An opinion by Dr. Josephus Moses Gray
Liberia’s October 10, 2023, presidential election scheduled on Tuesday, has been termed as a defining chapter in the existence of incumbent President George Manneh Weah of the governing Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and the opposition Unity Party (UP) flagbearer Former Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai. But nobody knows for certain who will win Tuesday’s presidential poll. Definitely, Amb. Boakai will want to avoid another defeat because he wouldn’t have a third chance for a comeback, while President Weah would want to avoid bad history to be one-term president in modern presidential history in West Africa. Certainly, two main candidates- President Weah and Former Vice President Joseph Boakai are the favorites at most to win the presidency on October 10. The question now is whether Former Vice President Boakai-who famously lost the run-off poll can manage to turn the tide against incumbent President Weah on Tuesday. Or like history, the 2023 presidential election be obliged to the traditional second round or what’s referred to as run-off? This scholarly article is authored by Associate Professor Dr. Josephus Moses Gray, Dean, Amos C. Sawyer College of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Liberia.
Never has a Liberian presidential election captivated so many national and international interests and commentators before. And the stakes in this race are high. Liberia is noted for history-making and never in the 176-year of the nation’s existence that stakes in the past presidential races had captivated deep national and global interests with observers as being experienced in the October 10, 2023 presidential election. The decisive day will determine the future of the state, whether state power will remain in the hands of incumbent President George Manneh Weah, or the torch of state leadership at the highest helm will be peacefully shifted or passed onto the opposition bloc through the democratically sanctioned values and tenets.
It is difficult to make a definitive conclusion since in politics mathematically one plus one might not equal two therefore, the final ballot will determine the winner of the October 10 presidential poll. According to the Liberian Constitution, to elect the new president, voters go to the polls twice. Unless one candidate can get a majority of more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round (held on October this year), the two candidates who received the highest scores will face each other in a rerun poll. But as the world has witnessed in shock over the past year across the globe, polls and statistical models do not always come to fruition. If they did, Hillary Clinton would now be president of the United States.
But the question is: Who will be Liberia’s next president? Will the presidential race this time break away from the past by ending in the first round? The Tuesday’s polls set the stage for a major showdown six years ago with then-Vice President, Joseph Boakai and incumbent President George Weah, thus leaving the rest of the field with significant ground to cover to be able to compete. And like 2017, predictions show it’s likely to be a close contest, but with the field divided among 20 candidates, CDC’s Weah stands to clinch victory by thin digits in traditional second round or what’s referred to as run-off. For others, the October 10 poll is reduced to a two-horse race between the flagbearers of CDC and UL.
However, in any situation, the possibility of a runoff is possible considering the history of election in a contemporary Liberia, although President Weah and Former Vice President Boakai are positive of one round victory. From all indication, the nation is expected to see a CDC-UP rematch runoff as the two statesmen are being portrayed as the best options for the presidency, even though President Weah has been tested with national leadership in his capacity was incumbent, just as Amb. Boakai in his previous capacity as Vice president.
Therefore, the general outcome of the presidential election on October 10 will address this outstanding debate. The space for a runoff is possible if none of the twenty candidates reach that threshold, the top two leading candidates, President Weah and former Vice President Joseph Boakai will advance to a runoff election scheduled for early November. Again, it is expected that this year’s presidential race will be reduced to a crowd race among the main political parties, the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), Unity Party (UP), and Collaborating Political Parties (CPP). Instead of maneuvering in order to undercut the other parties to win more votes, the various parties again are preoccupied with pulling huge crowds in the various streets as a means of displaying their political authority over the others to prove that they have the numbers to win on the first ballot.
For others, President Weah has proven beyond all reasonable doubts to be re-elected for his second term in office on grounds that he has helped to address the inherited problems. While for others, the president has failed to perform to expectation by elevating their aspirations and that of the largest society. In whatever direction politically the pendulum may swing, it would obviously depend on how the electorates will carefully assess and microscopically scrutinize the president’s performances.
And in Liberia, a country that has a huge illiteracy rate in Africa, the voters might go for new faces or an old face and a newcomer; the country voters are unpredictable. In a poor country like Liberia, politicians know how to play on the vulnerability of electorates most of whom have no means of livelihood; these politicians take advantage of poor electorates’ weaknesses and their hardships in life. That is why even when the act is illegal and unlawful, like selling votes, they instantly resort to it to easily come up with a solution to their problem, embedded in poverty.
These candidates, without doubts have good intentions for vying the nation’s highest office with good record, vision, character, experience, and qualifications required to become president of Liberia. Prominent among existing field of presidential candidates are incumbent President George Weah; former Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai and Mr. Alexander Cummings of the opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC) party. They unquestionably remain some of the best options so far and they all mean well for the nation, but the electorates will have to decide their fates to choose one of the three well-known candidates. Fortunately, this election will be won by an influential presidential candidate who has the well-organized political chemistry in place across the country, one who came with the reservoir of ideas and the inspiration to play on the emotions of the exasperated voting population and also be able to make the election people centered oriented; one who will speak on issues of national development and the most cardinal bread and butter issues.
