Liberia: Unity, the Opposition Proposition

If Bility had to realize this vision, he must first overcome the obstacles of tribal politics, which has historically played a larger role in how district legislators are elected.

— Musa Bility sounds the warning for Pres. Weah 2nd Term

President Weah's quest for a second term could be an easy ride if the opposition community continues into next year’s election “bitterly divided, angry and have no chance of respecting each other.” 

The warning from Musa H. Bility, a seasoned political operator who worked on former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's second term campaign in 2011, comes as the 2023 election is expected to be a referendum on the Weah administration’s economic record. 

On the campaign trail, opposition leaders are expected to not just critique the Weah administration's handling of the country, but policies that would tackle the rising cost of living, soaring unemployment, widespread poverty, rising crime rate, poor infrastructure development, and corruption.

But for Bility, policy issues will matter less if the opposition leaders fail to realize that their common goal is to get Weah voted out of power. Therefore, attacking each other would benefit none, except the President. Such discord, according to Bility, may scupper the opposition’s chances of making  Weah a one-term president if genuine efforts are not made to reconcile the warring tendencies of opposition parties on a warpath with each other.

“The guy who will go to the second round with Weah has to be a guy who has made sufficient effort not to injure other people,” Bility told the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview last week. “If you run your campaign to my detriment, hurt me and you make it to the second round only to come back seeking my support, then you must think twice."

“There is no need for the opposition to attack each other. If that decision is not made, George Weah will win. To say that the opposition is not united, I don’t think that is the reason Weah will win. George Weah will only win if opposition political parties remain bitterly divided, angry, and have no chance of considering each other.”

Bility, who is also a business tycoon, has circled the summits of political life for most of his career, leveraging his fortune in the energy sector to build his political connections — and knows the danger of a divided opposition.

He argued that regardless of how hurtful opposition leaders have been to each other, finding a common ground on shared issues is a crucial asset to mobilizing and galvanizing Liberians to vote the President out in the forthcoming general elections. 

Bility’s belief is predicated on the adage that a divided house cannot stand and the fact that Liberian politics has not matured to a level that people vote based on ideology.  He added that if the opposition community continues to attack each other, the electorate could see them as unserious, without focus, and hardly worth voting for. 

“Some form of political unity is needed, no matter the past among us as opposition leaders. Hopefully, as we go toward the 2023 elections, we can see a reason to respect each other and act as members of the opposition and also campaign, knowing that attacking each other will not benefit any of us.” 

“Whether you like it or not, the CPP will go for the second round based on the math, based on what we have looked at, and based on our plan of action, we will go for the second round,” said Bility. 

But Bility, the chairman of the opposition Liberty Party, which is in crisis, is not lost on the fact that he must also partake of his own prescription. More on this later. 

“The Unity Party — I’m sure if you ask them — will tell you the same thing. CDC, we all know, will go for the second round.” 

“For me, as a member of the opposition, the battle is who goes with President Weah to the second round. It has reached a point where the opposition community has to heal its wounds, the anguish, the anger, everything. It has been too much. So we have reached where we are now and have to decide on what we want to achieve as the opposition.”

“Liberian politics has not grown wherein people cast their ballots based on ideology. It is a politics of demography. Based on that, no party has the power to amass the four major demographics which are the north, west, east, and south.”

The Liberty Party Chairman's warning echoes a similar position of his ally, Alexander B. Cummings of the Alternative National Congress, who was the first to admit that it would be difficult for a single party to easily unseat Weah in the absence of a united front put up by the opposition.

Cummings, in a July 5 speech, noted that while it is true that Liberians want to change, they are also tired of the division and disunity among opposition leaders.

His remarks came after the CDC-sponsored candidate, Cllr. Joseph Jallah won the Lofa County by-election. Cummings described the vote as an important reminder to the opposition community that Liberian people are more willing to trust “us if we are together.”

“However we try to interpret the [Lofa by-election] results, one message to all of us who desire change in our country should be clear: Together, we are stronger. The Liberian people have shown us that they are more willing to trust us if we are together.”

But while Cummings and Bility are warning of dangers of disunity among opposition leaders, it is yet unclear how willing they are to swing into action — pursuing the mutual understanding that they claim is needed to unseat Weah come 2023 elections. 

One thing is clear, however — time is running out. As the race to 2023 begins to gather momentum, can the opposition pull off a compelling campaign to continue the legacy of the 2020 midterm senatorial election? 

Bility, whose Liberty Party is in deep internal crisis — split between him and his political leader, Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence — is walking a very thin line between the lofty ideal of broader unification among opposition leaders and the deep-seated division within his own party.

When questioned about the genuineness of his warning to reconcile the opposition in light of the glaring division in the party he chairs, Bility argued that he is also open to compromise to settle the power struggles in the Liberty Party. 

But this has not stopped him from submitting a letter to the National Elections Commission, calling on the electoral body to stop recognizing the Senator as the Liberty Party’s political leader. 

From Bility’s vantage point, he believes he has the upper hand.  The time for reconciliation in the Liberty party is running out — but not for him. And if there must be a compromise, Lawrence must demonstrate her willingness to abide by the LP constitution, pay her party dues or ask for a settlement plan. 

“I will stress here again, that the Liberty Party is not divided. We have a division in the leadership of the party. That does not divide the party as an institution but, in the leadership, division is there.”

“The Senator is still a member of the Liberty Party but time is running out for a compromise. The political leader position comes to an end in October this year,” Bility said. “By October, it will be six years since the late Charles Brumskine was elected standard bearer. No provision in the Liberty Party Constitution says we can elect a political leader. To be a political leader you must have been the standard bearer.”

“What she is doing now is to end the tenure of Charles Brumskine. By October, that position ceases to exist anyway. One year after the election, it ceases to exist. 

“There is room for compromise but she has to demonstrate her willingness to abide by the [party’s] constitution, pay her due or ask for a settlement. We as Executive Committee don’t have the right to waive the dues, but she can make stipulations and we can look at it. But I will never compromise anything if it has to violate the constitution,” he added.