‘Avoid Disunity, Fragmentation, ' Opposition Parties in Liberia Warned ahead of 2023 elections

Former Vice President Joseph N. Boakai and Alexander Cummings are the two leading opposition figures in Liberia.

.... The failure of some opposition political parties to subordinate their narrow interests to the overall, overwhelming, and greater interests of the country and its suffering citizens, could constitute an existential threat to the grand concept of changing the present course of the country, and a major betrayal of the people’s aspirations for an alternative and, hopefully, better dispensation in the country," Waritay said.

A former Minister of Information has warned opposition parties against contesting the October 10 elections “divided and disorganized”, as doing so would be disastrous for them.

Former Minister Lamini Waritay wants the Liberian opposition community to avoid the mistakes of the Nigerian opposition parties in the February 25, contentious and controversial presidential elections.

The warning from Waritay, a Minister of Information in the war-time Interim Government of National Unity of Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, calls on the country’s leading opposition parties to get their act together to take on a well-resourced and determined incumbency.

Waritay pointed out that because of the fractured nature of the Nigerian opposition in the lead up to their recently held elections, the incumbent ruling party emerged victorious, saying the combined votes of two Nigerian opposition candidates significantly surpassed that of the ruling party’s candidate who has since been declared the president-elect of Nigeria.

“It is very clear from the results that, had the two leading opposition leaders (Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi) remained in the same party to which they both once belonged (PDP) before they parted ways, and filed a single presidential slate to contest the elections, they could have probably defeated the ruling party’s candidate (Bola Tinubu) by not only getting a plurality of the votes, but by also fulfilling the stiff electoral threshold that requires a presidential candidate to win at least 25% of votes cast in two-thirds of the 36 states that make up the Nigeria federation,” Waritay said.

He observed that “based on the votes put out for each participating presidential aspirant in the Nigerian elections, a united Nigerian opposition could have made it difficult for even a compromised elections commission to cook the numbers, because the totality of the votes obtained by three of the opposition parties simply far outnumber that which the incumbent party and its presidential candidate garnered.”

Waritay, who is also a former President of the Press Union of Liberia, noted that the same greed for power, selfishness, and ‘the mentality of entitlement’, which kept the Nigerian opposition asunder in the lead-up to the elections, seem to be some of the same provincial interests that may very well wrongfoot the Liberian opposition in the upcoming elections.

He said the "failure of some opposition political parties to subordinate their narrow interests to the overall, overwhelming, and greater interests of the country and its suffering citizens, could constitute an existential threat to the grand concept of changing the present course of the country, and a major betrayal of the people’s aspirations for an alternative and, hopefully, better dispensation in the country.

“Thoughtful and patriotic politicians should understand that the country stands at a crucial inflection point, and it therefore behooves them to put country first above all else this time around, and avoid disunity and fragmentation with which the same opposition parties went into the general and presidential elections in 2017,” thereby making it easy for the present incumbent, whom they are again pitted against in the upcoming elections. 

He pointed that “if opposition politicians wish to validate their campaign claims that they have the best interest of the people and country at heart, then they should be selfless and patriotic and visionary enough to put the overall interests of the people and country above their individual ambitions, at least in consideration of the prevailing situation in the country, and agree on “highly appealing and competitive presidential and vice presidential candidates around whom the greater number of Liberians will rally to give the country a soft landing out of its ongoing tribulations.”

He warned that shouting and threatening lawsuits against an incumbent government in an African situation after elections (rigged or not), as the disunited Nigerian opposition is doing now, in most cases will amount to nothing much. “It’s like the proverbial ‘closing of the stable door after the horse has bolted’,” Waritay opined.

“Opposition parties that are running against even unpopular regimes must never take anything for granted in an African electoral setting. They must always be aware that elections are generally won ahead of the day of the elections on account of an effective, dynamic, and efficient pre-election preparation on the part of the opposition, or, as a result electoral trickery by incumbents.

Meanwhile, Waritay says he’s at a loss why the opposition parties and civil society groups in Liberia have seemingly gone silent and less concerned about some crucial elements associated with the elections process that are potentially problematic for the holding of free, fair, and transparent elections in the country later this year.

For example, he cites the “the not-so-clear” unresolved legal problems “still hanging over the head of the Elections Commission,” based on allegations of conflict of interest and corruption, fearing that this legal stalemate could seriously compromise the chairperson’s ability, and by extension that of the elections commission itself, to ultimately conduct a truly free, fair and translucent elections without fear or favor.” 

Waritay therefore reiterated views already expressed by some political and legal commentators that either the Justice Ministry, and by extension the government, makes a formal declaration that the elections commission chairlady’s  prosecution has been invalidated, or the charges against her have been dropped in accordance with the law dealing with nolle prosequi (a legal notice not to prosecute), or failing that the beleaguered chairperson step aside for someone else who will oversee the elections “without government pressure or threat of reviving a dangling case. “

Waritay further noted with disappointment that the major opposition parties and civil society organizations have “seemingly dropped the ball on the urgent need to clean up the existing and outdated voter roll” in keeping with the mandate of a previous Supreme Court decision to do so. Lack of real progress on this issue, he warned, could cause problems in the conduct of transparent elections. 

Waritay, who was the only African included in a delegation of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) of America to monitor the plebiscite in dictator Augusto Pinochet’s Chile in 1987, in his capacity at the time as president of the PUL, has meanwhile additionally observed that the controversial outcome of the recent census in the country has added another layer of cloud, doubt, and suspicion over the fairness, integrity, transparency, and efficiency of the upcoming elections.

He is therefore advising all stakeholders, especially the government, “to ensure an outcome of the pending elections that will truly reflect the aspirations of the majority of Liberians who will be voting — whichever way the results go, as long as the elections are seen and accepted as having been conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner.” That way, Waritay suggested, “Liberians will avoid potential troubles and disruptions like those that followed the 1985 elections which the late Samuel Doe and his henchmen brazenly stole from the opposition parties.

The former activist then regretted that “despite the blood, sweat, and resources some hardworking, patriotic, courageous, and committed politicians, activists and media personnel individually and collectively committed to the struggle over the years and decades, to forge a democratic, peaceful, and prosperous Liberia based on freedom, rule of law, accountability, and security, with many doing so at considerable personal risk and cost, the country continues to lose its way due to the same old vices as selfishness, greed for wealth and power, lack of love for country and its suffering citizens."