The dawn of 2017 signals a new beginning for many Liberians. In addition to the many New Year’s resolutions, it is the year in which Liberians are expected to go to the polls to elect a president along with 73 representatives for the next six years. The process that has commenced with a voters’ registration exercise has seen many first-time voters forming long queues just to exercise their right as Liberian citizens. While it is true that many are reluctant and do not see the need to vote, others have mustered the courage to effect the change they believe will continue the country’s path to upward mobility. Amid all of these activities, there are a number of Liberians that have expressed their interest to lead the country for the next six years. Notable among them are: Joseph N. Boakai, Charles W. Brumskine, George M. Weah, Prince Y. Johnson,
Alex B. Cummings, J. Mills Jones, Benoni W. Urey, among others.
With pockets of political discussions being held at every street corner, one automatically realizes how politically charged the country is becoming. Whether it was among money exchangers or “Keh-Keh” riders or among market women and petty traders, a number of names seem to emerge as the frontrunners. It is against this background that I have opted to provide a perspective of those potential frontrunners and spoilers, coupled with their chance of winning in October.
Prince Y. Johnson
Even though there aren’t many indications that he is a candidate, here is someone whose participation could leave the field wide open due to the fact that Nimba is a vote rich or swing terrain, especially given his past performances during the 2005 and 2011 presidential and legislative elections. This time around, Johnson’s presence in the race will open up the elections and reduce the chance of a first round win for any candidate. His presence in the race will spell danger for political parties that have opted to select vice candidates from Nimba in an attempt to lure the county’s votes. Whether the 2011 elections results are a thing to rely upon, collecting over 100,000 of the votes is enough reason why PYJ remains a frontrunner. His erratic behavior remains his Achilles’ heel.
Prediction: PYJ will finish 3RD PLACE.
Dubbed as the “poverty doctor” across many rural communities including the urban and peri-urban areas, Jones has made for himself a name. His loan program to market women across the country appears to have reaped some dividend in many areas. Even though his political strength is yet to be tested, the history of BIG spending in Liberian politics could be a case study for the Poverty Doctor to tread gingerly. The likes of Varney Sherman and Kennedy Sandy are classic examples. Howbeit, voters’ deceit with big spenders, Mills remains a highly popular in his native Sinoe County. While Sinoe is not a vote rich corridor, Mills could collect scattered votes from across the Southeastern belt that comprises River Gee, Maryland, Sinoe, parts of Grand Gedeh and Grand Kru counties. Such solidarity could make Mills a potential spoiler for a candidate like Alexander Cummings, who claims his lineage from Maryland County. On the downside, the “Americo Liberian” branding remains his major disadvantage.
Prediction: Mills will finish 7TH PLACE.
Urey has been actively involved with the politics of Liberia especially of late. Taking some rather tough stance on issues especially with the national budget may have helped to some extent his liability about amassing ill-gotten wealth during the heyday of the Taylor’s regime. He seems to be making inroads especially in the “Congo” settlements around Liberia. His party’s presence in some of the remotest counties across the country has given him visibility. Even though he might not win any particular county outright, he might collect random votes from across the country. This makes him a potential spoiler for other parties. The Lone Star Cell “3 days’ free call” rigmarole seems to have undermined his chances of late since many Liberians are of the view that it was a calculated ploy to rob them in order to raise campaign fund. Though it may not be true, it is a propaganda that has worked effectively against him. Whatever the case, Urey is a potential spoiler.
Prediction: Urey will finish 8TH PLACE.
Known as the “Coca Cola” man, Cummings is already making a name for himself. He has been touring the country with his message and positive critique of the current regime. In the process, Cummings has been attracting many voters especially those who think that the CDC and the UP aren’t an option at this point in time. Cummings’ recent appearance at the ATS to launch his voters’ registration campaign has sent shockwave across the city. If he wasn’t taken seriously at first, many have started rethinking. His main political capital is that many believe he is not the typical Liberian politician and is free of the many labels that accompany public service jobs. Cummings appears to be very popular in his native Maryland but with the county’s two senators recently endorsing the UP’s candidate, winning the county will seem to be an uphill task for him. More so, Cummings’ appeal cuts across the country but, given the polarized nature of our body politics, that wouldn’t be enough to catapult him into winning the presidency. He will need to win some of the major vote-rich counties like Nimba, Bong, Margibi, Lofa, and Grand Bassa and then put up a strong fight in Montserrado County. To win the presidency of Liberia after having been away for protracted years remains his major challenge. He is a potential spoiler.
Prediction: Cummings will finish 5TH PLACE.
