By Counselor Frances Johnson Allison
Once again Liberians are poised to go to the polls to elect a new leader (president) for a term of six years.
But what eligibility criteria do Liberians have for their prospective leader?
In 2005, Liberians were looking for a leader who would come and “wipe away their tears” and at least restore them to status quo ante, if not better. This was a tall order as postwar challenges were monumental. Basic social services, i.e., water, electricity, health and educational facilities, were all devastated; wounds of the war, both physical and psychological, were still fresh; the economy was in shambles with a mere US$80 million left in the state treasury. Consolidation of the fragile peace was also critical as it seemed at the time that some participants in the war were not quite ready to beat their pruning hooks into plowshares. That was the state of affairs in 2005 when Liberians went to the polls to elect a leader.
But the question which comes to mind in 2017 is, what kind of leader are Liberians looking for this time around? Over the years, it has become apparent that Liberians have no hard and fast rule as to the qualification of their would-be leaders. Their choices of leaders are determined by the economic might and generosity of the aspirants or candidates involved or by their emotional attachment to a particular individual. Surprisingly, for a country that is so religious, values such as honesty, integrity, morality, character do not matter to the Liberian electorate. No wonder we have been plagued with problems of governance time and again.
In contrast to Liberian voters, some time ago, I was reading Madeleine Albright’s book, “Madam Secretary,” in which she recorded that she was once asked by people to help organize a fundraising dinner for the presidential bid of Maine Senator Edmund Muskie because four years earlier he had impressed voters with his integrity and intelligence (emphasis supplied) as Hubert Humphrey’s running mate. When will Liberians begin to evaluate a candidate for elective office on the basis of moral values rather than on flamboyancy and materialism?
Granted that Article 52 of the Liberian Constitution spells out the eligibility criteria for one desiring to contest the office of president as follows: (a) Must be a natural born Liberian citizen of not less than 35 years of age; (b) Must be the owner of unencumbered real property valued at not less than twenty-five thousand dollars; and (c) Must be resident in the Republic ten years prior to his election, provided that the president and vice president shall not come from the same county.
Yet those constitutional criteria and virtues such as honesty, integrity, morality, character, etc., are not mutually exclusive. In fact the constitutional criteria as listed above are inadequate and were not intended by any stretch of the imagination to be the only yardstick by which a candidate contesting the presidency can be evaluated.
Of the three criteria listed above, Liberians are very keen and uncompromising on criteria (a) and (c) (nationality and residency). Liberians have always been unanimous when it comes to the issue of nationality of their leader. They also detest the idea of a would-be leader who calls himself/ herself a Liberian but who has been away from the country practically all his/her productive life but only shows up in an election year to contest for the highest office of the land. That is why most Liberians love Article 52 (c) of the Constitution (the residency clause).
Liberians must understand that elections provide an opportunity not for merrymaking or jamboree but for sober reflection, stocktaking, holding leaders accountable and for setting new benchmarks for future leaders.
I urge Liberians to be patriotic and put Liberia above self-interest or partisan interest as they prepare to go to the polls on October 10 this year to choose their leader (president).
Finally, the following additional criteria are indicators for a good leader: a God-fearing person; education and experience; a good steward, one who is accountable and transparent; integrity; selflessness; and humility.