Post-debate survey shows desire for answers that were more concise, decisive, less rhetorical, political.
Political discussions in and around Monrovia, on social media and the various radio stations have been abuzz since the much publicized presidential debate that took place at the Paynesville City Hall, with everyone weighing in on the performance of each candidate at the event. And while, it was not in the purview of the Deepening Democracy Coalition (DDC), organizers of the debate, to name a winner, the a task has been gladly received by the court of public opinion.
Interestingly, at one point during the debate, the four candidates tried to out-do each other and used the issue of presidential salary to make the point. While Amb. Boakai noted that he did not get half of his benefits during his first six years as Vice President of Liberia, Cllr. Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party offered to waive 30 percent of his salary if elected president. To that, Urey at his next opportunity out did Brumskine, offering to waive 50 percent of his presidential salary. Cummings, being the last to answer the wager, dropped the bombshell by offering to waive 100 percent of his salary if elected president of Liberia.
Analyses and opinions of individuals on radio, social media and political centers across the country and in the Diaspora have rated the political leaders of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) and the All Liberian Party (ALP), Alexander B. Cummings and Benoni W. Urey respectively, as the top performers.
In an opinion poll conducted by the Daily Observer outside the hall after the debate last Thursday, the two were also praised by many who attended the debate for their outstanding performances. Cummings, among many other things, was praised for being succinct on how to get the economy running, and how the country can expand its revenue base. He emphasized expanding the national budget, thereby curtailing recurring expenditures, to reducing poverty through infrastructure development, thereby creating wealth for Liberians. Businessman Urey was praised for taking the bull by the horn on many of the sticky issues— decisively weighing in on issues that some of his colleagues tried to play safe. He talked about cutting waste in government and reducing government officials’ salaries to fund critical sectors. He spoke of transforming the country into an agro-based economy.
Robert Gargar, an undecided voter who had come to witness the debate, said, “I’m not surprised by the excellent performance of Mr. Cummings in the debate. He seemed to have a good understanding of the problems of our economy, maybe because of his corporate experience in the United States. I think his western experience gives him a wide advantage over his rivals.” Gargar was, however, frustrated that he could not enter the debate hall because he didn’t have a pass. “I wanted to enter to see their composure and facial expressions. If someone is speaking sincerely you can know from these expressions,” he said.
Gargar, who made his way from Montserrado County District #17 to witness the debate, said Liberia is at a very crucial point in its history and, as such, desperately needs the best decision maker. He indicated that Cummings is the most important asset Liberians have for the October presidential election. “He has economic skills that will help grow the Liberian economy, create jobs, and make it more sustainable, unlike other candidates whose economic policies are not measurable, but more political than based on reality.”
Emmanuel Bordor, attired in his UP T-shirt, said when seeking the presidency, one has to be realistic and practical. “My opinion is that Mr. Cummings struck a chord with the audience. He was very concise, truthful and realistic. In my view, he was my man of the day.”
Said Emmanuel Dorlu: “This debate is a turning point in our country’s history. After being undecided about who to support in the election for a while, I can confidently say that Mr. Alexander B. Cummings is the right man for the job.”
Mercy Jones, however, described the ANC political leader as a visionary and farsighted leader with clear plans for the forward march of Liberia. “Cummings is the only candidate who didn’t just speak the real issues, but fundamentally discussed how he will resolve them,” she said. Unlike his rivals, who were unrealistic, Ms. Jones noted, Mr. Cummings demonstrated a high level of professionalism that a good leader ought to possess. “From expanding the national budget, thereby curtailing recurring expenditures, to reducing poverty through infrastructure development, thereby creating wealth for Liberians, Mr. Cummings is the man that can liberate the masses of our people from abject poverty.”
ALP political leader Benoni Urey was lauded for his uncompromising stance on some tough national issues such as the TRC Report and the Legislative-Judiciary saga. His ideology on improving the economy, the security sector and others were also highly lauded. As a successful businessman, Urey is also the single largest employer in the country. On tough issues raised during the debate, he did not hold back, spoke boldly and was the only candidate who urged people to consider the implications of their decision come October 10. At times he commended his opponents, while other times he sharply rebuked their ideas — a measure of eccentricity that seemed to play out well for him on Thursday.
“He really spoke to the heart of many Liberians today. He didn’t mince his words and he made his stances known. He wasn’t too political or rhetorical. He spoke his true feelings,” Wellington Padmore noted.
“Urey won my heart today for addressing the tough issues. This is a quality of a real leader. We need a war crimes court in this country, and Urey has committed himself to that. Impunity will never heal this country, or develop it; the sooner we realize this, the better it will be for us,” James Urias said.
Tasha Williams, from Johnsonville, said, “Any man who can speak the truth to your face when he is far away from power, is a good leader. Urey won my heart today and my vote is for him. I wish he succeeds at the poll. So far, I think Urey was the best man. This man is what we call ‘talk and do’. This is the only candidate in Liberia that has done something for us to see and to feel.”
It is no secret that the concept of a presidential debate is yet to etch its presence in the democratic process of Liberia, whether by tradition or through legislation. As a result, debates involving those aspiring for the nation’s highest seat are yet to garner the necessary reception that have made them one of the most pivotal ingredients of key democracies across the globe. Whatever the case, the DDC event demonstrated a great thirst among Liberians for the next level of democracy. The debate, which was broadcast nationwide through the state radio, ELBC in partnership with UNMIL Radio, was also televised on the Internet via an independent outlet, KMTV, and attracted thousands of viewers on Facebook live.