Candidates, Beware: Crowds Can Be a Deceitful Political Factor

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One aspect of political activities that gives politicians hope and smiles during a campaign is the pull of huge crowds during campaigning. Pulling a large crowd often gives a politician the presumption of enormous popularity; however, it does not necessarily mean all who show up are committed and vote-carrying supporters. But politicians, on the contrary, often perceive that the bigger the crowds, the greater the presumption of ‘victory already won.’ But if, after the election, the crowd-pulling candidate loses, the perception always is that he or she has been cheated. Such was the case in the past two successive elections that brought President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to power.

In the 2005 election, George Weah of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) pulled crowds in Monrovia and other parts of the country. He triumphed over all other candidates in the first round of the election with over approximately 29% of the vote, followed by Unity Party (UP) candidate Sirleaf, who polled about 18%. This led to a runoff, since no one party accrued the 50 plus 1 percent, the constitutional requirement for an absolute majority. In the runoff that followed, Madam Sirleaf won the election and the CDC raised contentions that it had been cheated; though the evidence is yet to be proven. One of the points raised by George Weah and his partisans that time was that CDC won the first round and it was impossible to lose in the second. What CDC and Weah failed to realize was that other political parties and voters compared the two candidates under the theory of “two evils” and cleaved onto what they considered the lesser evil.

Pulling huge crowds in the 2011 campaign also led CDC to predict that the chance was theirs to rule Liberia. Besides the fault that came from National Elections Commission (NEC) chairman James Fromoyan and his communications director Bobby Livingstone that sparked grave concern, the perception of victory for CDC dwelt mainly on the campaign crowds it pulled. This was despite the fact that UP’s crowd on the day its supporters demonstrated, organized by the legendary political strategist Willis Knuckles, tied up the capital for well over two days, which no other party had done. In the current campaign preparatory to the impending October 10 elections, many presidential aspirants, including George Weah, are pulling crowds, giving supporters and the candidates themselves already a sense of victory. Yet no one but the good Lord knows who our next President will be.

The first to pull crowds in Monrovia in recent days was CDC’s George Weah. When the CDC launched its campaign on August 19, Weah brought some foreign artists who toured with him around Monrovia and ended at the party’s headquarters near Congo Town. From the crowd pulled, spectators and partisans concluded that victory was destined for Weah. Reports are also circulating that Senator Prince Johnson, too, of the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR) is pulling crowds wherever he campaigns, most especially in his native Nimba County and also Gbarpolu and Grand Cape Mount. Presidential hopefuls Alexander Cummings of Alternative National Congress (ANC) and J. Mills Jones of Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE) have also been attracting great crowds and endorsements in Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, Margibi and Maryland counties. Dr. Jones has reportedly been attracting crowds in Lofa County, too, believed to be the stronghold of Vice President Boakai’s Unity Party.

While it cannot be ruled out that the crowds following these politicians are truly committed registered voters, it is a fact that many among the crowds support different politicians and parties. It is important to remember that people attend political rallies for different reasons. For example, MDR’s Prince Johnson is a former warlord whom many people have been craving to see in person. Artists brought from Nigeria and Ivory Coast to boost CDC’s campaign are stars many Liberians have over time seen on television and wished to see in person. Many also attend political rallies expecting to receive money and rice from politicians. Is it not possible that people are attracted to former CBL Governor Jones believing that he may dish out money? V.P. Joseph Boakai of the ruling Unity Party (UP) is a public figure that many would want to see for the first time. These are all possible elements capable of drawing crowds—crowds which every candidate loves and welcomes. Many may yet not be voters committed to him or her holding the rally.

We wish to explain that crowd pulling is not an automatic determinant of victory but the actual casting of votes favoring one candidate or the other.

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