Will it be George Manneh Weah or Joseph Nyuma Boakai as the next President of Liberia?
It is a complex question that will be determined by Liberian voters across the country as they head to the polls in a runoff of the Presidential Electoral scheduled for November 7, as officially announced yesterday by the National Elections Commission (NEC) yesterday in Monrovia.
Weah, former world soccer star and now Senator of Montserrado County, has collected 596,037 votes or 38.4 percent of the 1,641,922 total valid votes, while Boakai found his way to the runoff by collecting 446,716 votes or 28.8 percent.
The runoff has become necessary because none of the 20 presidential candidates succeeded in acquiring 50 percent plus 1 vote as required by the new Elections Law to secure a one-round victory. Now, these top two presidential contenders will make their case to the Liberian electorate, who will finally decide who gets to succeed President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whose official position as president ends on January 16, 2018.
The Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) standard bearer, George M. Weah, is contesting for the presidency for the second time. His first attempt was in 2005. In 2011 he surrendered his position of standard bearer of the Congress for Democratic Change (also CDC) to Cllr. Winston A. Tubman and became the running mate. Mr. Tubman had come to the Congress from the defunct National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL), where he ran as standard bearer in 2005.
With CDC, Tubman won the first round in a simple majority, but could not accumulate the required 50 percent plus one vote. The party decided to boycott the runoff.
As a result, incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had an easy ride to win the runoff.
The 2005 and 2011 elections campaign messages against the CDC ticket were that Weah had no better educational foundation let alone experience and political savvy to lead the country.
It gave the ruling UP an edge in both campaigns and, of course, Weah went ahead to admit on the Truth Breakfast Show in 2005 that he did not graduate from high school. He said he was nonetheless passionate to serve his fellow compatriots as president.
Has Anything Changed?
The CDC’s standard bearer took the challenge and traveled to the United States and enrolled at DeVry University.
The United States-based DeVry University offers both campus and online degrees, including undergraduate and graduate level. It also allows students to prepare to tackle the challenges of the modern workplace and make an impact in a chosen field. According to its website, it is an accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), signaling that DeVry meets key standards used to evaluate colleges for their focus on quality, student support, transferability of credits and more.
However, the information said for three years Weah did courses to brush up before venturing to take his university degrees. He is presently reported to have achieved a Business Administration degree.
Despite his reported achievement, there has been a lot of interest in what many see as his challenge in articulating standard English, which his supporters don’t think is absolutely necessary for a President.
Many of his opponents have worried that a Weah government could create problems as he would be compelled to interact and speak at major functions at the ECOWAS, United Nations, African Union (AU), Mano River Union, among other bodies that could expose his unpreparedness to address pertinent issues that affect the sub-region and the world.
Testing his political strength once more was in 2014 when he contested and won the Montserrado County senatorial seat against his closest rival, Robert Sirleaf, son of his archrival, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Should Boakai be considered?
His 42 years in public service as a director, minister and several other positions before his current post of Vice President now, in conclusion, has given him more experience and courage to assume the role as a president if he wins the runoff. Many of his supporters have said Boakai is dependable and with his experience as twelve years as vice president, he could do things differently from his boss President Sirleaf.
Though many of his opponents, particularly those who are not comfortable with the Unity Party going for a third term, insist Boakai cannot offer much more than what was promised by President Sirleaf and not delivered in the last twelve years.
The electorate now faces a quandary. They are confronted with a thorny issue: Boakai or Weah?
While many people blame Boakai for what they see as the lapses of the Unity Party under President Sirleaf, others see in him, comparing him with Weah as an erudite statesman capable of handling the issues of the country aright. Hence, many think it is a situation that voters should take into consideration in the runoff.
Another issue being held against Boakai is the statement attributed to him that the Unity Party government “squandered lots of opportunities.” Though Boakai did not offer an explanation about the “opportunities squandered” his partisans say he could do things differently, as his famous slogan, says “Think Liberia, Love Liberia, Build Liberia.”
Who supports who?
Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine of Liberty Party (LP), Senator Prince Y. Johnson of the Movement for Democracy and Reconciliation (MDR) and Alexander B. Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) among 20 registered political parties are expected to support either of the two runoff contenders.
Their support to either side, coupled with influencing the decisions of their followers will be a major factor in determining who replaces President Sirleaf.
The number of total invalid votes as announced by Korkoya is 88,574, while the valid votes accounted for 1,553,348. He declared campaign open as of the time of the announcement of the results yesterday (October 19) and said it will end at 11:59 p.m. on November 5, 2017.
So as the countdown to the final determination of who becomes Liberia’s 24th President continues, the UP and the CDC are trying to secure alliances with other political institutions and voters, in anticipation of the day that would become part of the country’s history for many years to come.