His cult personality continues to reap dividends for him. Though his popularity has dwindled over time with his inability to deliver the goods as senator for the largest constituents, few think it is his year. His party over the last few years has suffered some major defections. The breakaway of the ANC, Benoni Urey and a few others seem to have affected the party’s ability to amass the kind of vote needed to win the presidency. Recent criticism about his failure to adequately represent Liberia at the ECOWAS parliament seems to be gaining traction about his ability to become president of Liberia. Amid all of this, he seems very popular among first time voters – many of who are sports enthusiasts. His recent selection of Jewel Taylor as his running may accrue him some votes in Bong county. However, Jewel’s last election statistics aren’t indicative of a very convincing win of the county. With the likes of Sulunteh et al contemplating on joining the race, it could further dampen the CDC’s chances. However, Montserrado County remains his stronghold even though the last presidential elections showed a narrow margin win over the UP (less than 1%). Howbeit the deficits, Weah’s assets in terms of popular appeal could be enough to leapfrog him into the runoff. Weah’s inexperience, lack of judgment and his inability to adequately express himself remain his major challenge. He is a frontrunner, though.
Prediction: Weah will finish 2ND PLACE. (Make it to the Runoff)
Charles W. Brumskine
Brumskine is a very seasoned Liberian lawyer and politician who has been involved with the politics over the last 20 years. He has made for himself a brand name that is very familiar among many households. Referred to as the “Bassa” candidate, he is very popular along the Grand Bassa, Rivercess, and portion of Bong, Margibi and Nimba belt. After finishing an impressive 3rd in 2005, his popularity experienced a shocking nosedive in 2011 leaving him in a distant 4th behind Prince Johnson. Of late, the party seems to have regained traction and has witnessed an avalanche of many new entrants. Howbeit, the narrative across the country about him being favored by President Sirleaf simply because he is “Congo” seems to be negatively impacting on his chances. Additionaly, the presence of Alex Cummings in the race appears to be a major disadvantage for the Liberty Party who could be deprived of the majority undecided and first-time voters to join their ranks. In order for the LP to make it to the runoff, she will need every available vote including discouraged voters that are on the rise. His recent appearance at soccer stadia and his involvement with the national team (Lone Star) could reap him dividend. While he has clearly articulated his vision for Liberia, many everyday Liberians still see him as aloof. Should Prince Johnson not contest, Brumskine stands a better shot at making it to the 3rd. He is a frontrunner.
Prediction: Brumskine will finish 4TH PLACE.
Joseph N. Boakai
Coming from the forest of Lofa to the shores of Montserrado, Joseph Boakai seems to have the badge of the typical grassroots credentials. He has been around the body politics for many years – something which has given him a considerable understanding of the landscape. More so, being a Vice for 12 years, he brings to the fray a knowledge base about the inner workings of government and an appreciation of the geopolitical terrain. He seems better prepared ahead of the rest of the candidates; but it is not a walk in the park for him. The downsides of the current administration will no doubt rub on him. The argument about continuity of the current status quo will be a question he will have to grapple with throughout the campaign. Howbeit, there seems to be a consensus across the landscape about him being representative of the indigenous leader the country has yearned for many years. Recent endorsements by senators from opposition political parties are all indications of a politician who reaches across the aisle. Moreso, a scattered opposition has increased his chances thus making him the lead frontrunner.
Prediction: JNB will finish 1ST PLACE (Make it to the runoff).
As was the case in 2005 and 2011, the 2017 runoff will witness the same players (UP vs. CDC). It will be a decision between continuing with the status quo or entrusting the country with Weah. Clearly it doesn’t seem to be a difficult choice to make but again, the recent wave of change across the globe could be something for us to take into consideration. The message and connectedness of the candidates will prove vital in the end. Judgment and experience will also interplay since many wish to see the country continue on a trajectory towards a post conflict success story. The challenge for many of the other candidates will be to defeat the UP or the CDC in order to make it to the runoff. Though it seems like an act of impossibility, it is doable with hard work, messaging, creating a competitive advantage and, most of all, winning the HEARTS of Liberians. Additionally, a crowded political field plays at the advantage of the incumbent and with the current wave of discontentment among oppositions either due to shady political deals or subtle maneuverings; the UP is in the driver’s seat. Amid all of this, I am predicting a win for Joseph N. Boakai. However, nothing is written in stone; and these predictions could change as new variables interplay in the months leading up to October.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephen Johnson holds a Bachelor of Science degree (BSc.) in Economics and a Master Degree (MBA, Highest Honors) in Finance. A post graduate Leadership Certificate from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University and is a candidate for Master in Public Policy at the Penn State University. He has represented Liberia at several global interactions in his capacity as Assistant Commissioner of Customs & Excise, Senior Economist and Technical Focal Point (Ministry of Finance and Development Planning) at the Spring Meetings, IMF/World Bank, Washington, DC, 2016, the ECOWAS Council of Ministers, Dakar, Senegal, the Common External Tariff (CET), Abidjan, Ivory Coast, ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) meeting of Experts, Abuja, Nigeria and the Mano River Union’s (MRU) Technical committee of Experts on Peace and Security, Abidjan, Ivory Coast. He also served as the focal point at the African Peer Review Mechanism, Johannesburg, South Africa among others. He can be reached at [email protected]