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Friday, June 21, 2024

PONDERING HOW PRESIDENT GEORGE WEAH DILUTED PUL ELECTIONS 2022 MOMENTUM

Date:

An opinion By Sherman C. Seequeh

Electing the leadership of the Press Union of Liberia, particularly after the civil war, was a very noisy and fiercely competitive affair. The stakes were then very high. The sociopolitical environment was tense. Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to be the case with the 2022 elections, and not too many people detect this. Where some may notice the change, they still don’t fathom the cause—the basic reason—this year’s PUL elections is not as fierce and combative at least on ideological grounds. The low momentum is all not just natural; not because the journalists of Liberia are weary to flex their natural tempos. What most people may not know is that the current national president did something critical that is having a direct effect on PUL’s Elections 2022 momentum. What can that be?

Let’s reflect. Those who witnessed PUL elections in the 1990s, in early and mid-2000s, and the last ten years to this moment, would recall the make-or-break fervor that characterized those elections. Indeed, the stakes were high and the polarization was deep. The prevailing issues that defined those stakes and polarizations were dear and cardinal, not only to the contestants, but also their lackeys and surrogates. And because of this, temperaments were so high, and so were the momentums.

Key to the electoral fights of those days was the history and the very essence of the PUL—a history of iron resolve to struggle for equity and freedom—a struggle for rights and rice as the “progressives” will put it—amid the whirlwind of tyranny and bad governance.

Any Liberian who has had a close eye on the Union’s thread of history dating 58 years now knows that PUL is a consummate epitome of the Liberian people’s incessant quest for freedom, democracy and economic equality. It has stood as a shining force in the “media-government-adversary” relationship espoused by every well-known free expression devotee. Until 1964, there was never an effective, organized journalist association, even though Liberia is credited for having the third oldest press in Africa.

The media-government dichotomy, despite intermittent sway along the way, is the fulcrum anchoring the Union’s place in the struggle for human rights and democracy in Liberia. That makes the Union one of the surest assurances and reliance for all freedom and rights-hungry people in the country.

Thus, as folks went to elections in the past, the polarization as well as the accompanying aggressive discourses was based on the generic governance and freedom issues of day bordering the struggle trajectory of the Union. So, whether the issues formed around “Monrovia-journalists” versus “Greater-Liberia-journalists” dichotomy in the 1990s and early 2000s, or around “pro-government-journalists” vs “non-conformists-journalist” in mid-2000s and thereafter, the central common bond of contention amongst the larger activist community was the entrenched draconian decrees.

Liberian laws, such as Decree 88-A, “Criminal Malevolence”, etc., were huge burdens clogging the Liberian journalists’ practice of their profession, which many past political leaders, even despite their professed espousal of democracy, freedom, and good governance, used as a pretext to maim and gag journalists in this country.

It was therefore understandable that the PUL, which is a surviving legacy of the Liberian people’s struggle for human freedoms and civil liberties would go to elections asking the hard questions, digging deep in the closets of leadership contenders, and even stampeding to pick their leaders. Because, clearly those days, with the draconian decrees hanging over them, journalists saw political establishments of yesteryears constituting the greatest peril to free press and human freedoms so far as public officials’ desperate maneuvers were concerned.

Liberian journalists, from the day the PUL was formed, despite their intellectual diversities, ideological tastes and professional rivalries, realized that at the end of the day, they had an inescapable intersection: the availability of unfettered space to exercise the task of calling—journalism. And the common monstrous enemy was Penal Law of 1978 at Sections 11.11 on criminal libel; 11.12 on Sedition and 11.14 on criminal malevolence. These were the thorns in the fresh of journalists and human rights advocates for years and a nail on the coffin of democracy.

Those were the issues that raised the stakes and caused the noise in previous PUL elections. Today, they are virtually nonexistent. They are scrapped not only from the Penal Law but from the psyches and fears of both the perpetrators and survivors of draconian decrees.

That the debates and “campaigneering” between the camps of junior brothers Julius Kanobah and Daniel Nyakonah are lukewarm and low-keyed is not because they are young journalists as some people may think. No, it is either not because they are lucky; it is not because they are effectively in control of the temperaments of their followers. The naked reason unarguably is that the ideological stakes are not high for a fierce fight.

Journalism and those who practice it these days in Liberia are no longer in harm’s way. There are no more “recalcitrant journalists” to be besmirched as “poisonous pens”, or “checkbook journalists”, “mere press boys”, “gbableh”. Journalists are no more confronted with such statements like, “you have your pens; we have our guns”.

These young cadres I personally haven’t met, but if Julius wins or if Daniel wins, it is not because any of them is a “Greater-Liberia” journalist or a “Monrovia journalist”; it would not be because any of them is “pro-government” or “anti-government” idealist; for so far, all the most vicious cynics have failed in their attempt to link any one camp to government—a government which clearly largely appears apolitical, disinterested in the PUL elections. Certainly, it would not be because anyone of the candidates or camps has fashioned an ideological argument based on some uncouth national governance deportment.

Indeed, if one wins, it simply would be because more voters have special personal liking or casual social affinity to him against the other.

But in it all, thank God for President George Weah for contributing to creating the unusual tranquil media environment characterizing the 2022 PUL elections—for chopping off and decimating the roots of noisy, bellicose PUL elections often justified yesteryears on the existence of the debilitating Penal Law of Liberia and all its draconian impositions. And thanks to the President who has no inclination to infiltrate into, and meddle in the affairs of, the civil society, as the case had been in times past.

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