... As Sen. Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence’s faction of the Liberty Party walks out
In what could be a watershed moment for Liberia politics, the opposition Liberty Party has withdrawn from the Collaborating Political Parties — joining forces with the Unity Party and the All Liberian Party to put the final nail in the coffin for the coalition.
The withdrawal of the Liberty Party, which is also split between factions loyal to the party’s political leader Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence and its Chairman Musa Bility, respectively, now leaves the Alternative National Congress as the sole major party in the coalition.
Sen. Karnga-Lawrence’s withdrawal is a big blow as she controls the party's largest voting block, Grand Bassa County — leaving Bility’s faction, which remains a member of the CPP, holding apparent legal title to the party, as recognized by the National Elections Commission.
The Liberty Party, from its inception, has had a Bassa identity, following the roots of the party’s founder, the late Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine. As a result, the party gets some of its highest votes from that county. So the move by the Liberty Party Senator further devalues the dwindling morale of the CPP and kills any hope of peaceful settlement.
Announcing the withdrawal, Sen. Karnga-Lawrence’s faction followed the playbook of the Unity Party and the All Liberian Party by accusing the Alternative National Congress of illegally altering the CPP Framework Document. The ANC Political Leader, Alexander B. Cummings, has vehemently denied the allegation and says it is untrue.
The Karnga-Lawrence faction of the LP even accused the ANC of proceeding in a manner and form that undercuts the spirit and intent of the collaboration, including fueling intra-party conflict within the Liberty Party — leaving them with no alternative but to withdraw.
“The CPP is now further beset with a seemingly intractable conflict growing out of the mishandling of the CPP Framework Document by the ANC during its eight (8) months of leadership as is being demonstrated by multiple acrimonies involving the said ANC and other constituent Political Parties of the CPP, which have resulted to litigations contrary to the spirit and determination of the collaboration,” the Sen. Karnga-Lawrence’s faction said in its resolution to withdraw.
“As a result of the aforementioned,” the resolution added, “it has now become glaring that the purposes that underpinned the establishment of the Collaborating Political Parties, as expressed in the Framework Document, can no longer be realized under the circumstances herein stated. NOW, THEREFORE, it is resolved by the National Executive Committee of the Liberty Party, acting on the mandate of the Executive Council, that effectively immediately, the Liberty Party hereby withdraws and thereby terminates its membership with the CPP.”
The CPP, during its heyday, attracted a broad base of coalition voters during the 2020 senatorial election, resulting in decisive victories for most of their candidates including Montserrado County for Abraham Darius Dillon. Prior to that election, Montserrado County was a no-go zone for other political parties as it was the stronghold of the CDC. The CPP won Montserrado County with 354,898 votes (40.27%) and the CDC, which previously held the seat, got 246,908 votes (28.02 %).
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 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.
And after much public argument, the ALP, which is wholly owned by businessman 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 Cummings was serving as chairman.
The ALP, which is a strong political ally of former Vice President Joseph N. Boakai and his Unity Party (UP), undertook the lawsuit to seek legal action for an “unlawful attachment” of their leader’s signature to the CPP framework document. It is an open secret that Urey has opposed Cummings’s Presidential ambition — creating an air of bad blood among them.
Meanwhile, the Sen. Karnga-Lawrence faction added that following the signing of the said Framework Document, the Liberty Party committed itself to observe the tenets of the documents, including respecting the rights of constituent members to maintain their membership bases void of interference from other member parties.
They then noted that the decision to withdraw was taken in the Liberty Party’s interest — recounting that during its eight-month rotational leadership of the CPP, they worked diligently to set the basis for the consolidation of the principles of the Collaborating Political Parties;
The Karnga-Lawrence faction is expected to join forces with the Unity Party in a new coalition, which could pave the way for the former Vice President to contest unopposed as its standard-bearer. Boakai’s Unity party is expected to be the largest party in the newly expected coalition, giving him an uncontested claim to the standard-bearer position — something that was not possible in the CPP.
In the CPP, Boakai's dream of re-match against the now-incumbent President George Weah in 2023 would have been only possible if he had outperformed his immediate challenger, Alexander B. Cummings, whose party, the Alternative National Congress, was also eying the then coalition’s standard-bearer position.
But the CPP did not survive as the All Liberian Party, and Unity Party withdrew their membership on grounds that the coalition was engulfed in a crisis that could not be solved.
The new coalition, which could involve the ALP of Urey, will increase Senator Karnga-Lawrence’s political stakes, with her faction being the second-largest party after the Unity Party. As per the 2017 election, the UP remains the country’s second-biggest party, with the Liberty Party coming in third. Urey’s ALP comes in at a distant sixth, nationally.
It is a move however fraught with risk and comes with some key challenges — one which involves regaining the public trust for this new coalition, and expanding its footprint across the country, just 18 months to the election. It will require a lot more work and resources but, more to that, the expected coalition 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.
Meanwhile, the Unity Party has welcomed the decision of the Liberty Party to withdraw from the CPP as mandated by its National Advisory Council and announced by its National Executive Committee.
The UP believes this decision “yields to the calls of Liberians to have the opposition regroup and focus on preparing for the 2023 General and Presidential elections.
“While the initial efforts to consolidate an opposition alliance did not materialize through the CPP, the Unity Party reiterates its willingness to continue the partnership with the Political Leader of the Liberty Party, Sen. Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence and the Liberty Party,” said Cornelia Kruah-Togba, Unity Party National Assistant Secretary-General for Press, Publicity and Outreach in a statement.