Former Vice President Joseph Boakai has sold himself as the only politician in the country that can defeat President George Weah, in the upcoming presidential election slated for 2023.
When quizzed about the idea of Alexander Cummings heading the CPP to challenge President Weah, Boakai told the BBC in an interview that he is the only candidate that can defeat President Weah.
“Well, that is the decision that has to be made. I have said it right that the only person that can defeat George Weah is Joe Boakai,” he said.
And when pressed further as to whether he thinks Cummings can defeat Weah, he responded, “I don’t think so.”
However, the former Vice President, when questioned about his loss in the 2017 election, dismissed the idea that he was rejected by the Liberian electorate; instead, he said he simply lost the election.
“Well, let's say it that way because we accept the way of the democratic society; but I know I wasn’t rejected. That's how we say it,” he added. “Not my ambition, but desire to serve my people in an area that I see a lot of deficiency.”
And when asked why he thinks that in 2023, the Liberian electorate will change their minds, Boakai it is because the voters have realized that they made a mistake in electing Weah president whose government, for nearly four years now, has struggled to fulfill much of its promises like lifting a million Liberians out of poverty by the next election year.
“The Liberian electorates have found out that they made a mistake and that mistake needs to be corrected and that is being shown in all of the things that are happening in Liberia. And I am very sure that the Liberians have now re-made their minds,” claimed Mr. Boakai. “I think (they) have realized that they made a mistake and that this 78-year-old man will set the agenda for a prosperous Liberia.”
Boakai says he will be 78 years old in 2023.
He argues that he is in good health, even though he will be running hopefully against someone in his 50s.
“In terms of fitness. I am very fit in terms of being able to compete. I am very much capable and we are not right now talking about age, but I am in very good health. Weah is in his 50s but he is not doing what the people want. People want somebody capable, fit, and able to lead them by example,” Mr. Boakai noted.
While name recognition might be in former Liberian Vice President Joseph Boakai’s favor, the thought of being the most capable candidate to challenge the ex-footballer, President George Manneh Weah, is a story that only time will tell.
In 2017, he ran for president as a sitting vice president but placed second to Weah -- albeit by a wide margin -- who won 14 out of the country's 15 counties.
However, 2023 is not 2017. This time around, President Weah's leadership ability has been tested, giving the voters the opportunity to see who is more skillful and better suited to run the wrong country.
Again, Boakai will enter the next election race with a mighty political legacy and support from some establishment figures who see him as the safest bet to win the Presidency for the opposition community.
However, if the history of 2017 is taken into consideration, it suggests that those traditional advantages will mean little unless Boakai proves he can connect with a restive and changing Liberian electorate who, during the last election, chose Weah over him.
Although Boakai has been pitching his vision for Liberia nicely in recent times, his chance of winning the President is only possible if he can win major countries like Montserrado, Nimba, Bong, and Grand Bassa Counties.
These counties in 2017 were far from his grip and went to President Weah massively.
But that is not an easy task. Winning these counties could prove more difficult than they appear due to what Boakai himself described as the Unity Party’s squandered opportunities during the party’s earlier 12-year rule.
Amid wins in the form of social-economic growth, there were known back steps such as corruption, and nepotism.
The Unity Party, under then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Boakai, left a nagging legacy, which the former vice president admitted to during the 2017 election as “squandered opportunities.”
Now nearly four years into the Weah administration, Boakai thinks it critically important that the President does not get a second term, due to "poor handling of the country.”
The Unity Party leader also sees an argument for his candidacy, for which he is the only answer -- a statesman who is best suited to repair the damage and divisions in the country -- especially among his fellow opposition colleagues -- and restore its International recognition and grow the economy for the job and better living conditions.
However, he will be given a chance again to take on Weah only if he survives the CPP primary and emerges victoriously.
And as an older politician, Boakai, when elected in 2023, will be the oldest person ever elected president. He must now prove that his party has learned from its past and is in a better position to do better when given the opportunity again.
“No free ride…”
Meanwhile, Boakai has dismissed voters’ fear that the internal division in the CPP will lead to their breakup, often describing it as a normal political process that will be settled.
He added that the issues concerning an allegation of the CPP framework being tampered with are something that will be resolved amicably for the fact that he is good at resolving issues.
“This is a normal process in all organizations that they do have issues but what is important is that we can resolve them and that's what matters. Well! The issue is that we know that we have some problems with the framework document and those issues have been discovered,” he said. “I just took over as the chairperson and I came here. As people know me, I am good at resolving issues. So when I go back, definitely we will resolve those issues.”
VP Boakai also brushes aside the thoughts of his willingness to step aside in favor of Cummings.
According to him, if Cummings is ambitious to be president, he respects the decision but will not step aside as they will have to go through a primary process and decide who heads the CPP collaboration.
“Well, when we came together, we came together with an understanding that every one of us there will be qualified to run as president. So if Alexander Cummings is ambitious to be president, that is his decision and we respect that. So that is what we have to work through. He is not stepping aside; he is deciding as to who is best fitted.”
Boakai added, “It is not going to be a free ride. It is a decision that the Liberians will embrace so it is not stepping aside, but deciding who is best fitted.”
On Cummings’ absence from Boakai’s ascendancy program as head of the CPP, Boakai dismissed the assertion that ANC political leader’s absence was an indication of not being willing to work.
“He left the country shortly after a process, which he has been doing regularly. We met and he knew that he should have been there; he said to me on the phone that he has some other urgent matters. So I don’t believe that his absence was an indication that he wasn’t willing to cooperate," Boakai added.