.... Focus on deciding who can best lead the new Liberia
By Wonderr K. Freeman, CFCS, Attorney
Liberia votes come 2023. If you ask internet sensation, “Jacob Doe”, or “grammarian” Jefferson Koijee, there may in fact be no need for an election. It should rather be a coronation of King George I.
George Weah himself thinks he’s Liberia’s best “Prezo” ever. And most diehard CDC partisans (i.e., CDCians) gladly agree. Why not? After all, he’s Liberia’s black “diamond”, as his fans say. Many others echo similar views that if the opposition don’t unite under a “single banner” then it’s going to be a “massive defeat” for them. Nobel laureate, Leymah Gbowee, is one such person.
Each day one listens to radio or online talk shows, such views are a constant “chorus”. Yet, there are others who think well. Liberia’s 2023 election is simply a rematch between Joseph Nyumah Boakai (JNB) and President George M. Weah (GMW).
For these people, 2017 is just the same as 2023. Not much has changed since. JNB simply needs to pick up the votes he had stored up from 2017, and then add it up to win in 2023. Of course, Alexander B. Cummings (ABC) and Tiawan S. Gongloe, are in this race because, on the contrary, they believe that 2017 is definitely not 2023 and that so much has changed since 2017. Accordingly, each man believes he too has a good chance of winning the 2023 presidential election.
I write this essay because I find that the truth lies somewhere in the middle — encapsulating bits and pieces of all these divergent viewpoints. However, as you will find later on in this article, I reach a different conclusion based on an analysis of past elections results and the prevailing realities and the potential for momentum to shift over the course of 9 months of campaign.
George Weah’s Popularity: The Reality vs. the Myth
|MONTSERRADO COUNTY. TOP 5 VOTES GETTER SINCE 2005|
|MONTS||George M. Weah||2015||78%||99,226||127,213||4th|
|MONTS||Joyce Musu Freeman||2005||13%||86,008||646,677||5th|
Any realistic analysis of Liberia’s coming 2023 election will agree without a fuss that George Weah is popular, and that his election as President was partly down to his footballing prowess translated into political capital. But how popular is Weah? Is he so popular that he will “massively defeat” his opposition if they don’t “unite” under a single banner? The George Weah “popularity” — can we separate the facts from the fiction? To understand GMW’s popularity, we must take a step back into history and see how he has performed in previous elections to establish his capacity to inflict “massive defeat”. Below is a table of the top 5 vote getters in Liberia’s most populous province, Montserrado county.
See where Liberia’s “Mr. Most Popular” rank. True, the voting population increases at least 25% every six years. But, even if we indexed this ranking to account for population growth, this still won’t be enough to give George Weah a first or second place ranking among the all-time greats in Montserrado County. So much for Mr. “Most Popular” Politician ever! These are the facts. Of course, I expect Mr. Anonymous, Jacob Doe, and top “grammarian” Jefferson Koijee to disagree. But facts are facts!
We have established the facts as to GMW’s popularity in Montserrado County senatorial election history. The fact is that George Weah ranks 4th on the list of most votes obtained in a senatorial election in Montserrado county and possible 3rd if the numbers are indexed to account for population growth. These are not numbers that can inflict “massive defeat” on anybody. It’s clear that George Weah is popular, but certainly far from the “overwhelming” popularity that he perceives himself to have or as his followers believe he has. The chart below shows what happens when George Weah relies on his own political strength” and what happens when he “combines forces” with other political actors.
|Election Year||Votes Gotten||%||Votes Getter|
|2005||275,265.00||28%||George Weah [Alone]|
|2011||394,370.00||33%||GMW & Winston Tubman Combined|
|2017||596,037.00||38%||GMW & Jewel Taylor/NPP Combined|
The fact speaks for itself. George Weah, all by himself, gets only 28%. Anything beyond 28%, he needs to join forces with other politicians. But George Weah governs like he’s won 75% of the votes all by himself, completely sidelining and marginalizing parties who helped him to win. Political commentators and talk show hosts must study these facts and stop presenting George Weah as some electioneering “gargantuan”. Spinning is part of political commentary, but it’s important to get the facts first. So far, the facts show that President Weah has never been overwhelmingly popular. His numbers show that he is a stakeholder — certainly.
But it does not show a candidate capable of inflicting “massive” defeat on the opposition (united or disunited). So, those who are projecting “massive defeat” for opposition should better explain their reasoning. As far as these numbers tell me, after five years of a disastrous presidency, George Weah is heading south of 28%, possibly 25% (+/-). No coalition can save George Weah now. He’s the incumbent; he must run on his own record – as President. Of course, he’s soiled his record with the unprecedented corruption, BUGA dancing and gross ineptitude.
Why a “united ticket” is so difficult.
