By Alvin W. Yelloway and Stephen B. Lavalah
In every political election the world over, the campaign strategy matters. The way it is designed, executed, and disseminated must be taken into consideration at all levels. Campaign strategists must understand their terrain and the needs of the electorate. They must tailor the campaign messages in accordance with what the people want to hear; articulate in clear terms the campaign messages void of emotion, confrontation, incrimination, and condemnation. Besides, the attitude, behavior, action and composition of the campaign team must be carefully examined every step of the way.
Before and during the 2017 Liberian presidential and representatives elections as well as the long-awaited runoff election, there were a lot of missteps and misguided and misleading campaign strategies employed by the ruling Unity Party and the Boakai Campaign Team. The ruling establishment seems to be out of political strategies and persuasive propaganda mechanisms to influence and brainwash the electorate to vote for Joseph Nyuma Boakai as Liberia’s next president.
However, the fundamental question that still resonates in every sphere of the Liberian society is: How did Boakai, a sitting Vice President for twelve (12) years, actually lose the 2017 Elections? There seems to be no definite answer. Up till present, many political pundits, intellectual giants and cross-section of Boakai fanatics still tussle and flex their intellectual muscles in the quest for a logical conclusion.
Notwithstanding, the authors of this article pinpointed Boakai’s disappointing, disgusting and disheartening campaign strategies that led to his convincing defeat. Boakai’s loss can painstakingly be attributed to: Failed endorsements, delayed and the wrong pick of a running mate, untiring criticism of the standard bearer emeritus and Boakai’s unorthodox critique, frivolous lawsuits and unnecessary legal tactics, as well as inappropriate campaign messages and incongruous messengers.
For the last twelve (12) years under the stewardship of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Unity Party managed to become an arduous force to be reckoned with in Liberian politics utilizing massive endorsement tactics on the eve of elections. However, the 2017 elections presented far more different odds, permutations and complex political predictions under the UP’s new standard bearer, Joseph Boakai.
Standard bearer Boakai was not a very popular politician across the country, but he strategically managed to receive huge endorsements from the hierarchy of his Unity Party and most grassroots auxiliaries within the party. These endorsements paved a way for him to propel to the top of the party as its illustrious standard bearer to contest in the 2017 Elections.
Taking on the task as standard bearer of the ruling party was not an easy task for a sitting Vice President who has been a part of a regime accused of rampant corruption, nepotism, impoverishment, and the lack of basic infrastructural facilities. The endorsement from more than half of the total number of representatives and senators who were already disconnected from their constituents further led to Boakai’s undisputed loss.
At almost every event organized by the Unity Party and the Boakai Campaign Team in the name of endorsement, the National Transit Authority (NTA) buses were trucking people here, there and everywhere. There were so many auxiliary groups without membership bases anxious to acquire their share of the cake.
Some of the auxiliary groups even went to the extent of providing stipends for those who sat in for the endorsement program just so the place could be jam-packed. Every now and then, endorsement ceremonies were marked by an array of NTA buses depriving others to freely commute utilizing the cheapest means. Some political leaders and parties that endorsed Boakai could not even persuade their supporters and partisans to vote for him.
It seems the ordinary people were on a transfer loan from one political party to the next, nevertheless being cognizant as to who to vote for. So, from all indications, the majority of the electorates were completely disconnected from the self-styled “endorsements.”
Delayed and the wrong pick of a running mate
It is often said that real power lies in making difficult decisions and choices. In the buildup to the deadline for the nomination process of running mates, Boakai was the last contestant to announce his running mate after many speculations and extension of the nomination process by the National Elections Commission. Considerable number of political scientists wondered how will a sitting Vice President who yearned to become President for a protracted period of time could not have a running mate in mine. This grave error crippled Boakai’s chances.
For whatever reason, Boakai chose Speaker J. Emmanuel Nuquay as running mate; it was just the wrong decision. Nuquay was completely a mismatch from the newly established People Unification Party (PUP) that had no political trait. Whether or not it was based on his ability to allocate state resources for campaign purposes or his influence over his colleagues because he won on white ballot as Speaker of the Honorable House of Representatives still remains unanswerable.
Nuquay’s ascendancy to the speakership of the Honorable House of Representatives was not competitive, unlike other speakership elections. It was done to settle another crisis. Nuquay struggled to win the election in his constituency by narrowly defeating his opponents. Although, it is widely perceived that Nuquay helped to make two senators and several representatives in Margibi County, but this perception could not be translated to votes.
