Liberia: A Record Defeat for Weah

… As he blames his ministers for his loss

President George Weah may have achieved a number of notable records in his life as an athlete and a politician, but to have lost his reelection bid in the way he did will be recorded in the annals of Liberian political history forever.

The President lost to Joseph Boakai, to whom he had conceded — is the first time in the country’s 176-year history for an incumbent to lose a reelection bid. 

Weah is also leaving with the legacy of being the second President under whose administration a former ruling party was able to return to power. The first time this happened was in 1878 when former President Anthony W. Gardiner returned to the True Whig Party.

The return of the Unity Party, which is Liberia’s first postwar governing party, is significant, as just six years ago, it lost state power massively to Weah’s Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) during the 2017 runoff election, securing a decisive win against the party and Boakai with 61.5% to 38.5%, after winning the first round with a 10% margin.

This time, with 99.98% of all polling places reported nationwide (5,889 out of 5,890), Boakai is President-elect with 814,428 votes, constituting 50.64%, while the President lost with 793,910 votes, accounting for 49.36%. 

The closely contested runoff election, which mirrors the dynamics of the first round, is also the first in the history of the country to produce a razor-thin margin result from the first round to the runoff.

The President, whose early concession has been hailed as historic, told worshippers on November 19 at the Forky Klon Jlaleh Church, where he worships, that if he had not agreed to concede as others wanted, the country would have been in a destabilized state. 

“Had I agreed to do what others wanted, we would not be here today... You might not be here in church. We will be running back to the refugee camp,” Weah said. “The young people that I inspire because they get free WASSCE fees will be running with their belongings because a lot of people do not recognize the truth,” he added.

Weah, whose administration conducted the country’s first self-sponsored postwar election, had in several speeches assured the world and the Liberian people of credible elections that would reflect their will. 

“Under my leadership, these elections were organized with a promise to the Liberian people – a promise of fairness, transparency, and credibility,” the President said in an earlier concession speech. “I am proud to say that, for the most part, we have fulfilled that promise. The Liberian people have spoken, and their choice will be honored and obeyed.”

In a speech at the 78th UNGA earlier this year, Weah, the President, told world leaders that he was committed to upholding the “principles of free, fair, and transparent elections,” which he did. According to Weah then, he is a “strong believer in democracy” as he pushes for respect for constitutional governance and the will of the people.

Weah Blames Ministers for Defeat

At the Church yesterday, Weah told the congregations that his defeat was down to the performance of his ministers, as the result of their failure to “effectively work and build tangible relationships with their employees.” 

The President added that instead of his ministers working with people to create a reputable image for the government, they were busy fussing with people here and there, creating a bad image of the government.

“The other day I was talking to our ministers, and I said, 'Sometimes you have to understand that there is valuable proof that you hold in your hand. No matter what, don’t let it go,” he said. “So, it doesn’t matter who disrespects you, who doesn't like you. When you are the boss, you are the boss.” 

“People can make confusion with you, but do not make confusion with them because you need those people to go and campaign for you. When you are not friendly with them, this is the result we see,” Weah said. 

He added that while he invested everything, the results of the elections show the failure of his ministers who were busy doing different things and not working. 

Weah repeatedly emphasized the issues of his ministers engaging in confusion with government employees, whom he labeled as one of the driving forces behind his defeat. 

“If I want to blame anybody, I will blame us. The minister now is not a minister anymore because another minister will come,” Weah added. “I know how to work hard, and that’s why I put everything into this campaign, whether it was logistics. Whether poll watchers were supposed to be paid, they were paid,” he said. “Why the poll watchers did not sit there for the poll watching, only God knows.”

In 2017, Weah won a resounding victory in the presidential election, becoming the country’s 25th head of state in January 2018. His victory brought relief to many underprivileged Liberians, especially the youth, who saw him as a beacon of hope, given the fact that he grew up in Clara Town, a slum in Monrovia, and rose to the pinnacle of international athletics and onward to the helm of national leadership. 

He had ridden a wave of public hope to the presidency, promising to combat poverty, develop the country’s ailing infrastructure, and crack down on injustice and corruption.

During the campaign, he vigorously defended his record, emphasizing achievements in community infrastructure, road construction, and education. The government has framed these initiatives within the context of its Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD). But six years into his presidency, he was heavily criticized for failing to tackle corruption, rising prices, and rising unemployment, leading voters to grow disillusioned over time. 

This led Boakai to pledge to rescue Liberia from what he described as mismanagement and corruption under the Weah administration. He highlighted the need for a new direction that prioritizes good governance, economic stability, and social welfare.

While the President's defeat is historic, his concession has been hailed as remarkable in a region that has seen eight military coups in the past three years, raising concerns about the fall of the democratic process. 

When elections are not overtaken by military commanders in the region, they usually are contested in court, with accusations of fraud abound. 

But for Weah, he argued that he was the face of democracy in Africa and would not do anything to tarnish such an image, saying it would look awkward as a defender of democracy not to hold to such a tendency.

His gracious concession, which came as the National Elections Commission is yet to announce the final results, had been hailed by Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who is the chairman of ECOWAS. 

Ajuri Ngelale, the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to Tinubu, said in a statement commended “President Weah for ‘defying the stereotype’ that peaceful transitions of power are impossible on the continent. 

“While congratulating President-elect Boakai, Tinubu advised him to prioritize good governance for the people of Liberia,” the statement added. “I commend President George Weah for his sterling example, undiluted patriotism, and statesmanship. He has defied the stereotype that peaceful transitions of power are untenable in West Africa.”

Joined is Goodluck Jonathan, a former President of Nigeria who led the West African Elders Forum. Jonathan, who became Nigeria's first President to lose reelection since the return of Democracy in the 1990s, praised Weah for advancing peace and progress in the country while urging “President-elect Boakai” to be magnanimous in victory and continue efforts to unite and advance Liberia.

Regional bloc ECOWAS has joined Tinubu to not just congratulate Boakai on his election as President but salute Weah for graciously accepting the results of the elections. The bloc, in a statement, noted that Liberians have once again demonstrated that democracy is alive in the “ECOWAS region and that change is possible through peaceful means.” “The next phase of Liberia’s democratic journey is crucial; ECOWAS, therefore, calls on the people of Liberia to maintain and safeguard the peace and security of the country at all times,” the statement added. “ECOWAS will continue to support the people of Liberia to consolidate peace and security, deepen democracy, and foster socio-economic development.” 

The International Community in Liberia, which is made up of several other countries, calls on Liberians to come together in a spirit of national unity, as emphasized by President George Weah in his concession speech. 

“Finally, the INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY further calls on all partisans irrespective of political affiliation to safeguard Liberia’s peace in pursuit of security and development,” they added.