Liberia: Why Opposition Division Could Lead to President Weah’s Reelection

President George Weah left and former Vice President Joseph Boakai right

By Gabriel I.H. Williams

About a year ago, an esteemed senior media colleague, who travels regularly between Liberia and the United States, came from Liberia and was visiting my city of residence and I invited him for lunch. During the ensuing conversation, I asked him for his candid assessment of the political climate in Liberia in view of the October 2023 presidential and legislative elections in which President George M. Weah is seeking reelection. Given reports of the colossal failures of the Weah government in administering the affairs of Liberia since coming to power in 2018, I wanted his thoughts as to how prepared the opposition was to win the forthcoming elections and put the country back on the right trajectory of sustainable development.

However, I was shocked by his response, to which I followed up with a couple of prodding questions to get a good sense of whether he really meant what he said. And he repeated himself over and again in the following: If leaders of the main opposition bloc fail to unite and put aside their bitter division and infighting, this would create a strong possibility for President Weah to win reelection. He then gave me a simple illustration to make his point. Consider that the opposition bloc combined is supported by about 60 percent of the voting population, while President Weah’s supporters constitute 40 percent. In light of this objective reasoning, he added, one could conclude that any breakup of the opposition bloc and splinter of opposition votes would give Weah the numerical edge and put him ahead of his opponents.   

Fast forward, the prevailing reality is that many have been shocked by the results of the October 10, 2023, presidential and legislative elections in Liberia. Given public sentiments leading to the elections, it comes as a shock that President Weah did as well as he did, especially maintaining a marginal lead of less than one percent over his main contender, former Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, going into the runoff. Since neither of the two top presidential candidates got 50 percent plus one of the votes cast in the October elections - in keeping with the Liberian Constitution - a runoff is scheduled to be held in which the candidate with the highest number of votes will be declared the winner.

According to the National Elections Commission (NEC) results, incumbent President Weah secured 43.84 percent of the vote, while former Vice President Boakai trailed slightly with 43.44 percent of the vote.  

With the runoff scheduled to be held on November 14, 2023, there is a question that begs answers as to how did Weah end up winning the first round? Since coming to power in 2018, President Weah’s government has won national and international notoriety for rampant corruption, Liberia becoming a major drug transit point and haven, amid a growing dysfunctional system of governance. In view of the foregoing, there was a sense of euphoria within the opposition camp going into the elections that voters would have rejected Weah so badly that he might not survive for a second round. 

Another issue regards the shocking results for Alexander B. Cummings, one of the prominent candidates from the opposition bloc, who was projected by pundits to win second or third place going into the elections. However, Mr. Cummings won less than two percent of the overall votes approved, according to the NEC.  What went wrong?

Equally alarming is the unprecedented number of invalid votes from the October elections, which The Inquirer newspaper put at more than 114,600, quoting the NEC. There are media reports that Grand Bassa County, which was a strong Cummings support base because his vice-presidential running mate hails from there, accounted for a large percentage of the votes declared invalid.

Numerous challenges and questionable activities that characterized the electoral process have left many doubts that the October elections were conducted in an atmosphere that was credible, free and fair, in keeping with the Liberian Constitution and established international standards. Whether those problems were serious enough to undermine the current results remains to be determined. 

However, while Liberians await official announcements on the conclusion of the October elections by the NEC, as well as observations from local and international election observers and others who monitored the electoral process, the opposition bloc appears to have gambled away a great opportunity.  Thanks largely to the “crab mentality,” which is a way of thinking best described by the phrase, “if I can’t get it, neither can you,” contenders within the main opposition bloc went for one another’s jugular as they jockeyed for position. 

Now, the damage is done, and opposition candidates are apparently licking their wounds from the first-round losses. Because of failure to form a united ticket with Ambassador Boakai, Mr. Cummings, despite his stellar track record in international corporate affairs that could have been a huge asset to the country and himself, has lost an opportunity to become Vice President of Liberia in the next government. Similarly, Mr. Boakai’s failure to keep the opposition united, as the most senior statesman in the bloc, could cause him to also lose an opportunity to become the next President of Liberia, an opportunity he may never get again, given his age at 78.

This is not to be unmindful of the questionable activities of the NEC, which have generated public concern and condemnation alike, as the electoral body has been seen to be aligned with Weah’s ruling coalition.

So, what is the way forward, especially for the opposition bloc? Cognizant that the country is at cross-roads, I herewith proffer a few recommendations for consideration:

  • That Ambassador Boakai should personally engage with Mr. Cummings and other key opposition figures, including Mr. Benoni Urey, Counsellor Tiawan Gongloe, and get them to publicly endorse him and commit to work together in a government of inclusion, which Mr. Boakai said he plans to form upon winning the presidency. The engagements should enable Mr. Boakai and the other opposition leaders to formulate a government of inclusion that would focus on putting the country back on the right development trajectory. The focus of a government of inclusion could include a robust fight against corruption and drugs, improvement in health, education, road, electricity and other infrastructure, revitalization of the national economy, the establishment of the war and economic crimes court, and instituting a process of national reconciliation.
  • That the opposition bloc should unite in seeking redress regarding electoral malpractices that may have occurred during the October elections. As Mr. Cummings and other defeated presidential candidates have requested, there is a need for a recount of the votes or a thorough investigation. This would ensure that the elections are not mired in fraud and irregularities as many people are beginning to suspect because of the widespread discrepancies or inefficiencies that have characterized the electoral process. A rapid thorough investigation would clear the air of foul play and place Liberia on a path to electoral integrity.
  • That every measure must be taken to ensure that the opposition deploys a strong team of poll watchers at various polling centers across the country during the runoff. Failure to deploy a vigilant team of poll-watchers could be the last major error that would spell the doom of the main opposition bloc and its leaders as far as these ongoing consequential elections are concerned.
  • Irrespective of whoever wins, what is more important is that the electoral process be conducted in a manner that reflects the true aspirations of the Liberian people. Those who criminalize the process for power are on the wrong side of history and will eventually bear the consequences for their actions.  

About the Author: Gabriel I.H. Williams is a career journalist, former deputy Minister of Information and diplomat at the Liberian Embassy in the United States. He served as acting president of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) during the early years of the Liberian civil war and was a founding leader of the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA). He is author of Corruption is Destroying Africa: The Case of Liberia (2019) and Liberia, The Heart of Darkness: Accounts of Liberia’s Civil War and its Destabilizing Effects in West Africa (2002). He can be reached at .