Elections and Party Politics Reviewed: The Liberian Case

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By John S. M. Yormie, Jr.

Introduction/Background

Espoused by John Locke, the fundamental constitutional principle is that the individual can do anything but that which is forbidden by law, while the state may do nothing but that which is authorized by law.

The doctrine of the rule of law dictates that government must be conducted according to law. In compliance as a nation state, Liberia observes the rule of law and has at the top of the law pyramid the constitution. Article one of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia provides for the inherent power of the people to choose their leaders through elections art.

Simply defined as a formal decision making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office, electoral practices date as far back as the medieval period to select rulers such as the Roman Emperor and the Pope. (Encyclopedia Britannica online retrieved July 20,2017).

Liberia has appeared in the Guinness Book of Records for the most fraudulent election in 1927. This comes aside widespread perceptions that the 1985 presidential election was rigged, coupled with claims that the 1997 election was fair, but not free. Nonetheless, the 2005, 2011 declarations of the international community and particularly the Economic Community of West African States(ECOWAS) and African Union(AU) observers show an upsurge in the credibility of Liberia’s electoral system.

Liberia’s first ever presidential election was contested by then Governor Joseph Jenkins  Roberts of the True Liberian Party and Chief Justice Samuel Benedict of the Whig party in September 27, 1847. Roberts and his Vice President Nathaniel Brander won and became inaugurated on January 3, 1948. (Guannu, 2010).

While there are significantly vast elections literature to explore about Liberia, a glance has been given to the early election periods, voting patterns, party sentiments and a look into the 2017 election variables for the presidency.

Analysis

The scenario that an underrated Leicester City Winning the 2015/16 Premier League  manifesting in Liberia may not be totally an illusion, but will not be in the 2017 elections as certain parties will just be mere partakers. Who will win may not be definite here since we are not in the seat of making prophesy. We can rather analyze who can win.

From party and individual levels, the four players which secured the most votes in 2011 are contesting the 2017 elections: Unity Party (UP), Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), Senator Prince Y. Johnson and the Liberty Party (LP).

The pecking order may change, but these four are likely to persist, while new players like the Alternative National Congress (ANC), Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE) and All Liberian Party (ALP) will find following places.

Let see where the voters are and what influence them:

Up to the publication of the paper, about 20 presidential candidates are contesting the October 2017 polls with about 2,183,683 registered voters (available at www.necliberia.org). From the baseline of 2011 the demographic concentration of the most populous counties have not been nullified, having Montserrado and Nimba in pecking orders, with the former from 630,367 (35 percent) in 2011 to 777,503 (35 percent) and latter from 230,146 (13 percent) to 279, 572 (13 percent) available at (www.necliberia.org). There has been an increase in registered voters but maintained percentages respectively.

As consistent as it is calendared that Fridays come after every Thursday, tenacity in research has proven that among the most power and influential people in politics in Liberia are Senator George Weah of the CDC and Senator Prince Y. Johnson of then NUDP, now Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction(MDR).

Senator Weah won the first round of the 2005 elections, but could not garner the 50 plus one in the second round. He also ran on the ticket of the same party as vice running mate and unarguably his popularity saw his party end up in the runoff although boycotted in 2011. He contested as a senatorial candidate in the 2014 special senatorial elections and emerged as the Senator for Montserrado with 99,226, (78 percent) of the total vote cast. He is still a force in the most populous county.

Senator Johnson was not only a candidate in the 2005 elections but a phenomenon of attraction although sometimes perceived as controversial. He amassed an overwhelming vote of  81,820 that accumulated (33.8%) of total votes. He contested also as a presidential candidate and came third, and played a key role in votes mobilization in Nimba that led to the second term of Madam Sirleaf in 2011.

He went on to contest the special elections and along with Senator Jewel Howard were the only two candidates seeking reelection who returned, taking up most of the votes of 37,932 (66.6 percent). He remains the single most influential factor in Nimba.

Both individuals have not had the salience of lawmaking and representation from legislative score cards from empirical evidences, but their support can be described as fanatical and sometimes hard to falsify from an empirical research viewpoint.

Method of campaign finance plays a big role in determining logistical supports which are very important, since it’s difficult to track who owns what in Liberia, not much can be said but to not abandon this key component altogether, it has been observed that the forerunners have displayed material preparedness.

Policy driven decision making models have a place on the bus here in Liberia but may not be as significant as personal sentiments and regional affiliations as determinants of voters. In 2005, Korto as a presidential candidate amassed 3.3 percent of total votes nationally. He  pulled  about  30,054 (21 percent) (available at www.necliberia.org) in Nimba, second in rank only to Weah despite noticeable less popularity before the elections.

Same appeared with Senator Johnson in the same county during the 2011 polls. The same song was being sang in vote rich Grand Bassa in 2005 as well as 2011, as Brumskine garnered higher votes than any of the presidential contestants (58%  and 37.6 percent respectively).

