On Tuesday, December 8, Liberians went to the polls to elect 15 senators and two representatives in the just ended midterm or special senatorial, referendum, and representative by-elections. The results of these elections, which are still too early to call, is a close race between the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP).
It is more of a mid-term assessment of the performance of President George Manneh Weah’s six-year term, and of whether the widespread appeal of his party still holds. This election also gauges the popularity of the CPP, being Liberia’s foremost opposition block.
One way or another, the impact of Tuesday’s vote is as significant for the ruling party as it is for the opposition community and might likely foreshadow the chances of each political grouping for the Presidential election in 2023.
The elections matter because both houses of the legislature currently lean heavily towards the President’s party, a makeup that the opposition CPP wants to change. And to keep such an incumbent position or control, President George Weah was on the campaign trail, motivating his party base to vote for the ruling party’s candidates, no matter their disagreement with the party.
“It doesn’t matter from which political party you come and join our Coalition; the NPP (National Patriotic Party) and the LPDP (Liberia People Democratic Party) are part of the coalition and every member of those parties must support our coalition. It does not matter who you are; if you can’t support our coalition, you can go. We don’t want trouble,” President Weah said sternly as he endorsed the candidacy of Bong County incumbent Senator, Henry Yallah, in Gbarnga on Tuesday, December 1.
The President considers it a party mandate that must be met — “party discipline,” he calls it — followed by a threat to punish partisan officials of his administration who will vote contrary to the mandate. Also, in a bid to woo voters, the President and his party embarked on the dedication of long-term projects, as well as quick impact ones.
Essentially, the December 8 vote is a referendum on the Liberian leader, his policies, and for politicians who have tied their fortunes to the President despite him not being on the ballot paper. This is because the party that ends up in control of the Senate, if united in purpose, can make a President’s life a breeze or a nightmare.
So a strong showing for his party would give the impression that President Weah is moving the country in the right direction, which will give him ground to brand all the accusations of the opposition and bad press as results of hate.
Such a win will enable the President to forcefully push for changes in the way he wants to govern the country in light of Finance Minister Tweah’s argument that a massive win in the election is needed to make President Weah a “benevolent dictator.”
It could also prove the party and the President’s argument that media, opposition, and critics have been wrong in their assessment that the government could lose bigly as a result of bad governance, corruption, and poor economy. Also, it might lead to the President and his party considering or branding critics and opposition politicians as minority noisemakers.
And he might be zealous enough to push his agenda more forcefully on the economy or road development, regardless of any situation, once he thinks it is beneficial for the country and its people. Moreover, the win would embolden the President and his party to take risks on his development agenda such as borrowing more money for his dream projects — the coastal highway and the connection of every county by paved road. And a CDC-controlled Senate would swiftly confirm more loyal partisans to cabinet posts, regardless of any conflict of interest problem.
But if the opposition CPP takes control of the senate, by winning 9 of the 15 seats and 5 five of the most populous counties (Montserrado, Nimba, Bong, Lofa, and Grand Bassa Counties), the President would look a lot weaker. This would be the nightmare scenario for President Weah as the opposition, which is currently doing everything to take state power in 2023 would take full advantage of the “checks and balances” function as enshrined in the Constitution.
His administration agenda could be paralyzed by the opposition, if unified in purpose, to make him a lame-duck President and heavily scrutinize every move his administration makes. A unified opposition controlling the Senate might force the President to nominate more technocrats to his cabinet, and some of his development agenda end up stranded, especially where debt financing is concerned.
And if the CPP wins in Montserrado, the political and commercial center of the country, it would send a clear and crisp message to President Weah and his kith that his individual star power is no longer sufficient to “ride charo” on. This could also be indicative of how much deadweight the party is putting on the President’s image, diminishing his brand and causing him to, for lack of a better phrase, look ridiculous.
Nevertheless, there is a slim possibility that the CDC and the CPP can be tied with an equal win if independent candidates win some seats. In this case, such a legislative mix will present the President and the opposition the opportunity to engage in the battle to woo independent senators to support their respective legislative agendas.
While each political party’s candidates have different platforms, the most and sticky points of the issues are bad governance, the economy, and job creation. The opposition has campaigned vigorously that President Weah and his administration are unfit to rule due to the bad governance, corruption, poor economy, and failure to create jobs. However, the ruling party and the President have been on the defensive spinning their records and even boasting of being the best administration Liberia has ever had.
The economy and job creation, just like it was in 2017, are two issues that can either make or break the ruling party or the opposition, as most of the country’s youthful population remain jobless and the poverty increases despite the country being blessed with the human and natural resources to make Liberia developed country.
Of the previous midterm senatorial election, held in 2014, the ruling party at the time, made little gains losing to the opposition community. That year, the Unity Party won four seats, while the opposition community carried the rest.
Currently, the lower-house of the Legislature is being controlled by the CDC, as more independent lawmakers, who are in majority, normally vote along the lines of the ruling party agenda. The opposition block, controlled largely by the CPP, has in the past struggled to get its lawmakers to checkmate the ruling party and its legislative agenda. It is also a struggle to woo independents lawmakers to follow suit as well.
Meanwhile, it is yet to be seen whether this election will mirror previous ones, such as when voters in 2011 rebuffed four referendum propositions in 2011 and expelled all incumbent senators except one, during the 2014 midterm senatorial elections 2014.
So while this referendum is a test of how much weight President Weah’s popularity can carry, it is also a test of who all in the party can carry their own weight and convincingly woo voters. Yet, in a very telling twist, it also an awakening to the revelation (in case anyone forgot) of who has the real power: the People, not the President or any political party.
“Liberians do not blindly vote for people or parties; they vote instead for politicians they presume will deliver public goods at local, national and sub-national levels,” Dr. Robtel Neajai Pailey said. “Liberia’s forthcoming elections and referendum are as much about the rule of law as they are about common decency, both of which have been in short supply during Weah’s presidency. Elections are anything to go by, many incumbents from established parties are likely to lose to new and/or independent candidates, which will deal a fitting blow to those who have governed carelessly,” Robtel said in a recent article title “Liberia’s Weah might be in for a rude awakening at the polls.”