The National Elections Commission has officially announced that the presidential election will proceed to a second round (runoff), with the green light for campaigning to begin. Already, the two candidates in the race, incumbent President George Manneh Weah and former Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai, have begun making their rounds, seeking endorsements from the other presidential candidates.
This editorial aims to read between the lines, simplify the calculus regarding these upcoming endorsements, and mentally prepare the electorate for what should or may influence their respective decisions at the ballot box.
The runoff is the kind of race where, as Liberians like to say, “everybody will find their level”. It would not be far-fetched to see party executives—even running mates—split up and endorse opposing candidates. It would also not be far-fetched to see many voters vote against the endorsements of their respective political leaders.
Remember what happened in the 2017 runoff between Weah and Boakai? Outgoing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had already ditched her vice president, Boakai. Alexander Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) decided to remain neutral and allow his supporters to vote with their respective consciences. So did Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party (LP). But before Brumskine could bat his eye, a whole slew of his party officials, including his party chairman, Vice Standard bearer and campaign manager, abandoned him and crossed over to pledge their support to Weah’s CDC. Many of Cummings’ supporters caught apathy during the second round since their desired candidate would not be on the ballot. Meanwhile, Nimba County Senator Prince Yormie Johnson retained his title as ‘kingmaker’, delivering his vote-rich county in favor of Weah.
Regardless, two foundational principles will be observed in the trend of endorsements this time around. First, it will be difficult for any political party to not endorse a candidate in the runoff. The hypothesis for this is that, if you don’t stand with others now, who will stand with you when it’s your turn? Second, endorsements provide a lifeline to sustain politicians and their institutions until the next election cycle. Those who endorse have an opportunity to stay relevant through political appointments, as well as gain access to financial and nonfinancial opportunities.
The stakes are even higher this time, but for whom?
For those seeking endorsements, such as Weah, it might be bragging rights and the chance to prove that the concept known as the CDC could finally come of age and live up to its promise. For Boakai, it might be a chance to redeem the “squandered opportunities” that Liberia over the last five decades did not take advantage of—even during the years he served as Vice President. Who knows?
For those with endorsements to give, the stakes are no less high but quite different.
A politician like Cummings, with his age and a different perspective on leadership in his favor, is also too deeply vested in the process to not already be strategizing his game plan for the 2029 presidential election. But it would be foolhardy to think that his perspective on endorsement is purely transactional. As we saw yesterday, the CPP, to which he heads, released a list of 12 prerequisites to which any candidate seeking his endorsement must agree.
Of course, it is all well and good to require candidates to agree to certain commitments in order to secure an endorsement. But what guarantee does Cummings have that either Weah or Boakai will live up to these lofty commitments once endorsed? Absolutely none whatsoever. Only time will tell, but it may likely be too little, too late.
So then, the question for Cummings and the CPP is: to what avail? Why not just flip a coin?
The Liberian People’s Party, led by Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, has, on the other hand, outrightly endorsed the UP candidate, Boakai.
A cursory comparison between the CPP’s pre-endorsement requirements and the values espoused by the LPP in its statement of endorsement shows quite a few policy intersections between the two groups. They both mention improving the state of the economy, security and the rule of law, gender equity, War and Economic Crimes Court, etc.
What about Edward Appleton, Lusine Kamara, and Sara B. Nyanti? For most, the endorsement decision will result in a quid-pro-quo deal.
That being said, voters should understand that politicians make endorsement decisions to secure their personal interests first, and if there is room to incorporate the demands of their “supporters”, then maybe. The English term for this is “political expediency”.
Political expediency aims to fulfill a primarily self-serving motive, sometimes under the guise of peddling a broader vision that may or may not materialize. For example it was politically expedient for Rep. Thomas Fallah to abandon his constituency, Montserrado District #5, for the representative seat of Foya District, Lofa County, because he knew his political currency in Montserrado County had severely depreciated. In addition, he has commercial logging interests in the Lofa forest, which is a commercial advantage he can keep a closer eye on.
Political expediency is a slippery slope. Politicians who are willing to break their promises risk surrendering their integrity in order to obtain power. Given the abundance of available information on any given matter via the mainstream and social media, voters now have more leverage to determine whether or not their chosen political leader is worth their vote at any point in the electoral process, be it first round or runoff.
Essentially, it is important for all eligible voters to take these political endorsements with a grain of salt.
Meanwhile, given the unprecedented voter turnout in the first round, several other factors could influence the personal decisions of voters.
One important factor is ideology. Some voters may be ideologically inclined, either toward Weah or toward Boakai. Others may vote based on their personal relationships or experiences with either candidate, while others may still vote along lines of tribal or regional affiliation, like southeasterners for Weah or Lofians for Boakai.
The year’s election has begun to reflect the increasing maturity of the electorate. Indications of this are the massive losses by legislative incumbents—including some of the highest ranking legislators from both the House of Representatives and the Senate—in the October 10 election.
This vote is The People’s vote. We The People (as enshrined in the Constitution) have the power, through our ballot, to hire and fire presidents, legislators and their lieutenants.
After all, endorsements do not create the change voters seek. They only create room for political expediency. Only voters create the change that voters seek.