Annie Dao Leenah, 56, says as a widow, she cannot wait for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to leave office at the end of her second six-year term. A resident of a slum on 24th Street, Sinkor, behind the government owned JFK Medical Center, Annie says life is getting unbearable for her and her three children every day.
Leenah works in a nearby tailor shop as a dress-maker to pay the children’s school fees.
“To pay for elementary school, for example, it used to be about L$24,000 to L$30,000, but now everywhere you go, it is up to US$300 to US$500 for a year (at the rate of L$125/US$1),” Annie told this newspaper in a random interview.
“As a widow, I have at least managed under the regime of President Sirleaf, but with the run-off pending, I am yet to decide which of the two contenders I should vote for, even though my best bet is Joe Boakai. But I am afraid, because of the way living condition is getting harder.”
At the end of the October 10 polls, the 20 presidential candidates were narrowed to two for the run-off: Vice President Joseph N. Boakai of the governing Unity Party (UP), and Senator George M. Weah of the opposition Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).
Initially scheduled for November 7, two weeks following the October 10 polls, the run-off preparations were suspended last Friday due to a legal quagmire growing out of an original complaint filed by the Liberty Party (LP) to the Supreme Court, alleging widespread fraud in the October 10 elections.
Liberia’s large youth population, including first time voters (aged 18-24), who comprise 19 percent of all registered voters, wants its voice to be heard for the second time when they vote in the run-off. Voters young and old have told this newspaper how concerned they are about corruption, lack of paved roads, and rapidly rising costs of basics goods and services.
The government created Free State Schools for all in 2007 under the Compulsory Education scheme with low fees, but the poor quality of education has forced even the poorest to attend private schools. That does not include school fees, uniforms, or books and materials, which adds up. 80 percent of Liberians live on less than US$1.25 a day, according to the 2016 International Monetary Fund (IMF) survey on the country. (Liberia: Selected Issues; IMF Country Report No. 16/239, June 23, 2016)
Not all first-time voters are as young as the statistics have portrayed, especially those who remember the 14-year civil war that devastated the country and ended in August 2003, when the then President Charles Taylor was forced into exile.
Moses Peters, 37, although not voting for the first time, says the candidates in the 2005 and 2011 elections did not come close to his heart, except Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Peters, a petty trader, says his anticipation now is for Liberia to go through a peaceful transition following the end of the pending run-off election, “because as we speak, living condition is getting difficult.”
Peters is of the opinion that it is President Sirleaf who is keeping the country ‘politically hostage’ by taking a side in the run-off, even though the Executive Mansion has denied that belief.
Peters added, “We don’t want any interim government here again, rather, a peaceful transition.”
Two-time presidential candidate, Senator George Weah, of the CDC, has as his running mate Bong County Senator Jewel Howard Taylor of the National Patriotic Party, who is also ex-President Charles Taylor’s ex-wife. VP Boakai is running with the House Speaker, James Emmanuel Nuquay, of the People’s Unification Party as his vice standard bearer.
Some voters say they can see through all the vague political promises the candidates continue to make to the electorates.
Johnson Morgan, 41, lives in one of the slum communities of Monrovia, a grouping of corrugated zinc homes and he runs a small shop in downtown Monrovia. Also not a first-time voter, he says he is keenly observing the due process, because Brumskine felt cheated.
“We will pray for the betterment of the country to benefit Liberians following the end of the pending run-off,” Morgan said, though he’s not sure whether to vote for a presidential candidate in the run-off.
“What I have seen with people in power is that they don’t see, they don’t understand us, so I decided not to vote. I think that whoever comes to power will just do the same thing” as previous Presidents, Morgan says.
There were nearly 1,000 people vying for a seat in the House of Representatives in the just ended October 10 elections, and Morgan confirms casting his ballot for his local representative, but promised not to do so this time for the President.
For some of the older voters, the ghost of the country’s civil war lingers in their choice for President. The two-term President from the UP came to power in 2005 and was re-elected in 2011. Her VP, Joseph N. Boakai, is running on the UP ticket.
