By Jeremiah Jefferson Kringar Harris
From all indications, beginning with the events that culminated in the protest demonstration of June 7, 2019, staged by the Council of Patriots (COP), a coalition of four political parties defeated by George Weah and the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) in the Presidential Elections of 2017, it would appear that we are on the precipice of a potentially serious crisis in this country. If cooler heads do not prevail and the door to reconciliation remains locked, solely as a result of the obduracy of contending parties on both sides of the political coin, to the detriment of our beloved patrimony, then we could be thrust into an era of uncertainty.
This doesn’t augur well for the future of our country and the psyche of our people if our politicians remain intransigent in their determination to hold the future of this country hostage to their blind ambitions, in defiance of the progressive direction in which the national compass points. Where are we headed as a people if the behavior of our national politicians continues to defy the sequence of logic that defines national consciousness? Can this nation, once the beacon of hope for all Africa, survive another destructive internecine squabble of the magnitude of the recent civil war which reduced it to a skeleton of its former self, from which it is not yet fully recovered?
Liberians cannot afford the luxury of a replay of this dismal scenario! We must not forget that time marches on, and that the clock keeps on ticking as we behold the hour when all patriotic Liberians must marshal the resources of their powers of persuasion to instill a spirit and atmosphere of compromise, reconciliation and camaraderie in the minds of our politicians on both sides of the political spectrum. This is what begets national greatness!
Liberia is a democracy, and our Constitution guarantees the right to protest as an inherent aspect of free speech. However, it would be foolhardy should we forget that the ultimate repository of political power in a democracy are the people; it is this sovereign power which is transferred to the Constitution through referendum. In essence, the people are the supreme sovereign in our democracy.
Nevertheless, the fact that the people endorsed a democratic Constitution through referendum is a manifestation of their acceptance of the tenets of democracy as enshrined in the Constitution and their commitment to play by the rules of the game. By virtue of stipulations in our constitution, the Executive Head of State of our nation is the President, who is chosen by the people through free and fair elections. Once the President is elected, he/she becomes our national leader irrespective of political persuasions and we must play by the rules governing our democracy by accepting his/her leadership, within the constraints of the system of checks and balances enshrined in our constitution. Succinctly put, this is why democracy thrives in the Western World and that is the magic wand.
At this juncture, in order to clarify the drift of my thoughts, let us fast forward to the recent protest staged in Monrovia on June 7, 2019 by four political parties defeated in the Presidential elections of 2017 by President Weah and the CDC. Some skeptics would ask; was the ultimate objective of the massive protest simply to SAVE THE STATE as claimed by the organizers, or was it a subtle ploy to quench their insatiable thirst for state power, stealthily couched under the deceptive theme, SAVE THE STATE, which was denied them through defeat in the free and fair elections of 2017? If this holds true, and the evidence seems to point in that direction, then they have blatantly and inadvertently exposed their true intent.
This, with some modifications, was the exact tactic employed against Charles Taylor by the opposition after he won the elections of 1997, to ensure that Liberia would be ungovernable under his regime. Unfortunately for Taylor, he unwisely played into the hands of the opposition by unwittingly embracing brutality, intolerance and despotism, and thus unintentionally rallying support for his opponents, thereby galvanizing their efforts to forcefully expel him from power. As would be expected, Taylor was eventually expelled from power and driven into exile in Nigeria.
In the Presidential Elections of 2017 George Weah outpolled all other candidates by a wide margin but failed to garner 51% of the votes as required by the Election Laws of Liberia to ensure outright victory in the First Round. As such, the National Elections Commission (NEC) of Liberia, in keeping with the law, scheduled a second and final round of voting to be contested by the candidates who received the first and second highest number of votes in the first round. The qualifying candidates were George M. Weah (1) and Joseph Boakai (2) respectively.
However, the Unity Party and the other political parties participating in the elections could not countenance the fact that George Weah had won the first round of the elections and subsequently appealed to the NEC, on charges bereft of any rational legal merit, in a bid to invalidate the results and conduct a rerun of the First Round. This appeal, as expected by many legal scholars, was denied because it lacked even the most basic nuances of The Law that could lead the NEC to sustain it.
However, being determined to deny Weah the Presidency at all costs, which he had squarely and fairly won, the opposition parties, against their own better judgment, opted to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, the final arbiter in the system of Liberian jurisprudence. The ruling of the NEC was overwhelmingly sustained by the Supreme Court by a margin of 4 to one, which necessitated a final and decisive round of voting. With the Court’s decision, the opposition’s greatest fear had now become a stark reality; the writing on the wall could no longer be erased. George Weah’s Presidency had now become a foregone conclusion given the mass support that he enjoyed throughout the country.
The face-off between George Weah and Joseph Boakai in the final round was vigorously and fiercely contested. In fact, the Unity Party staged an enormous rally which boosted their confidence, instilling an aura of impending victory in the minds of their partisans and a state of nervousness in some CDCians. But the hands of fate would not deny George Weah his finest hour and he won an astounding victory, winning every county except Lofa, the home of Joseph Boakai.
George Weah’s momentous victory, however, did not dampen the determination of the opposition forces to make Liberia ungovernable in the event that he won the elections, which he did convincingly. In the first year of Weah’s Presidency, the Unity Party and its cohorts seemed bent on resorting to the blitzkrieg political guerrilla tactics used successfully against Charles Taylor, by casting doubt in the public’s mind on almost every new initiative proposed by the new administration to fast-track development in an economy that had already begun to falter in the dying, take-what-you-can-get, days of President Ellen Sirleaf’s Administration.
The accepted standard global practice of a political honeymoon accorded newly elected governments was completely disregarded by the overzealous opposition parties as they sought to keep the newly elected government of George Weah off-balance by one blistering attack after another. Undoubtedly their ultimate objective was to ensure the government’s failure in all of its policy initiatives from the get-go. Is this a better alternative than dialogue as the nation attempts to regroup and forge ahead with the process of rebuilding in the wake of the mammoth challenges posed by a pause in its economic growth? Is this how we instigate reconciliation and begin the process of depolarization in a nation which is still deeply polarized? Is this how we defeat the stigma of abject poverty residing next door to opulence in our beloved patrimony? In my mind, and there are those who would differ, the answer is no.
Liberians must be united, and there is a need for reconciliation and dialogue if institutionalized corruption is to be defeated and the economic tailspin which threatens the financial stability of this nation is to be arrested in a timely manner by solutions emanating from the dialogue of all major national stakeholders. President Weah has, in my mind, taken a major step towards national reconciliation by inviting all national stakeholders to a dialogue in light of the COP’s Petition. It is the COP that must now show magnanimity by accepting this invitation; they (COP) must realize that a petition is a request and not a demand.
As we seek to move this nation forward in Unison, we must remember that nations find their strengths in reconciliation and the instincts in the psyche of their people to accommodate diversity. AND SO YOU HAVE IT!