Liberia: Historic Defeat as Majority of Lawmakers Lose Reelection Bids

Lawmakers in chambers

…. As Re-election Curse Continues

The majority of the 65 members of the House of Representatives who were up for reelection have lost their bids, including some senior and veteran members. 

The historic defeats, which analysts say mark a seismic shift in Liberian politics, come as only 28 out of the 65 incumbent representative candidates won their respective districts at the just-ended October 10 polls. 

The loss is a whopping 37 but higher if those representatives who lost their respective Senatorial bids are added. While the House is made up of 73 Representatives, 8 persons contested for the 15 opening Senatorial seats that were up for grabs, leaving only 65 seeking reelection. 

Out of the 8, only two persons won their senatorial bids, thus increasing the number of Representatives who were rejected at the polls to 43.

The magnitude of these losses, the first of its kind in contemporary Liberian history, according to analysts, is a warning to elected officials that the electorate does not tolerate failure as before. 

“The incoming members of the House and Senate will face high expectations as they take on the responsibility of shaping Liberia’s future,” analysts say. “The aftermath of this election is likely to have a significant impact on the direction of Liberian politics, with many eagerly watching to see how the new leadership will navigate the challenges ahead and fulfill the aspirations of the people.”

The defeat of Speaker Bhofal Chambers is particularly historic, as it is the first time in Liberia’s history that the Speaker of the House has failed to secure reelection in his constituency. The defeat mirrors the 2014 loss of President Pro-tempore Gbehnzongar Findley, marking a rare occurrence of both houses experiencing significant leadership changes. 

Chambers, a formidable and influential figure in Liberian politics, was defeated in his reelection bid, sending shockwaves through the political establishment. His loss, analysts noted, would be seen as a direct reflection of the changing political dynamics and the evolving priorities of the electorate. 

Chambers’ loss comes as he was seeking his fourth consecutive win since 2005, making him one of the longest-serving legislators in the post-war history of Liberia. 

The defeat marks an unexpected turn of events in his illustrious political career. With a record-breaking 18 years of service in the national legislature, including six years as Speaker of the 54th national legislature, Chambers was a prominent figure in Liberian legislative politics, representing his native Maryland County. 

He once contested for the Senate to represent the county at the upper chamber of the national legislature but was defeated in 2014. During his opposition days, Chambers was known for being vocal against corruption and bad governance. He also firmly opposed some of the policies of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. 

He even refused to shake hands with Sirleaf at a state function, sparking mixed reactions from the public. 

However, critics of Chambers argue that his tenure as Speaker under the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change fell short of what he had previously advocated for during his time in the opposition.

They claim that he prioritized maintaining a close relationship with the executive branch under President Weah and lacked a history of opposing or taking a radical stance against the executive’s excesses. 

The other prominent figures who failed to secure reelection were Reps. Acarous Moses Gray, Chair of the Executive Committee; Cllr. Kanie Wesso, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, and Johnson Gwaikolo, Chairman of the House’s influential Committee on Rules, Order, and Administration.

Gray, a ranking member of the governing party in Liberia, was seeking a third term, which would have been a historic achievement for postwar Montserrado County.

He would have been the first in the county’s recent history to win a third legislative term, a feat no one has achieved. Gray will be remembered as the lawmaker who introduced the impeachment bill that led to the removal of Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh. As for Wesso, he was seeking his second term when he was rejected at the poll. 

His committee is the third highest-ranking committee, and he boasted of a landslide victory, claiming road projects. Similarly, Gwaikolo lost his reelection bid while seeking a second term. Initially, he served as Chairman of the House Committee on Education before being elevated to his current position, which comes as a result of his formidable friendship with the Speaker following their admission to the 54th Legislature. 

Gwaikolo will be remembered for helping to restore order, though he was harsh with his punishment. The loss of the top four out of the five influential leadership positions in the House, according to analysts, is unprecedented, and it shows that voters are seeking new leadership and fresh faces in government, emphasizing the need for greater accountability and tangible results from their representatives. 

While the House top brass failed in their reelection bids, two of its representatives to the ECOWAS parliaments lost their chances of getting reelected as well. They are Reps. Clarence Massaquoi and Haja Fata Siryon, both of whom have been at the ECOWAS parliament for more than 8 years. Siryon, who has been at the ECOWAS parliament since the 2006 elections, was seeking a fourth term when she lost, while Massaquoi was seeking his third term.

The House was, however, not the only legislative body affected by the electoral upsets. The Senate also saw 11 of its members who were up for reelection facing defeat. A total number of 14 senators had sought reelection, but only four managed to return for another 9-year mandate. Senator Daniel Naatehn (deceased) didn’t contest as he died weeks before the elections. 

Senators Gbleh-Gbo Brown of Maryland County, Prince Y. Johnson of Nimba County, Albert T. Chie of Grand Kru County, and Saah H. Joseph of Montserrado County are the four expected to return. Comparatively, the number of returning senators is higher than in the 2014 midterm elections, which was only two out of 15. 

Among the casualties was Sen. Varney Chairman, the powerful Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who expressed disappointment in the electoral decisions, attributing the losses to identity politics rather than legislative achievements. 

The massive defeats of the incumbent Senatorial candidates were something that Senate Pro-Tempore, Albert Chie, was worried about in January of this year. 

“Most of our seats are up for electoral contestations in the last quarter of this year. Despite years of hard work and constant visits to constituencies, history has unfortunately never been kind to Senators seeking re-elections,” he said then in an address for the return of the 6th and final session for the 54th Legislature. “We hope this class will be an exception and the return rate will be high. I urge all of us to work towards this goal.”

The Grand Kru County Senator was right to be troubled as he is conscious of the fact that there exists a jinx that hangs over the upper house, as only two of all the senators who sought re-elections in 2014, and 2023 returned. 

In 2014, the returnees were Vice President, Jewel Howard Taylor, then Senator of Bong County, and Prince Y. Johnson of Nimba County. President George Weah and the Senate Pro-temp, himself, were two of 13 new senators who dislodged the incumbent Senators. 

The 2022 special senatorial elections were no different either, as only two incumbents again emerged victorious, while only 14 seeking reelections. Senator Alphanso Gaye did not seek reelection. 

The two who returned in 2020 were Senators Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence Abraham Darius Dillon of Grand Bassa and Montserrado Counties respectively.