It can be predicted that voting will still take place along these lines but new phenomena may occur. Beginning with Nimba, first round victory for Senator Johnson is likely but not very certain. This means the possibilities are high from fanatically built sentiments. However, the influence of vice presidential running mate Karnwea cannot be rubbished especially having considerable influence where Johnson’s music plays loud (Lower Nimba region).

Dissolution of dominance becomes apparent. Not only seeing that as a downside, most of whom played Johnson’s music loud have lost interest in his alleged individual stance on political dividends while others see him as a good Nimba Senator than a better Liberian President. Most of said people have been planted cells of campaign for UP which plays hugely for them and may turn things around quite exponentially.

Considering a second round, UP and CDC is better for UP in Nimba. If LP and UP were to be, where Senator Johnson goes will be an advantage. However, even at the most unlikely for UP if the Senator does not go their way, if their cells are maintained by having free flow of finance and logistics, could still pull significant votes.

In Grand Bassa, the man is clearly Brumskine, but the recent reemergence of Findley’s popularity can cast some balance, but at the end the LP can still win most of the votes.

For Montserrado, it remains beyond regionalism but more of individualism. There will not be a lion’s share, although CDC or the UP may take a bigger portion. The fact is new players previously discussed have gotten a say that cannot be overlooked.

Beginning with new ‘darling boy’ Cummings, who has a big track record of serving with integrity in one of the world’s biggest multinational corporations, has earned him some image. Despite speculations of dual nationality, his triumph to reach the ballot paper has set a stage. He has an organized team built around research and analysis sophisticated Taa Wongba. They have mended strategies of attracting musical stars that pull people for his rallies to deliver key messages. His intervention in areas of health and education and limited attacks on oppositions have found him a place on the dining table but faces an uphill task of citizens’ perception of him being a stranger.

Big Ben (Mr. Urey) is not a strange name over here. An old time good friend to Taylor may not play people’s perception of his ability to tighten the nuts internationally. However, he has been a good friend to many farmers and students. He has a good record of being a philanthropist to the biggest private university in Liberia, Cuttington University. He has the cash and has influenced many stars (soccer and musical) and will get his fair share especially along the Congau settlements.

The former Bank Governor cannot be counted out in the eyes of business people who have had easy means of gathering loans. His track record at the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) shows innovation and a modern CBL building under his regime shows development. He, however, cannot pull the change fully due to small team of experts and people who could either play or revert to dirty games.

Major Assumptions

There will not be a one round victory but UP is most popular to reach the second, either with the CDC or LP. Despite the economic hardships faced by many, a half full and have empty situation hangs over the UP. Many have seen reforms and structural developments but in many ways have been overshadowed by unemployment and evident hardship, which have been tied to the UP.

But  what has proven to be the UP standard bearer’s main ground has been the sympathy bought by many as a very mature and integrity built person, branding him as the one who can make the change from his lessons learned over the years. Over these recent months, endorsements have shown he has more auxiliaries and regional affiliations, which are very important in Liberian elections.

A tighter race will be with the UP and LP because the LP has proven tactical in bargaining and consolidation unlike CDC which has been weak in integrating fellow oppositions coupled with complacency nerves and self-belief on being an unrelinquishing driver. Maybe the politically accomplished female genius of Senator Taylor and other folks from the NPP to the like of Rep. James P. Bannie can change the variables in their favor.

The preconditions of parties’ willingness to see nothing but a fair process along with NEC’s cordial relationships with all parties signal less tension. This is very important; and voters’ consciousness after a series of elections at both legislative and presidential levels are evidences of consciousness. However, politicians at grassroots level must avoid provocation while the media’s role of transparent reporting will validate calm.

Conclusion/Recommendations

The paper has mapped historical antidotes of Liberia’s elections from 1847. It identifies issues of fraud in previous elections and raise guarantee of the credibility NEC has earned by conducting free and fair internationally accredited elections. An analysis was also made on who wins the 2017 presidential race and what influence voters with case viewpoints from the most populated counties.

About Author: John S. M. Yormie, Jr. is Research Analyst at FSI and Executive Director of Liberia Research and Development Networks. He can be reached at [email protected]

Authors

3 COMMENTS

  1. Its a detail analysis, it is clearly understood that there would not be lion share of the population! I have also read that about 20 presidential candidates are contesting the October 2017 polls with about 2,183,683 registered voters,. However, interactions with few Liberians, seem interesting to note that many are in dilemma, considering the 20 presidential candidates with many overlapping platforms.Question i have posted to myself is, why if 99.9 percent of this 2,183,683 registered voters decide to forgo going to the ballot box comes October ? Why?? Because the platforms are many that we don’t understand anything, for this reason we don’t want to give some of our rights?

  2. Thanks Mr. Yormie for the well written and analyzed publication which touched most of the factors that influence decision about who to vote and those who end up in the second round. Continue the good job you’ve started and note that Liberia is proud of you.

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