Moreover, Boakai showed poor leadership and fatal decision making in the selection of his vice standard bearer. He only survived with the selection of his deputy when the time elapsed and the Election Commission had to extend the candidate’s nomination process.
Untiring criticism of standard bearer emeritus
Some stewards of the ruling Unity Party wasted a lot of time accusing and criticizing their standard bearer emeritus, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, for not supporting the presidential bid of her Vice President. They branded her all sorts of negative names. Several members of the Boakai Campaign Team who were fully employed in lucrative government positions used their titles and accumulated government resources to denigrate the standard bearer emeritus. Moreover, some members of the ruling establishment referred to themselves as opposition, just because they were not receiving “state resources” to run their campaigns.
Again while President Sirleaf was celebrating her 79th birth anniversary, the Unity Party Chairman alongside the Chairmen of both Liberty Party and the All Liberian Party gifted her weird gifts by releasing a damning and degrading press statement on the President. These political parties, led by the Chairman of the Unity Party, grossly and impolitely accused the President of interfering in the October 10, 2017 elections. They claimed that she manipulated and influenced elections officials by inviting the elections commissioners and county magistrates to her private residence. The midday statement of the Chairman of the Unity Party clearly pointed out that President Sirleaf possibly intended to rig the elections in favor of the Coalition for Democratic Change.
On the other hand, Boakai’s unorthodox critique of the Unity Party regime and the Sirleaf sent shocking waves of disloyalty and ungratefulness on both sides of the political divide. It was unimaginable for a Vice President that had been silent on all national issues and signing some of the worst concession agreements and laws in the country’s history to begin criticizing the regime just because he wanted to become President. The Vice President could have done the most honorable thing to resign when he saw misrule and bad governance.
Appearing on the state-owned media, the Vice President disclosed that many opportunities were squandered. However, some people are of the strongest conviction that Amb. Boakai did not utilize his leadership ability to properly manage the opportunities. It can be recalled that during the first televised national presidential debate, Boakai described himself as race car parked in the garage. Boakai’s analogy surmised that he was underutilized as Vice President, which remained arguable in some quarters. Boakai further asserted during an interview with Deutsche Welle Television that President Sirleaf could choose who she wants to support.
In a gullible and uninformed society like ours, where statements like these are taken at face value, Boakai only lost considerable support among the grassroots and fermented his relationship with his boss, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Based upon this, it was rumored that the President withheld her support from her own political party, thus leaving the Unity Party to struggle in a difficult 2017 Elections, although close associates of the President quashed the rumor and reaffirmed the President’s support to the candidacy of the Vice President. The President also consistently denied those damning allegations levied against her by her Vice President and her own Unity Party. Hence, it would suffice to say that no rational person would lend an iota of support to a troublesome and embarrassing child, like the Unity Party.
Boakai and his Unity Party went on to challenge the results of the October 10, 2017 polls, terming it as a process characterized by massive and systematic irregularities and fraud. The tallied results of the first round of the elections announced by the National Elections Commission (NEC) indicated that Senator George M. Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) accumulated a total of 596,037 (38.4%) votes, while Vice President Joseph N. Boakai of the Unity Party (UP) accumulated a total of 446,716 (28.8%) votes, with a national turnout of 1,641,922 (75.19%) registered voters. Obviously, the outcome of the first round of the elections placed the Unity Party in the runoff with the Coalition for Democratic Change.
While we must respect all Liberians’ constitutional right to utilize the court system when they are aggrieved; nonetheless, we find it difficult if not impossible to believe that Boakai, who was attractively seated in the runoff elections, joined the Liberty Party (LP) in a series of frivolous lawsuits. It is without doubt that the Liberty Party has been a regressive loser in three consecutive presidential and legislative elections in Liberia and its political brand and message perennially rejected by the Liberian electorate at each poll. So, one wonders: why will a sitting Vice President and the ruling Unity Party intervene in a case involving a losing party that has never given support to any candidate during a presidential runoff election?
Apparently, Boakai was misled by his Unity Party legal luminaries and campaign strategists to file a Motion to intervene in the Liberty Party’s complaint before the NEC Hearing Officer. The Liberty Party complained that the October 10, 2017 elections were marred by gross irregularities and massive fraud. Though their complaints were thrashed by the Hearing Officer and the Board of Commissioners, the Liberty Party and Unity Party stretched their legal arguments to the Honorable Supreme Court of Liberia.