Many of the older voters say heir biggest concern is keeping the peace in the country. They regard President Sirleaf’s tenure as a positive post-war transition.
“She did her best. In 12 years, we have had peace. No war, nothing of the kind. We are all right. Everybody is living, enjoying their life,” said Ms. Ajaratu J. Coleman, an Accountant by profession, and resident of Lynch Street. She says she is voting for Boakai.
“I know when I vote for Boakai, he will win. With Ma Ellen, there was no war, so I know when Boakai is elected, there will be no war, because he is the Vice President,” Ms. Coleman says.
Francis N. Johnson, 24, is a university student and is also a professional tailor. Johnson says he is supporting the Unity Party, because he believes that the Vice President possesses the quality and experience in governance if he is elected the President in the run-off.
“I want all Liberians to vote for him so that he will transform the country as he has done over the years beginning in 2005 to date,” Francis said.
Manyama Haja B. Saryon, 29, earns her living as a dress-maker. Interestingly, she supports VP Boakai, “because my mentor in tailoring runs the campaign for him and also my Grandma is from the Kissi ethnic background like the Vice President.”
Kassam Sheriff, 25, is a high school dropout, now a street money changer whose support over the years for the UP began when he had no voting right. He says UP is the party he loves and therefore he promises to support it to the end even if the VP does not win the run-off election.
On the contrary, some of the younger voters say they do not like the UP, calling candidate Boakai “Old Man,” whose entire life surrounds one government job to the other, but they stop short of criticizing President Sirleaf outright.
“We want a better President. We are tired of suffering. Ma Ellen tried her best… but at least we are in peace,” adds Z. Leroz Daewon, 20, a first time voter, and a 10th grade student in Monrovia.
“I don’t know who I’m going to vote for yet, because my first choice for the Presidency, Senator Prince Johnson is no longer in the race. I’m praying to God to tell me. But I’m happy Ellen is going,” Leroz says.
President Sirleaf’s government has been criticized for not stabilizing basic food prices. IMF December 2016 statistics indicate that the local price of goods in Liberia is the fifth highest on the continent.
“When she [Sirleaf] came to power, this charcoal bag used to be 50, 75 [Liberian] dollars. But now we buy it for L$200, L$250 or L$300! We have to buy it in the bush [at a lower price] and bring it to town. So what do you get at the end? Nothing! But you have to do it for you and your children to eat,” another female voter added, wiping the sweat off her face. “We are suffering here in Liberia, and so we need change,” she added.
T. Sam Koryeyon, 34, is a shop keeper and a die-hard CDC supporter. T-boy, as he is affectionately called, says he a first time voter since he was out of the country during the past two elections, but believes in Senator George Weah, “because he has the country at heart.” He described Weah as a humanitarian, peaceful person, and the only politician that visited all the refugee camps around the sub-region. So I will vote for him and I want all Liberians to do likewise.”
A female petty trader at the ELWA Junction, Janneh Muannat, 36, says her support for the CDC is unwavering as evident by the display on her top of a pin bearing Weah and Jewel’s photographs. Muannat is confident that Sen. Weah can deliver this country from its present backwardness to prosperity.
Ms. Muannat, proudly wearing a CDC pin, challenges those who want to take the party from her heart to join those that love Mr. Weah.
“I believe that Sen. Weah is the best person that can deliver this country – that is to say, he can take us from where we are to somewhere that would produce jobs for the youth because of the passion he has for the country,” Muannat said with a broad smile. She believes that Weah will emerge as President in the pending run-off.
Mohammed M. Manobah, 34, a university student and a professional tailor, says he believes in Sen. Weah, because if he is elected President, he will bring positive change, that is, from the country’s hardship to better the lives of ordinary Liberians. Manobah, a second time voter, says Weah will better Liberians’ lives if elected as President through the Divine will of God, because of the love the soccer legend has for the country.
Meanwhile, other voters who have not decided to switch their political alliances, informed our reporter that they will decide when they arrive in the voting booth in the upcoming run-off.