..... How he handles internal crises that have divided the CPP and the much bad blood between Urey and Cummings will speak volumes of his leadership ability.
Former Vice President Joseph Boakai and his Unity Party have finally accepted the mantle to lead the Collaborating Political Parties for the next eight months in an atmosphere fraught with bitterness within and among constituent parties.
The CPP, which showed its strength under the leadership of Alexander B. Cummings and his Alternative National Congress (ANC) when it massively defeated the ruling Coalition for Democracy Change during the 2020 midterm senatorial election, has seen its ship nearly capsized by scathing allegations of framework tampering led by Benoni Urey against his arch-rival, Cummings.
And after an investigation, the past CPP chair, Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, directly accused Cummings of illegally modifying the CPP framework during his tenure as chair.
“In light of the violations in procedures and content change, it is reasonable enough that Mr. Cummings summons the courage to take ownership of all that has transpired and the crisis thereof,” Senator Karnga-Lawrence argued.
That accusation was endorsed by Boakai and Benoni Urey, political leader of the All Liberian Party (ALP) -- three parties against one.
In his remarks after having received the chairmanship of the CPP for the first time on Friday, October 15, Boakai acknowledged that the CPP in the past few months has been fraught with difficulties, creating anxiety in the public and a sense of implosion within the CPP.
“We recognize these challenges, which have occasioned internal wrangling and a distasteful impression,” former VP Boakai disclosed. “A new day for the CPP has dawned! We must put our differences behind us and forge ahead by bringing our strengths – and frankly our weaknesses, too – together in the true spirit of the framework to fulfill the aspiration and hope of the Liberian people.”
Boakai’s admission of deep division and appeal for calm in the CPP were spoken to an audience from which Cummings and his ANC were conspicuously absent.
They had boycotted the handing-over ceremony due to what the ANC considers a gross violation of the CPP’s framework document.
The ANC said its decision borders on its exclusion from the planning of the turnover ceremony, contrary to the practices of the CPP. “We can no longer continue to tolerate a systematic pattern of conduct that willfully violates the established practices in the CPP.”
Cummings’ action is the first time in the history of the collaboration for political leaders of a constituent party to not attend a transitional program.
But this is the third major CPP program the ANC has boycotted. Recently, when Boakai won the UP primary to become standard-bearer, Cummings and the ANC sent a statement expressing their decision to stay away.
And he appears ready to wage political war from the sidelines, as long as his archrival Urey and surrogates are not willing to back down.
But Boakai, just three years shy of being an octogenarian and who many consider a man of wisdom, seems ready to salve the sore differences between Cummings and Urey that have escalated to threaten the survival of the CPP on the one hand, and on the other hand, the internal wrangling within the Liberty Party, whose political leaders and national chairman are fiercely at loggerheads.
In his acceptance speech on Friday, Boakai said though the CPP remains collectively poised to win in 2023, political leaders of the collaboration should not allow differences and internal wrangling to define the CPP, “no matter how contentious they have become.”
“I want to assure all Liberians, wherever they are in the world, that the collaboration will be strong after the storm, and we will continue to demonstrate its purpose in pursuing the path of providing alternative and responsible leadership for the people of Liberia,” the UP political leader added.
“Over the next 8 months of our leadership, the CPP will be institutionalized. We will entrench our feet so deep that victory will be the only option,” he said. “We will not betray our country. Our people have given us their confidence, we will not disappoint them. This is why I feel deeply humbled to accept the responsibility bestowed upon me today by the CPP as its Chairperson for the next 8 months.”
However, Boakai, being aware of how damage the CPP brand is, offers himself as an intercalator in addressing unresolved issues and other problems.
He added without any defense and justification, he accepted full responsibility for all the tethering issues in the CPP due to his eloquent silence in the face of internal wrangling.
“Where others see breakdowns, we see an opportunity to build and become stronger, where others see despair, we offer hope and in the face of what appears to be division, we will work with our colleagues to unite," the UP Political leader added. "Now, admonish my colleagues Alex, Benoni, and Nyonblee to see the bigger picture - the People of Liberia; and exhaust our internal processes of conflict resolution in absolute respect for each other. The CPP will hold itself to strict adherence to its rules.”
Boakai added that past exchanges in CPP have strengthened his courage to know that mere defense of individual positions without a deep sense of collectivity only makes them weaker.
And while Boakai, looking at his experience in politics is capable of salvaging the CPP’s bloodied image, he should be aware that, at this delicate juncture, there is no technocratic prescription for healing, except bold appeal to all parties concerned for an immediate ceasefire and unity.
However, Boakai may not be able to reunite the divided LP, let alone a divided CPP, without an investigation that all parties consider transparent and fair in findings. Neither can he reunite the collaboration when Cummings and Urey, along with their surrogates, keep trading jabs.
Boakai, 76, should know that the CPP, during the 2020 midterm senatorial election, was supported by a broad coalition of voters who are now losing hope in the deeply polarized CPP, which has exposed the weakness of the collaboration, to be exploited.
But in a somewhat defiant move, Boakai likened the CPP’s internal crisis to the discomfort a mother experiences in childbirth but finds joy at the sight of her newborn baby, “So also will our differences be transformed into unity and a common purpose in changing our country for the good of all.”
“This is because social, economic, or political conflicts are events that can be transformed into good. We must also see the positives in our differences, as these disagreements and healthy exchanges are the labor pains of the collaboration,” Boakai said.
The CPP, made up of four political parties, has a rotating leadership mandate, which the political leader of each member institution chairs for 8 months at a time.
The turnover ceremony, which took place over the weekend, saw the Unity Party, headed by former Vice President Boakai, becoming the new chairperson of the CPP following an acrimonious tenure led by Senator Karnga-Lawrence.
Meanwhile, the former vice president has disclosed that the establishment of CPP aims to cast out the ghost of what is a reckless political, economic, and social order that benefits only “very few people and has grown increasingly stubborn to change.”
He added that Liberia, under the administration of President Weah, is confronted by some of the most vexing issues of the post-war years, as poor governance and failed leadership; marginalization of the majority of Liberians, inequity, and institutional failure, has caused low public trust in the government and its institutions.
According to him, much of the progress made in the recent past, including the execution of a reformed agenda, has eroded.
“The economy is not healthy and not performing for the people as it should be," he said. "Productivity is at an all-time low and the cost of living high; with the price of food and other basic commodities going up, causing most Liberians to fall into poverty."
The CPP chair then pitched his opposition group as an alternative to the ruling CDC, stressing that the CPP is deeply rooted in the ideals of economic equity, social justice, and freedom “so that everyone can explore his or her potential for better livelihoods.”
"We vow to promote and protect the ideals of political inclusiveness, and constitutional changes that address the limiting strains on our democracy including personalization of the presidency, the dictatorial nature of the governing system, the erosion of the separation of powers within our 3 branches of government as enshrined in our Constitution, and over decentralization. We will also ensure that public office is not an end in itself, but a means to serve the people of Liberia," Boakai added.