supporters, there are skeptics still unsure.
Why, for example, is this attempt any different from those of the past? More importantly, why should this latest reincarnation of an alliance offer doubters and skeptics, any hope that it would hold?
For starters, Mr. Urey, the alliance’s first chair believes that the choice of the UP headquarters as a setting, signals the first sign of unity by the four political leaders, something rarely seen in the past. “We are signing a document that begins the process of the unity we have been craving for years. We have decided to put Liberia first and to attune our political agenda in the interest of Liberia and the Liberian people; and above our individual and partisan ambitions. We are taking the bold and concrete step which we hope will never be reversed or undone.”
Ironically, putting Liberia above self, has been a tricky proposition that has been cited as a key reason why previous attempts at an alliance failed to hold.
This time around, Mr. Urey is convinced that Thursday’s show which was climaxed with what the political leaders call “The Statement of Commitment”, is the necessary first step along the path to assuring that Liberia moves forward on the right trajectory to align with other countries progressing toward a wholesome democracy. Said Mr. Urey: “We as political leaders must commit to this process as we will doing today by the signing of this statement. We are soliciting the help of our people by their insistence of our continuation of this collaboration. We as a people must ensure that our political leaders put the interest of the country and people paramount to theirs.”
For Boakai, the new alliance is more than just a rush to align. “By pledging to work together, we have chosen to restore hope to the hopeless, to strengthen the weak, to encourage the disconsolate, and to reassure Liberia’s international partners that we value Liberia and Liberians far above our individual ambitions and interests,” the former Vice President said Thursday.
For Cllr. Brumskine, who led the fight in the courts to challenge the 2017 results, the show of solidarity Thursday was triggered by an SOS call from Liberia. “Our country needs help, so we begin now by working together to make a difference. Our task will be not only to criticize, but also to engage all three branches of government. Yes, engaging will be difficult, because it is not part of our political culture.”
All four former candidates took turns slamming recent accusations from the ruling party that they were attempting to assassinate the president. “The moment President Weah heard that not only opposition political parties were working together, but that former presidential candidates were also getting involve with the process, the President and his men announced that opposition politicians were plotting to kill him.”
Added Cllr. Brumskine: “I can’t imagine what the President had hoped to accomplish by such an unfounded allegation, but it should not take a financial expert to realize the impact of such negative allegation, by the President of the nation, on the national economy. Such an allegation by the President says to the world that Liberia is unstable, and that our country is not opened for business. The President must know that no serious investor will invest in a country, when the President is claiming that the country is unsafe.”
ANC’s Cummings was more direct in trumpeting the downward trend the country is taking. “We are here today because of our country Liberia. The direction of our country is alarming. Liberia is going the wrong way fast. We call on the legislature to provide the check and balances; and we will support in that effort. ”
First Test: Ja’neh’s Impeachment, By-Elections
The first test of the new alliance is how effective a campaign they can mount against the ongoing impeachment battle against Associate Justice Ja’neh.
At least one Senator, among many in attendance Thursday, Senator Sando Johnson (NPP, Bomi County) has promised to vote the interest of Liberia in the ongoing impeachment trial of Justice Ja’neh. “We need to stand up and behave like men. If we don’t act now Liberians will blame you. There is no amount of lobbying that can buy my vote,” the Senator said, in an apparent reference to recent speculations that monies are being thrown around in the Senate to oust the embattled Associate Justice. “I will vote to protect the constitution of Liberia. I will vote and vote to protect Liberia,” Senator Johnson added.
Down the line of course is the upcoming by-elections to replace late Senator Geraldine Doe-Sheriff.
A lot of names are so far floating in the air including Samuel Kofi Woods, mentioned as one of the key figures working behind the scenes to bring the four parties together and the LP’s Darius Dillon, who aides say is weighing up making second attempt for the seat he lost in 2014, that took the late Doe to the Senate.
How to Respond? The CDC Dilemma
For the immediate future, many are looking to see how the ruling CDC will respond to the new alliance. Previous alliances have failed to hold when incumbent governments work toward disintegrating threats that could unseat them. Ahead of the 2011 elections, political observers say, former President Sirleaf and her team did all they could to break up what was considered a dream ticket of Brumskine-Weah or Weah-Brumskine.
How would the CDC, now in the driver’s seat respond? The jury is still out amid murmurs of some massive changes in government which has been in the air for weeks. There’s also the issue of the report on the missing LD16 billion and US$25 million intended for infusion in the economy to curb the rising exchange rate.
For now, the attention of the four political parties appear to be centered on the way forward.
Collectively all four parties who signed on to the document Thursday represent 47.2% of Liberians who cast their votes in the first round of the 2017 presidential elections. In those elections, a total of 446,716 votes for 28.8 percent of the votes; Brumskine of the Liberty Party secured 149,495 of the votes for 9.6 percent; Cummings of the ANC secured 112,067 for 7.2 percent of the votes and Mr. Urey secured 24,246 for 1.6 percent of the votes.
According to the Memorandum of Understanding, all four are convinced that a fair, transparent and competitive democratic process is vital to Liberia’s long-term prosperity and security and recognizes the role of political parties as indispensable partners in national development as well as the strengthening of Liberia’s young democracy as they expressed a desire to speak out and work toward improving the plight of the Liberian people while acknowledging the importance of multi-party democracy and the struggle for national inclusiveness.
The parties pledged to commit to forging, branding and/or rebranding, and supporting a common national interest which will serve the basis for their collaboration with a clear eye on keeping a focus on the welfare of the people, and not allowing our political differences and personal ambitions to derail the cooperation among Opposition Political Parties in the country.
They also agreed to openly and consistently engage and collaborate on various issues of concern to the people they represent and establish common national position that would promote a common agenda to aid, support and encourage the ongoing efforts of the individual political parties aimed at ensuring responsive governance and effective collaboration for the good of Liberia.
In the backdrop of some recent historical development and unlearned lessons of the past, the foreseeable future for this new alliance could offer a stark contrast. However, the common concern dogging their survival could finally boil down to a familiar theme: Surviving the incumbent’s response – and how rapid or effective that response could be?