There have been mounting calls for a united opposition ticket, which has shown no likelihood to date. Most Liberians jump to easy answers. Oh…Politicians’ greed or selfishness! Maybe that’s true; and maybe not. Selfishness is an integral part of human nature. But do greed and selfishness of politicians [alone] explain the failure of a “united” coalition? I doubt that seriously. Firstly, in contemporary election history, there is only one instance of a “coalition ticket” going into the election. In 1986, there was no “united ticket”.
President Samuel Doe ran against multiple candidates. President Doe was declared the official winner, but that didn’t stop Jackson F. Doe from being presumed the “winner” in unofficial circles – declaring Doe a “rigger”. Jackson F. Doe was not on a “united ticket”. In 1997, Cletus Wortorson became the only person to run on the “united” ticket (i.e., with multiple breakaways, including UP, UPP and LPP). Charles Taylor won that election hands down. Ellen Johnson placed second. The “united ticket” was no help to Cletus Wortorson.
Another pointed reminder that an “opposition coalition” is no guarantee of a win. There are multiple requirements for winning — not just a “coalition [ticket]” per se. However, I think the “opposition” can and should work together, especially in the low-level races. They can and must work together on election monitoring and take joint positions on the conduct of the 2023 elections overall. They must.
Even more importantly, Liberia’s constitution and other statutory laws do not support the formation of a “governing” coalition. Liberia’s constitution only recognizes the winning individual and party– and not the coalition that brought him/her to power. Take the case of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. In 2005, in the first round of election, she got 20% to George Weah 28%
. It was a “coalition” that gave her the remaining 38-39% that crossed her over the 50.1% threshold. But how did Ellen govern? Ellen Johnson ruled like she alone — or at least she and UP — did all the work. She disregarded the coalition that gave her the winning votes. At some point, her ruling clique was just down to her, Rob and Jeannie. Those who forged the coalition with Ellen Johnson lost big time. There is no law in Liberia that protects the rights of “coalition” partners once the President takes office. She or he can just decide to disregard the “coalition”, which has been the case since.
Again, the current ruling establishment is a coalition (i.e., the CDC). In 2017, a coalition of CDC , NPP, LPDP and many others won the second round of the election. How does George Weah govern? Does he show any respect to his coalition partners? All those who helped President Weah to win are completely screwed. Do they (i.e., Jewel, Tyler, and many others) have any legal protections to compel the President and his party to consider their voices in the governing arrangements? Absolutely not! So, all in all, a “united ticket”in Liberia is an “all risks and no reward” calculus.
That’s why though we all hope for it and preach for it, it never works out. Liberian people see it working in other countries and go: “wow, this is nice! We want this too in Liberia.” But in those countries where “coalition” politics is the norm, it is backed by the constitution or other laws. If the junior partner pulls out of the governing coalition, a new election must be called ASAP. Under such circumstances, the president or prime minister has every incentive to respect his coalition partners no matter how “junior” they are.
For example, the current German government is a three-party coalition of Social Democrats, the Greens and the Free Democrats. The top 16 ministries are distributed as indicated in the graphs (see Wikipedia.org). More importantly, the lead party is SDP, but the FDP controls Finance, Justice, and Education, while the Greens control Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, and the Environment among others. This is what coalition politics looks like. But this is alien to Liberia’s political culture. In Liberia, the lead partner (UP/CDC) wants ALL, so coalition is very very difficult to put together!
In the absence of any binding law (constitutional or statutory), what happens if one candidate gives up his ambition for another? What can he/she expect? He/she can expect zero or next to nothing in return. Both Madam Sirleaf and Mr. Weah won only 20% and 38% respectively, but governed like they won 70 or 88%. Just ask Jewel/NPP or Tyler/LPDP? They’ve been there, done that and got nothing out of it. So, there is not going to be any “united ticket” – no matter how much we crave it. No risk without reward – even in politics! It’s the job of our National Legislature to make these necessary changes to our laws, so Liberian politics can evolve. But do they focus on such issues? Of course, not! Half their time is spent on passing “investment” bills and the other half on passing budgets for “legislative” projects and chasing the cash. John Ballout can relate!
If not George Weah, then who?
|Winners of Elections Since 2018|
So, the natural question now is: If President Weah is unlikely to defeat the opposition, then who is likely to win. Again, we return to the data. We always start our analysis what we know already. We know that George Weah took office in 2018 and that since then, there has been at least 27 elections, in which he’s actively promoted [CDC] candidates. We know that elections have not gone down well with CDC since then. We see from the data that CDC has won only 10 out of the 27 elections so far – a very average performance – and a far cry from establishing themselves as a party capable of inflicting “massive defeat” on anybody. What I find most curious, and which leads me to my next point is: when Liberians are not voting CDC, most often, they ended up voting for independent candidates – and not for the CPP, which is the official opposition. I project his trend will play out in 2023! From this data, it’s also very clear that the 2023 election will go to a second round. President Weah can never win any presidential election that goes to the second round. This is my thesis, and it brings me to my final argument.
