Liberia: CPP Is Dead. What Next?

A rare photo of the leaders of the four opposition institutions that made up the Collaborating Political Parties, at one of their meetings (from left: Alexander Cummings, Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, former Vice President Joseph Boakai, and Benoni Urey). 

.... With 2023 around the corner, this key opposition breakup could be a setback or an opportunity

One of the leading opposition political parties pulled out of the main opposition alliance, the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), on grounds that the crisis in the CPP cannot be solved.

The decision by the UP, which was communicated via its Standard Bearer and chairman of the CPP, Joseph Boakai, comes two months after Boakai dismissed voters' fears in an interview with the BBC in December 2020 that the internal division in the CPP would not lead to their breakup. At the time, he described the internal friction as a normal political process that would be settled. 

The former Vice President even to the extent of saying that the issues concerning allegations of the CPP framework being tampered with would be resolved amicably since he is good at resolving issues. 

But on February 16, he opted to shift the blame on the alleged refusal of his colleague, Alternative National Congress (ANC) political leader Alexander Cummings, to attend meetings to resolve the impasse as sufficient reason to withdraw his party from the CPP. The CPP, during its heyday, attracted a broad base of coalition voters during the 2020 senatorial election, leading to winning for most of their candidates. 

That win came on the backdrop of unity among the four leaders but, once the election was over, signs of internal wrangling broke the focus of the coalition. The political leader of the All Liberian Party (ALP), Benoni Urey, alleged that the CPP framework document was nefariously tampered with during the tenure of Cummings, who was at the time chairman of the CPP. This allegation Cummings has denied. 

Boakai added that though he took over the CPP leadership with a good feeling of opportunity to reconcile the fractured collaboration and mend relations, all his efforts proved futile -- squarely blamed his inability to settle the noise in the CPP on Cummings for failing to attend meetings in a bid to resolve their differences. 

“May I say that after so much demand from our partisans, the leadership, and even the Executive Committee of the Unity Party, the UP has finally resolved to withdraw from the CPP," Boakai added.  “You are all aware that political disagreements are resolved through negotiations or consensus. Our willingness to continue a CPP depended largely on our honest interactions and cooperation. Sadly, as of now, we see no way forward and so we have all decided to go our separate ways."

Boakai then linked the deepening of the crisis in the CPP to a power struggle in the Liberty Party, between the political leader Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence and the party chair, Musa Bility. Both leaders supported different individuals for what would have been CPP standard-bearers.  

Nyonblee supports Boakai, while Bility is on the side of Cummings, splitting the party into factions.  Liberty Party is a member of the defunct CPP but it is expected to announce its withdrawal soon. 

For Boakai and his supporters, the crisis in the Liberty Party was the turning point in the breaking down of relationships and, after holding consultations with eminent persons, including CPP Political leaders and his legal team, he realized that the only way forward is to go separate ways. 

“Many of you have told us how disappointed you are, and we understand your feeling of loss. Do not despair. Even though the CPP did not work out, the Unity Party is working with other political parties and individuals, and we can assure our supporters that there will be a more formidable and respectable partnership that will ensure president Weah is a one-term president. This we can assure you that your hopes and the hopes of all Liberians will be restored.” 

While Boakai knows how popular this new coalition envisioned will be, his party’s exit from the CPP is remarkable since it put an end to an existential struggle within the opposition. The 2023 elections are right around the corner and the legitimacy of the standard bearer’s post rests on the framework document, whose legality has been questioned. 

Also, the post moral legitimacy rests on full support from co-leaders, something which was highly unlikely even if the crisis would get settled. So the UP standard bearer’s move would be understood in this light: as a bid to save his presidential ambition and that of the Unity Party from shackles before it became too late for them as the noise was eating time to plan for a winning campaign. 

It is a move however fraught with risk and comes with some key challenges — one which is regaining the public trust for this new coalition, and expanding its footprint across the country, looking ahead to the election. It will require a lot more work and resources but, more to that, he will have to overcome the persistent history of historical fractiousness and divisiveness of Liberia's opposition, while rehearsing a new dimension of politics based on consensus and democratic tolerance. 

There is no other way. If not, he might see some members of this new coalition leaving for the camp of President Weah come 2023.  Boakai should know that he lost the second round of the 2017 election as a result of the support Weah received then as opposition leader.

Meanwhile, the UP standard bearer, in his withdrawal speech, added that the first meeting of the National Advisory Council, the highest decision-making organ of the CPP under his watch, could not be held because the ANC had refused to attend. 

“Under our rules, the absence of a single party from the four constituent parties constitutes no quorum because there must be at least a member from each Party to constitute a quorum to conduct business,” Boakai said. “The excuse then was that there was no agenda and no framework document to cause a meeting, even though a citation was sent way beforehand.” 

He said the only meeting that was attended by the ANC political leader ended in confusion which prompted, him to call for an exclusive meeting where three of the CPP political leaders urged Cummings to accept responsibility for the alleged altering of the CPP Framework Document as a way forward, but he refused and proposed the setting up of a committee to probe the allegation. 

He added that Cummings, however, failed to show up for the first meeting with the Committee. 

“The much-talked-about trip to Ghana was a further manifestation of our pursuit to reconcile the CPP. The exacerbation of the conflict in the Liberty Party on the day of my return further deepened the conflict within the CPP,” Boakai said.

The CPP collapsed will not only anger its broad base of voters, some of whom include moderate supporters of the President but open a flood gate of coalition parties - some rag-tag with fickle leaders and agendas - to form their so-called coalitions to pledge support to the higher bidder.

Also, the vice president will have to answer questions of his leadership of the CPP, which finally collapsed under his watch. 

This might be weaponized by the ruling establishment that cannot unite and lead Liberia out of its dire conditions of today; conditions that will remain for years to come if the necessary action is not taken to make Liberia a middle-income country instead of less developed.

 If the former Vice President thought that Cummings was going to give him a ride to let CPP standard-bearer post without some sort of opposition, then he was sadly misinformed. That misinformation contributed to fractures in the coalition once it came to the process of selecting or electing a standard-bearer. 

And after so much public argument, the ALP, which is wholly owned by businessman Benoni Urey, in January complained about his opposition compatriot to the government for forgery and criminal conspiracy, regarding the alleged tampering of the CPP framework agreement, while Boakai served as chairman. 

The ALP, is a strong political ally of former Vice President Boakai and his Unity Party (UP) in the now-defunct CPP,  undertook the lawsuit while utilizing his promise to seek legal action for an “unlawful attachment” of his leader’s signature to the CPP framework document. 

It is an open secret that Urey has opposed Cummings’s Presidential ambition -- creating some kind of bad blood among them.