By Alvin Worzi and Leroy M. Sonpon, lll
After many months of cohesiveness and planning to have a successful protest against the governing system of the George Weah Administration, the main opposition political party, Wilmot Paye, chairman of the Unity Party, issued a special statement on Sunday, January 5, calling its members, supporters, sympathizers and citizens of Liberia not to venture in the streets to participate in the protest that was rescheduled on Monday, January 6, 2020.
This last-minute statement signaled division that appeared to be emerging in the Council of Patriots (CoP) that comprises the four collaborating opposition political parties and ordinary citizens who feel the harsh economic pinch of the George Weah Administration. Paye, who is also the CoP’s vice chair, said the UP will contradict itself if a protest labeled as “Step-down” will be ongoing and partisans of UP participate, arguing further that during the 12 years regime of the UP it opposed protest planned under such a banner.
Earlier, Rufus Neufville had withdrawn from the COP and established the “Independent Council of Patriots,” followed by the so-called Economic Freedom Fighters of Liberia, as well as two Senators, Oscar Cooper of Margibi County and Sando Johnson of Bomi, right after the June 7, 2019 protest.
The UP National Chairman noted that it will be hypocritical of the party, having previously detested, resisted and opposed calls from the CDC and its allies for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to step-down while, at this time of the regime of the CDC, condoning and support the call for President George Weah to step down.
“Today, even though the ‘Step Down’ label of the December 30, 2019 Protest appears to be removed at least officially, it is not yet clear how long the rescheduled protest will last. In fact, we do not as yet know to what extent the already suffering and dispossessed masses can endure any endless standoff. Also, we don’t believe that it’s enough to officially remove the initial ‘Step-down’ label which from all indications seems to have been the real motivation for this new protest,” Paye said.
He continued: “The Unity Party cannot and will not contradict itself because we are in opposition. Throughout our 12 years of national stewardship, we oppose protests planned to have been held under any step-down banner. The concern then is, if any such move would have rigged the recovery efforts and further polarize an already deeply divided country, it would, therefore, be hypocritical on our part, having previously detested, resisted and opposed calls by the CDC and its allies for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to step-down, to be seen as condoning and supporting call for President Weah to step down.”
The UP chairman, without a clear sense of what may happen on January 6, said doubt is looming still as to what happens this day and therefore nothing should be overlooked or underestimated.
Therefore, the UP chairman warned, “Members, supporters, sympathizers, friends and citizens of Liberia should be cautious of Monday, January 6, and avoid the streets but monitor unfolding events from our homes.”
He said the UP’s advice against protesting in the streets should not be in any way misconstrued as a sign of weakness, stressing that even staying home to protest as was done on December 30, 2019, is a protest in itself.
Paye said since it was unpredictable what would occur on Monday, the party was constrained to advise its members, sympathizers, supporters and friends to take precautions to prevent the party from being drawn into any standoff would have dire and adverse consequences.
He added: “Just as the opposition dealt decisively with the CDC last year in the Montserrado County Senatorial by-election, we can finalize the draft framework of the Collaborating Political Party and prepare for the CDC again in October this year. Even staying home tomorrow as you did on December 30, 2019 is a protest in itself. Please let us not give George Weah and his CDC any excuse or scapegoat since they are already failing; let them fail on their own terms and conditions.”
Costa responds to Paye
Meanwhile, minutes after Mr. Paye’ press conference, CoP’s chairman, Henry P. Costa said he was disappointed at Mr. Paye who is trying to undermine the protest.
“I will not attack Mr. Paye but, to call on all Liberians and Unity Partisans, in particular, to openly disagree with Mr. Paye. Is Paye undermining the peaceful protest or movement of the Liberian people,” Costa said.
Mr. Costa emphasized that the CoP, of which Mr. Paye is a member as well as part of its chatroom, belongs to the Liberian people.
UP Executives Dissent over Protest
In reaction to the UP Chairman’s commanding instruction to partisans to stay away from the January 6 protest, the party through its Assistant Secretary-General for Press, Publicity, and Outreach, Mo Ali, said the entire Executive Committee of the UP and party faithful still support the declaration by their standard-bearer, Amb. Joseph N. Boakai, to have a peaceful protest.
“Executive Committee of UP and party faithful still affirm and support as declared by its Standard Bearer, Amb. Joseph N. Boakai; any peaceful gathering of any group of Liberians as provided for by the Constitution of Liberia,” the release said.
Mr. Ali said the UP encourages Liberians from all walks of life to help ensure the fulfillment of the country’s constitution including but not limited to the staging of peaceful assemblies.
“The UP also appreciates the Ministry of Justice commitment to adhere to those basic democratic principles and provide security for any and all Liberians who desire to assemble peacefully,” the statement added.