Nevertheless, can the Johnny-just-come pull the votes and pride themselves to be first among equals who would create as serious upset and cut down the old faces. However, CPP’s Cummings is a serious contender that should not be taken for granted. Majority of these political parties are, and remain fragile, weakened by either poor leadership or in-house bad blood. Nowadays political parties in the country often function as fly-by-night-venture upon only being active during election periods. Immediately after electoral exercises, these political institutions most often in some cases exist in briefcases or business-like handbags, eventually disappeared in thin air while craving through reflection by and I repeat, operating from handbags and the back seats of some aging vehicles and unidentified offices.
The new syndrome of crowd rivalry into the Liberian political space was an issue of debate in the 2017 presidential poll and 2023 October 10 elections as to which party that had the numbers over the other parties to clinch victory in the first round of balloting. All the political parties have mainly been focusing on producing huge numbers of mammoth crowd in the various streets and sports stadiums across the country instead of making the October 10 presidential election issue based. The issue of crowd competition took the electoral exercise to a new level, as one party overwhelmed the other candidates with a mammoth crowd.
During the last two months of campaigning across the country, the various streets, stadiums, town halls, playgrounds were overwhelmed by (mostly free-lance) mammoth crowds as political parties prove superiority over one another to flex its political muscles, particularly with the displayed of gigantic crowds in Monrovia, cities, districts and towns, and across the country. Unfortunately, these gigantic crowds apparently driven by monetary gains, inducement or allegiance, often failed to translate into actual votes, as evidenced of the successive elections in Liberia; in contain instances, those who pulled huge crowds end most often being the losers. However, political pundits are very concerned if the crowd rivalry will translate into actual votes on Tuesday’s elections.
Vividly, the 2017 election is a classic example; the results were far below the anticipation despite the unprecedented huge crowds that characterized the presidential race. Therefore, the debate regarding which of the political party that had the biggest crowd should not be the issue of debate, instead, how will the crowds translate into actual votes to eventually capture 50 percent plus one vote, the threshold to avoid a rerun of voting. It is not yet clear, if electorates will be looking for magic touch in the body politics of Liberia, one who with the unique and most needed, with emphasis on respect for good governance coupled with the cardinal esteemed respect for due process encapsulated and driven by the political and economic chemistry to progressively move the country and people forward With dignity and credibility.
Interestingly, during the 2017 presidential campaign, the governance the CDC projected of having the numbers and claimed to have pulled two million people on the streets and locked down the city. The CDC’s two-million-man march was disputed by CDC’s archrival-UP. Few weeks later, the Liberty Party came all out in green color and claimed that it had brought over two-hundred thousand in the street to launch its official campaign while the ALP also flexed its political muscles by pulling huge crowd in the streets of Monrovia and Antoinette Tubman Sport Stadium, but the numbers were disputed by the ALP and LP’s rivals. In order to dispute the gigantic multitudes produced by CDC, LP and ALP, the UP went all out into the various surroundings and institutions of government to overwhelm the principal streets of Monrovia and its environs with mammoth crowds, projecting to have the numbers over its main rival, the ruling CDC. The UP boasted that the numbers of turnout were the biggest multitude any political party had ever produced in the history of Liberia, but that projection failed to translate into actual votes, as evidenced that President Weah’s CDC won 14 of the 15 counties in the rerun poll.
As a matter of fact, week from now expect to see political parties congregating political parties gathering, portraying lavished t-shirts, lappas, fez caps and expensive placards across the country and street corners, while radio stations’ broadcasts will again be engulfed with pro and anti- songs, jingles, and messages all attending the campaign trails; the same goes as the various daily publications’ pages of newspapers from the front-page-banner headlines to the captions on the back pages again, depicting pro and anti-stories in favor or against a particular candidates.
Many are of the conviction that any runoff between CDC and UP, the kingmakers in the process would be Mr. Cummings. But the question is which of the two—CDC or UP, will Mr. Cummings and other political heavyweights give their supports. Will they keep the CDC’s longevity for an additional six years or will they go for an opposition win over the ruling CDC? However, it is likely that the rest of the political heavyweights might encourage their followers and partisans to decide for themselves, For the ANC’s Cummings, it is unknown which of the side will he support and the true is he is very close to the ears of former President Sirleaf. But with the current demography of the electoral map where the nation has voted on regional line, the question is, will the ANC’s Cummings abandon the southeastern region son, Senator George Weah who hailed from SassTown in Grand Kru County, the neighbor of Maryland County where the ANC’s flag-bearer hailed. Will Cummings go towards the Northern region’s son Joseph Boaki who hailed from Foya, Lofa County to encourage his supporters and followers to support Boakai?
