Today is November 12, 2020, a date that hardly anyone 40 years of age or younger will recall despite its significance. It was the day on which former AFL Commanding General Thomas Quiwonkpa launched an abortive invasion of Monrovia intended to overthrow the government led by military incumbent Samuel K. Doe.
Doe had come to power in the 1980 military coup that overthrew the century-old ruling True Whig Party dynasty. He had promised to return the country to democratic civilian rule in 1985 and to signal his intent, he set up a 23-man Commission led by Dr. Amos Sawyer to draft a new Constitution.
Following completion of its work, Doe then set up a Constitutional Advisory Assembly to review the draft Constitution. Its main intent and purpose, it was later discovered, was to remove as well as insert provisions intended to enhance his chances.
Presidential term limits, which had been set at two-terms of 4 years each and 8 years in total, was dropped and replaced by a first term of 6 years and a second term of 4 years bringing it to 10 years in total.
The elections were held in October 1985. Despite the violence and tactics of intimidation of political opponents by Doe’s party, the National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) the elections were held in a peaceful atmosphere.
At the end of the day, Samuel K. Doe was proclaimed winner although it was commonly acknowledged that his chief opponent of the Liberia Action Part y(LAP), Jackson Fiah Doe, was the winner. During the process, reports ballots stuffing as well as the burning of ballots were reported by the media.
Additionally, incumbent Samuel K. Doe set up a special committee to count the ballots outside the ambit and watch of the Elections Commission.
But the stolen election results only served to further deepen the level of polarization creating in its wake residual feelings of marginalization and national ill will and a significant rise in social tension.
Barely a month later on November 12, exiled former AFL Commanding General in an early morning broadcast on state radio, announced that he had overthrown the government led by the winner of the controversial elections, President Samuel K. Doe.
The invasion was to, however, prove abortive and General Quiwonkpa was captured and slain; his body was reportedly eaten by supporters of the military incumbent Doe.
What followed in the wake of the abortive invasion was the launch of a virtual pogrom with ethnic Manos and Gios as principal targets. Thousands fled into exile into neighboring Ivory Coast.
That country was to later serve as a launch pad for the December 24, 1989 invasion of Liberia led by Charles Taylor, intended to unseat Doe. What was at first envisioned by most Liberians to be a short-lived affair proved to be a nightmare- a bloody civil war lasting nearly 15 years.
Today, like yesterday in 1985, Liberia stands at a crossroads and in similar straits comparable to that of 1985. Then in 1985, the playing field for the holding of elections was not level, neither was the atmosphere conducive.
Political violence, for instance targeting opposition politicians was at an all time high. Several political leaders were thrown into jail while some parties were banned from taking part in the elections.
The home of former Secretary of State, J. Rudolph Grimes, was for instance set ablaze by thugs of the NDPL task force led by Prince Toe, now reportedly in the fold of the Weah led government.
His personal library containing very important documents and books were destroyed in the fire that consumed his 10th Street home.
Fast forward to 2020, the country finds itself in straits similar to that of 1985. For instance, the level of polarization has deepened considerably, violence targeting political opponents is rife and appears to be on the increase against a backdrop of heightened tension arising from the conduct of a corrupt and very poorly handled Voters’ Roll Update (VRU) process.
Another contentious issue is that of the sanity and integrity of the Voters’ Roll, whose clean-up exercise the Supreme Court had ordered the NEC to conduct before the holding of the 2017 elections. Its (Supreme Court) mandate to NEC was simply ignored.
The petition for a Writ of Mandamus filed before the Supreme Court by opposition political parties seeking to compel the NEC to adhere to the Court’s 2017 clean-up mandate has since run into a brick wall with the Court refusing to stand by its own mandate.
And as if to preempt further action by the opposition, a team from ECOWAS, perhaps at the invitation of NEC, arrived in country recently to assist in the clean-up.
Judging from past experience in 2017, the exercise appears unlikely to be completed before the December 8 elections.
But complicating the matter is the complaint from opposition political parties that they as key stakeholders were never invited to participate in the process.
Rather, they claim it is the CDC and the NEC that appear to be making such important decisions on behalf of the political opposition.
As a further sign of trouble, the NEC chairperson, has made purchases of election materials from a company lacking expertise in that area and, worse still, it was done outside a competitive bidding process as the law requires.
Further, according to insider sources, Elections Magistrates are complaining about the insufficiency of voting materials as well as other requisite logistics.
Moreover, according to some Magistrates (names withheld), figures officially declared by the NEC Chairperson to have been derived from the recently ended (VRU) exercise are unrealistic and are for the most part bogus.
The Magistrates claim that due to bad road conditions, which prevented easy passage and access to the interior, many areas in rural Liberia were simply not captured.
And they have warned that they foresee the December 8 elections may likely be plagued by violence and possibly derailed, largely out of the making of the NEC boss, Davidetta Browne Lansanah.
Whatever the case is or might be, the date November 12 should serve to remind us of the potential danger that lurks with a careless handling of the up-coming elections. Let ECOWAS be warned!