Senatorial candidate Botoe Kanneh has been projected to win Gbarpolu County as polling watchers complete counting of ballot papers from the rerun election in Nomodatanau.
Kanneh, before the rerun election in Gbarpolu County electoral district 3, had been in the lead with 4,767 electoral votes, while her closest rival, Rep. Alfred Koiwood of the ruling Coalition for Democracy Change, had 4,281 votes from the 139 polling places out 144, according to data from the National Election Commission.
Though Kanneh’s lead against Rep. Koiwood has been slightly reduced, she is still expected to beat Rep. Koiwood, whose votes in the January 7, 2021 re-run were apparently not sufficient to surpass the only female candidate in the race. Preliminary results from Nomodatanau shows that Kanneh, who ran as an independent candidate, obtained a total of 188 votes while Koiwood got 217.
Although Rep. Koiwood garnered more votes than Kanneh in Nomodatanu, she managed to keep her overall lead as the county’s projected senator-elect due to her early lead in the race. Nomodatanau, where the election was previously postponed due to electoral violence, had a population of 2,000 registered voters but, due to the intimidation tactics by the paramount chief McGill Wleh and the country devil for the town, many of the voters did not turn out to vote.
During the violence on December 8, 2020, the paramount chief of Nomodatanau, McGill Wleh, with support from his fellow residents seized ballot boxes and prevented the election from taking place due to what he called ‘illegal attempts by aliens to vote’ in that part of the country. The seizure and confiscation of the four ballot boxes resulted to the closure of the polling precinct until the end of the day.
And following few days of tense electoral violence, paramount chief McGill summoned the town’s country devil — a move that escalated the violence further and reportedly led to the kidnapping of Botoe to an unknown location on December 14, 2020, a day ahead of the first rerun. According to Chief McGill and his supporters, their action was necessitated by residents’ allegations of an influx of foreign nationals, including Sierra Leoneans, ahead of the elections, bearing Liberian voter registration cards, as a means of swaying the vote.
Before the Country Devil incident a day earlier, electoral tension was rising at the the highest level after Kanneh and another candidate, Sam K. Zinnah, along with their supporters, were reportedly denied access to the town by officers of the Liberia Immigration Services (LIS) assigned in the area. However, according to Kanneh and Zinnah, this was not the case with the CDC candidate, Rep. Koiwood, who they claimed was allowed access to Nomodatanau along with his support campaign team ahead of the then rerun on December 14.
“I know the problem with my people”
If confirmed by the electoral body, Kanneh could become the first female senator-elect for Gbarpolu County and the only other female senator apart from Senator Nyonbleee Karnga Lawrence of Grand Bassa County.
“I have travelled all over the county; to towns and villages where car cannot reach. So I have experienced bad road conditions and seen people die on the way to get medical care. People walk 10 to 12 hours to get health care. Over the last 20 years, I have provided loans to people to start a business and I have catered to so many needy people from my small business. So I know the problem of my people,” Kanneh said few days ahead of yesterday’s rerun.
A businesswoman by profession, Kanneh said she decided to run for Gbarpolu County Senate seat to improve the living condition of her people by promoting the plights of her people, especially when it comes to the bad road conditions, health care and the huge unemployment rate in the county.
According to her, she would not have contested if past leaders had done better to solve some of the county’s many problems, particularly the bad road conditions.
Ahead of NEC’s official results, Kanneh noted that before winning the election, she has been beaten, harassed, and threatened with the country devil that led her into hiding to protect her from people who are trying to prevent her from serving the people of Gbarpolu county. Some of her female supporters were also reportedly sexually assaulted.
“The the immigration officer told me he needed permission from the Paramount Chief to see who can enter Nomodatanau,” Kanneh narrated, as she struggled during the election violence period days before yesterday’s vote. “After he consulted his boss, he was told that only five of my supporters could enter the town. I asked why all the CDC supporters were in the town, but the Immigration commander told me they would get the CDCians out, which they did not do.” Kanneh added: “We stood in the sun for hours. Between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., some young women who were registered voters were denied entry into Nomodatanu because they supported me. One of the young women wanted to enter the town because she had her voting card in her house, but she was denied entry.”