By William Q. Harmon and David S. Menjor
Guinean President, Alpha Conde in his capacity as Chairman of the African Union (AU) has warned President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to play a neutral role that would bring credibility and trustworthiness to the ongoing electoral process so as to pave the way for a smooth transition of her administration.
At the end of a political conference held in Monrovia last Wednesday, when he and ECOWAS Chairman Faure Gnassingbe, President of Togo, interacted with stakeholders about the country’s ongoing political stalemate, President Conde said he has asked President Sirleaf to stay above the fray — not to get involved with the current electoral contention.
“We have asked our sister to stay above the fray,” Conde said.
The Guinean President said Africa and the sub-region are concerned about what is going on in the aftermath of the elections in Liberia, “we found it necessary that it was our duty to identify with our brothers and sisters in Liberia; listen to them; analyze the situation, and so we consulted with the diplomatic corps, the election commission, the supreme court and the inter-religious council.”
Conde said from the discussions, all stakeholders involved in the electoral process acknowledged that there were irregularities, adding, “everybody is aware that there were some mishaps at the polls.”
President Sirleaf, who spoke earlier was much concerned about the transition being on course and that the legal formalities should be concluded in time for her to turn over to a successor and retire peacefully. She reminded political leaders around the table of their commitment to the Farmington Declaration in the presence of West African leaders.
She called on stakeholders to remain peaceful, and respect the election laws of Liberia to give the process a chance to go on peacefully and successfully. She then challenged those dissatisfied with the process to go about their complaint in a peaceful manner, but pleaded that the run-off election be allowed to continue within the constitutional time-frame.
The meeting itself bore the semblance of peace talks — which Liberia is no stranger to — a cease-fire from the “fray”, being the war of words or skirmishes of speech (to put it mildly), between the two opposing political interests following the October 10 polls.
But the fray has been going on for more than a year, ever since the Unity Party saw reason to believe that their standard bearer emeritus, President Sirleaf, was fielding other political parties to support. At first the President openly denied the claims, but as the distance between her and the UP became more telling, she seldom spoke, being very strategic when she did, concerning her relationship with the party and the issue of succession.
Meanwhile, amid her verbal silence, her education Minister, George K. Werner, who had suddenly endorsed the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), began a series of repulsive remarks on social media directed against certain political opponents of the CDC. One of the minister’s more vulgar remarks reached the President’s attention and, according to her, seeing that it appeared to “undermine the gains [her administration has] made so far,” she chided and urged him to desist and issue a public apology. Most of Werner’s remarks were targeted at Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, the UP standard bearer. Werner later issued a general apology on his Facebook page and has remained at bay. Some thought that the President’s response to Werner’s rants were too lenient, while others felt that the minister’s apology was sufficient.
But things took a sharp turn on the President’s birthday, Sunday, October 29th, when the UP, along with two other opposition parties — Liberty Party (LP) and All Liberian Party (ALP) –released a scathing statement claiming that the elections were “characterized by massive systematic irregularities and fraud.” They added that President Sirleaf’s meeting with election magistrates prior to the October 10 polls “clearly amounted to interference with the electoral process and has no legal basis or justification whatsoever.”
The next day, the Executive Mansion press secretary, Jerolinmek M. Piah, issued a matching response, calling the President’s accusers “agent provocateurs to undermine Liberia’s democratic process.” He also said the allegations against the President “fall in the category of hate speech and inciting language which should be condemned and disavowed by all peace-loving Liberians.” He further went on to deny her interference in the country’s political process.
It was following the Executive Mansion’s response that the AU and ECOWAS Chairmen came to Liberia to meet with key political stakeholders, especially presidential candidates and leaders of political parties. By then, LP had already lodged their formal complaint and submitted their evidences of electoral fraud to the NEC, and also filed a request for a writ of prohibition at the Supreme Court to freeze plans for the for the Nov. 7 run-off election until the electoral body could examine the merit of LP’s claims. A stay order had already been served on the NEC by then.
Immediately following the meeting with the AU and ECOWAS Chairmen, LP standard bearer Cllr. Charles Brumskine, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), described some of the evidence his party had submitted to the NEC.
In response, at a press conference on Friday, Nov. 3, Information Minister Eugene Nagbe rejected Cllr. Brumskine’s claims especially the one LP leader claimed that Madam Sirleaf protested the outcome of the 1985 elections by bringing war upon Liberia and its people.
“Cllr. Brumskine needs to be reminded or made aware that making baseless and reckless accusations about a fair and transparent process that was witnessed by several party agents, local and international actors and acclaimed to be credible, is a demonstration of desperation and dishonesty which this country does not deserve,” Nagbe said.
He said the government believes that “this conduct by Cllr. Brumskine is simply the rants of a sore and selfish loser, who is so blinded by ego and arrogance that, even after 12 years of rejection by the voters, he is unable to accept that he is not the presidential choice of the Liberian people.”
Nagbe added: “Brumskine whose position as a third placer was never changed over three recent electoral cycles, has always complained about the outcome of the election process since 2005 when he contested and dismally performed.” He added that it is unprofessional for Cllr. Brumskine to be discussing issues in the media space, that are already the jurisdiction of the court.
Until the legal issues in the electoral process have been addressed, either at the level of the NEC or the Supreme Court, the fray is expected to persist, unrelenting on both sides, even with a certain measure of comic relief. Regardless, the depth of the President’s alleged involvement therein is perceived to be less in word and more in her deeds, whatever they may be.