LIBERIA’S ANTI-INCUMBENCY THEORY: ANY LESSONS THEREOF FOR (INCOMING & OUTGOING) LEGISLATORS?

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Out of 13 incumbent senators seeking another term of nine years, Senators Jewel Howard-Taylor and Prince Johnson of the central and north-central counties of Bong and Nimba respectively will be the only two senators returning on Capitol Hill in January, 2015. That means the 11 others will perpetually remain on their annual break and never return (as Senators Isaac Nyenabo and Cletus Wotorson of Grand Gedeh and Grand Kru Counties opted to respectively not seek re-election).

This is because Liberian electorate in our post-war democracy has well adopted themselves to a new mode of choosing who represent them through what I call the 'anti-incumbency theory'.

True to my prediction and analysis prior to the just ended senatorial elections, I had told colleagues that the country's newly found electioneering style of raiding the National Legislature of incumbent lawmakers seeking re-elections would be the case for the 2014 mid-term senatorial race. Many doubted it; yet, some believed me. And so by the time the votes began to be counted in the aftermath of the December 20 elections even in the absence of the electoral body's initial official announcements, it soon became clear that most of the senators seeking re-election would not return on Capitol Hill.

The refusal of Liberians for incumbent lawmaker to return after the 2014 senatorial race is the second successive time the Liberian electorate has taken such a decision. During the 2011 legislative elections, over 85% of both incumbent senators and representatives were massively refused at the polls; infact, just like 2014, only two senators in Sinoe County's Joseph Nagbe and Montserrado County's Geraldine Doe-Sheriff were the only two incumbents from the Upper House that returned while over 75% of the incumbent representatives were booted out that saw only a tiny number of the incumbent 64 representatives returning. Besides the likes of Maryland's Bhofal Chambers, and James Biney, Grand Gedeh's Zoe Pennue, Grand Kru's Wesseh Blamo, Grand Bassa's Gabriel Smith, Lofa's Eugene Fallah Kparkar, Montserrado's Edwin Snowe, and Edward Forh, among others, over a bulk of the incumbent representatives of the 52nd National Legislature were affected by the anti-incumbency factor.

Now, in 2014, despite the special conditions under which the elections were held in the face of a daring deadly Ebola virus that swung the electoral process in several ways, including two postponements and a legal battle which heightened fears amongst most new candidates on grounds that they wouldn't have had enough time to campaign against their incumbent rivals, the results were devastating for the 'advantageous' incumbents who have had nine long years with their respective constituencies. The result is a long list of 'freshman senators' that will be tasting Capitol Hill for the first time.

Among 2014's noticeable defeats include the shocking (or atleast the rather unexpected) exits of Grand Bassa's Findley who has lost the Pro Tempship with about three years to spare, Maryland's legislative giant John Ballout, Sinoe's ever-repellent Mobutu Nyenpan, Rivercess' luxurious Jonathan Banney, Bomi's confidential Lahai Lassana who ended up in police dragnet for alleged support of electoral violence and Grand Cape's imposing Abel Massalley. 

With the 2014 senatorial being the third successive elections (coupled with several legislative by-elections held in between) since the end of the civil crisis over a decade ago, the quest to strengthen Liberia's democracy is gaining steam but with that constant message from the voters: that their direct representatives at the National Legislature have not been up to the task and at such don't deserve to be re-elected. While the voters in Nimba and Bong  thought to give their respective senior senators another nine years in spite of it all, the remaining counties' decision to opt for new and fresh senators clearly defines the writings on the wall. Those writings can be arguable equated to serious disappointments arising out of the working of the senators for the past nine years!

This goes to say that even if legislative elections are held now for the other 73 seats in the Lower House (as would be in 2017), the results would be same against the incumbents.

So, what messages have the Liberian voters been giving to the incoming and outgoing politicians in these back to back elections?

It's obvious that the main reason has been mainly due to the lawmakers' inability (or blatant refusal) to prioritize people-centered bills that will impact the electorate's socio-economic status. It can also be blamed on the legislators' attitude of turning blind-eye on their cardinal duties of adequate representation of the Liberian citizenry, legislation and legislative oversights over the Executive Branch of Government.

Moreover, the National Legislature reflects a broad spectrum of the country's political opinion which are said to be cardinal to democratic government, as long as they remain visible, accessible and accountable to the citizenry; yet, mountains of criticism mount for the legislators' inability or refusal to impact the lives of their compatriots most of whom (over 65% of them) live below the poverty belt of less than a dollar daily.

Of the country's almost 4 million inhabitants, 103 of them (upped from 94 since 2011) are elected to provide a better living standard for their fellow countrymen who elect them. The only task the lawmakers have to make is to take full advantage of Article 34 which lays out the functions and duties of the august body.

In my mind, Liberia's post-war tool of voting out incumbents will go a very long way as long as such trends of terrible legislations linger on. Legislating ONLY TWO BETTER concessions out of SIXTY EIGHT (amounting to US$8 billion, according to the London-based accounting firm Moore Stephens) is enough reasons for the country's ANTI INCUMBENCY THEORY, isn't it?

About the Author: Nat Bayjay is a Media Consultant/Communication specialist. Doubling as a PUL Best Investigative & Best Environmental Journalist in 2011, Bayjay uses his journalistic profession to always highlight issues in the country including political, economical and socio issues through in-depth articles and news analyses. He’s reachable on: [email protected]/0777-402737.

NB: BELOW ARE CHARTS OF HOW THE 2011 & 2014 SENATORIAL ELECTIONS FARED

 

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