What will happen in the future if Cummings attempts to contest for any elected post in future be it presidential, will the people of the Southeastern region forgive him or punish him if he does not support the region’s candidate if runoff election was to be held? In any situation, CPP’s Cummings and other political heavyweights will have to face a serious dilemma but let us not forget, there is no fair play in politics. Unfortunately, the CPP’s camp have been marked with frustration which posed a serious challenging task; this situation is compounded by in-house unfavorable political situation-where it appeared that there is deep existing bad blood among the CPP political heavyweights.
What a political shame for a country with less than six million populations to have about twenty registered presidential candidates in the country Although, the augment stands that it is the constitutional right for a bonafide Librans free of criminality and in good standing with the law and with the urge and resources, and moreover, of the requisite age s sanctioned by the constitution, can test the political water. Nowadays in Liberia, every Dick and Tom appeared to have solution to the numerous problems facing this country. Some of these aspirants have not won a Susu Club or community elections while some of these flies by night political parties are being hosted in a shared apartment, but yet they want the people of Liberian to trust them with the nation’s highest office. Generally, they fall far too below the ability to possess the muscles that will propel them to play a cardinal role in influencing public policy and providing checks and balances wherein the government will not operate as an exclusive authority or law and gospel unto themselves and not being answerable to the custodians (the people) of power in keeping with the nation’s constitution.
The question is which party with the political juice and substance to measure up to the eagerly awaited expectations of the wailing for positive and realistic change? Until political parties and institutions in the country can be prepared to smoothly operate outside the sways and pockets of individuals, Liberia’s political system is stuck in a gloomy orbit and properly set to suffer a downward trail. Most of these so-called parties are surviving from individual’s pockets, a result, political institutions especially parties are built around individuals. The parties that are formed in this class include the Unity Party, CDC, Liberty Party, ALP, UPP, LAP, and several others.
Whenever these individuals whose influences and financial assistance these parties are operating on are no more around, such a party is doomed and definitely will collapse; why? As evident, this has been the case of several political parties such as the TWP, NPP, UPP, LUP, LAP and NDPL. For instance, two former ruling parties-NDPL and NPP were exclusively centered on the financial supports and influences of ex-Presidents Samuel K. Doe and Charles Ghankay Taylor; and true to the hard facts of reality, these two parties no longer possess the political dynamism in this era to occupy the presidency. This situation is not only limited to political parties but also extended to organizations and institutions in the country.
Liberia needs to transform and build stronger political institutions and not ones that are solely supported by an individual or only exist based on the heart beats of the exclusive all powerful who alone plays the piper and therefore calls for the note. Supporting the development of parties and party structures under this current government poses a major challenge that should be given high priority.
About the author:
Professor Josephus Moses Gray, Ph.D, a native born Liberian, hails from the Southeastern Village of Kayken, Barclayville District in Grand Kru County, Republic of Liberia. He has achieved the highest level of academic mastery in his chosen academic field including a Ph.D. (distinction) in International Relations and Diplomacy from the HELP-CEDS University in Paris, Republic of France. Dr. Gray further holds a Master’s degree in International Relations, and Bachelor’s Degree in Communication (Print Journalism) from the University of Liberia. He also holds dozen of diplomas and certificates in Foreign Policy Studies, International Relations, Diplomacy, Print Journalism, Elections Reporting, Development Communication, Research Methods, and Digital Communication and Technical Writing from Paris, France; Genera, Switzerland; Beijing, China; Washington, D.C., USA; Cape Town, South Africa; Rabat, Morocco; Accra, Ghana; Dakar, Senegal and Monrovia, Liberia. He currently serves as Associate Professor of International Relations, University of Liberia and Dean of the Amos C. Sawyer College of Social Sciences and Humanities, formerly Liberia College, University of Liberia. He earlier served as a Senior Research Fellow at the International Institute of Research for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies in Paris, France. Dr. Gray has worked in several strategic positions in both public and private sectors including Senior Policy Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Liberia, Assistant Foreign Minister for Public Affairs; Political Counselor at the Embassy of Liberia in Paris, France, and Charge D’ Affairs at Liberia Permanent Mission to the Swiss Federation and the United Nations in Genera, Switzerland. He has wildly written and published over 300 peer-reviewed articles in local and international journals and three books. His recent book: The Effect of Diplomacy: Liberia, U.S, China’s Triangular Relations, characterizes the existing relationships among the three countries as “triangular, and is on sale in 162 countries across the world. The book is reproduced in several languages including French, Italian, Chinese, and Spanish. It is also reproduced into audio and movie.