In disposing of the Liberty Party and Unity Party’s allegations of irregularities and frauds, in our opinion the Supreme Court of Liberia asked and answered the most germane and fundamental question in Liberia’s electoral and constitutional law history. The question was whether or not the allegations of irregularities and fraud were substantial to overturn the results of the October 10, 2017 elections? Justice Philip A. Z. Banks, speaking for a majority Court (4 in favor and 1 against), held that the irregularities and fraud were not substantial enough to overturn the results of the October 10, 2017 polls.
The Unity Party accepted the decision of the Court, but chose to go on to file a Bill of Information to the Honorable Supreme Court alleging the NEC’s failure to adhere to the mandate of the Supreme Court. The Unity Party also claimed that the NEC had no authority to prescribe a date for a runoff election and that the Chairperson of the Commission should resign or rescue himself from the runoff election. Interestingly, the Supreme Court quashed Unity Party’s Bill of Information. The time and energy the Unity Party spent in court should have been utilized to intensify their campaign to the electorate in their respective communities across the country, before the runoff election.
To finally damage his entire campaign for the Presidency, Boakai and his Unity Party hired the services of a noisy and incompetent talk show host to serve as a Public Relations Agent for their runoff campaign. The renowned and abusive talk show host criticized the Boakai-Nuquay Ticket for more than five (5) months prior to the elections with all sort of demeaning remarks.
The self-proclaimed popular talk show host termed the Unity Party ticket as a “Wicked Ticket” and urged the Liberian people to overwhelmingly reject the ticket on face value. The decision to hire the services of an incompetent and noisy talk show host and for Vice President Boakai to even appear on such a talk show speak to poor decision making on the part of the Vice President and sent an inappropriate campaign message to the Liberian voting populace that the Unity Party was not prepared and ready to lead. The talk show host was just another unproductive parasite that led to the final demise of Boakai’s election as President of Liberia.
The Boakai campaign slogan also played a major part in his failure to assume Liberia’s highest office.
How can someone who has worked in the public sector for more than four decades inclusive of twelve years as Vice President now begin to talk about: “Think Liberia, Love Liberia and Build Liberia”?
In public service, we are taught to appreciate our country, believe in ourselves, love our fellow countrymen and women, be proud of our identity, accept our culture and tradition, have faith in our country, and refuse to fail our country no matter what circumstances we are experiencing and challenges that lie ahead. Consequently, Boakai’s quest for the presidency should not have led him to design such an inappropriate campaign slogan. Boakai should have understood that the journey to develop and better our country must be greater than our individual ambition and bigger than our greed for power or desire for wealth. Therefore, the slogan should have been crafted to reflect how people must think, love and build Liberia.
The dead end
From all indications, the Unity Party rashly defeated itself. The Party did not officially close their campaign with a pre-victory political rally like their opponents. The Unity Party headquarters was more like a rejected national museum throughout the buildup to the runoff election. All the more so, the Coalition for Democratic Change headquarters always appears like the lone and glorified theater in a densely populated community.
The result of the 2017 runoff election shows the electorate’s outright rejection of Boakai and the Unity Party for poor decisions and lack of leadership, and sent out a message to political pundits that President Sirleaf, standard bearer emeritus of the Unity Party, had been the backbone and face of the party for the last 12 years.
It is a trite adage that decision determines destiny, but Boakai’s horrendous decisions in the buildup to the 2017 Elections and subsequently the runoff cost him and his Unity Party a fatal loss. Though Boakai and the Unity Party may not have been the worst losers, but their vice standard bearer, James Emmanuel Nuquay, is the worst loser of all, because he abandoned a representative seat that he held to contest for the Vice Presidency. He has also lost his position as Speaker of the Legislature and was never elected on the Boakai-Nuquay Ticket as Vice President.
Finally, Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai’s poor decision making and lack of leadership have led to the rise of ultra-nationalism engineered by the biggest grassroots movement – the Blue Revolution (originally, the Congress for Democratic Change). This must send out a clear message to neo-politicians and other political parties about how they intend to reclaim power. Above all, the people have spoken and have shown that they are not only the custodian of power, but the decider of their destiny.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the authors and do not reflect the views of their institutions they affiliate with, including this newspaper.