Tiawan Gongloe will surge past Boakai and Cummings to Challenge Weah
|1||Georege M. Weah||596,037||38%|
|2||Joseph M. Boakai||446,716||29%|
|3||Charles W. Brumskine||149,495||10%|
|4||Prince Y. Johnson||127,666||8%|
|5||Alexander B. Cummings||112,067||7%|
|Total Valid Votes||1,553,348||100%|
Tiawan Gongloe is a candidate for the LPP, so he isn’t exactly an independent. In the previous paragraph, I postulated that since 2018, Liberians have tended to vote independents, whenever they don’t vote CDC. I presented historical data to back up my thesis. But Tiawan, a political neophyte, does cut across as an independent, given that he’s not from the “official” opposition (i.e. whether CPP or UP). He has never been a national candidate before, and as such, has no historical record for analysis. Given this vacuum, I go from what I know for sure, to what I know “somewhat”, to project what could likely happen in 2023. As noted already, since I don’t know Tiawan’s political strength, what I instead do is to calculate the strength of the people I know, subtract it from 100% and I get Tiawan’s political strength.
Based on my calculation, I project that Tiawan is poised to win 28% (+/-), putting him in the run-off. Of course, I expect people to call me crazy and much more. I also expect my critics to come up with their alternative theories, as opposed to just bashing me and restating their “opinions” — devoid of data. My data says Tiawan is poised to get 28% and make it to the run-off. His opponent is likely to be President Weah with 26%.
|Likely Votes||% of votes||% of votes||# of votes|
|1||George M. Weah||510,000||26%||←||38%||596,037|
|2||Joseph N. Boakai||400,000||20%||←||29%||446,716|
|3||Alexander B. Cummings||372,000||19%||↖||7%||149,495|
|sub-total cand (#1 - #4)||1,405,000||72%||To win in first round, the winner must marshal about 990,000 votes|
|5||Tiawan S. Gongloe||555,000||28%|
|Total Valid Votes||1,960,000||100%|
Again, I don’t claim to be a soothsayer, and neither do I claim to have heard from God or His beloved son. I am simply doing an election calculus. I insist that based on what we already know (historically) and based on what we know “somewhat” – from current events – we can make some informed conjectures. So, these are logical projections and underlying assumptions:
- The total votes cast have been increasing on average 26% each general election year. So, the expected valid votes  can also be predicted, which I project to be 1.96m. to win the first round outright, the winner must garner at least 990,000 votes. Nobody will.
- President George Weah is most likely to lose votes for reasons we all know. I project he could lose about 12% [+/-], going from 38% in 2017 to 26% [+/-] in 2023.
- Hon. Joe Boakai is likely to lose votes, perhaps a low of 10% [+/- ], due to lack of the incumbency advantage he had when he first ran as the ruling party’s candidate. Moreover, there are genuine concerns over JNB’s age, his handling of the CPP coalition, etc.
- Alex Cummings is expected to improve significantly – adding another 12% [+/-] to his 2017 performance. I project Cummings could get as much as 18-19% of the votes in 2023. After all, he’s now more experienced politically, better known and obviously has money.
- Other lesser-known candidates will participate. The last time they took about 8% of the votes. I project they will do so again in 2023 and garner at least 6%. Also, the fact that Cllr. Brumskine and Senator Johnson are not participating blows the race wide open.
- If you add up all the votes of the known candidates (Weah [26%], Boakai [20%], Cummings [19%], and lesser-known candidates [6%], you get 72% only. But, total votes always amount to 100%. This gap (i.e., the leftover 28%), I theorize represents Tiawan’s “potential” votes for 2023 – assuring him of a place in the 2nd round.
It is possible President Weah could outperform my predictions by a few [%] points. He’s awash with money. But money can be misleading. Remember the Dillon-Fallah election? Plus, GMW’s will meet his waterloo if he ever gets to the 2nd round. There is also a low [but real] probability that President Weah may not even get to the second round. He’s currently so weak politically, this probability is realistic. So, instead of Liberians complaining about the elusive “united” ticket, it’s better to just forget about George Weah and the CDC Kleptocracy and, instead, concentrate on which candidate is best for the future of the country. After all, come what may, the George Weah/CDC Kleptocracy is going down, surely, definitely. We should rather focus on deciding who can best deliver this new Liberia of prosperity and accountability. I think that person is Tiawan.
By Wonder Koryenen Freeman, CFCS, LLM, MBA. WK Freeman is a Liberian professional, a trade/investment attorney, forensic accountant, political economist, and financial crimes expert, currently residing in Brooklyn, New York, USA. He’s passionate about economic justice, accountable governance, rule of law and economic development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: The views expressed in this commentary are solely of the author and do not necessarily represent that of the Daily Observer newspaper.