The May 9, 2017 edition of the Daily Observer highlighted the call by Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) for a reduction in the number of political parties in Liberia.
Although they did not clearly state why the number of political parties should be reduced and to what number, the five Civil Society Organizations—NYAYMOTE, Pentecostal Mission Unlimited (PMU), Liberia Democracy Initiative (LMDI), Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD) and SAIL urged the Liberian Senate to consider on its floor the eight propositions forwarded by the House of Representatives for discussion and concurrence.
The Constitution Review Committee (CRC) submitted to the Legislature 25 propositions for enactment into law. One of these propositions called for “the Reduction in number of political parties.” The House of Representatives chose eight of the propositions submitted. Among the propositions left out was the one calling for the reduction in the number of political parties.
Again, the CSOs did not state how this particular proposition should be formulated for the referendum, since it is not among the propositions to be considered by the Senate.
But the reduction in number of political parties has some very serious advantages. First, such reduction would help the electorate to understand better the various parties’ manifestos, since they would be limited to a number that electorates could quickly grasp and remember. One should note that in Liberia, political debates are not publicly held for candidates to appear to deliver their platforms and promises, or to explain how they will implement deliverables contained in the platforms. As a result, it is difficult to know what a candidate really has in his/her platform. If debates were even part of our political culture, it would be cost intensive and time consuming to deal with 24 political parties and probably as many candidates, in addition to those vying for the Legislature.
Secondly, multiplicity of political parties in Liberia is undermining reconciliation and fueling divisions in a society already divided along tribal and sectional lines. We recall that in the 2011 presidential election, tribal voting manifested itself when the Gio and Mano people of Nimba overwhelmingly voted Prince Johnson not because he had a convincing manifesto, but because he was their kinsman. Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine could not hide it on May 1, 2011 when he publicly said in Buchanan, “Bassa people, if you want development, vote a Bassa man and the Liberty Party.” He also remarked that the time had come to “eat dumboy in the Executive Mansion.” Not that the Bassa dish had never been served there before, but the remark suggests a sense of exclusive entitlement to the Liberian Presidency by the Bassa tribe. The risk of fueling division among peoples cannot be overstated here.
There is no substantive evidence of the current membership of LP, but we also recall that in 2011, Brumskine got more votes in Grand Bassa because he is from that County. These instances are but a few of what could happen in our politics as a result of the proliferation of political parties.
The Liberian Constitution calls for multi-party democracy. Article 77 (a) states: “Since the essence of democracy is free competition of ideas expressed by political parties and political groups as well as by individuals, parties may freely be established to advocate the political opinions of the people. Laws, regulations, decrees or measures which might have the effect of creating a one-party state shall be declared unconstitutional.” This constitutional provision, therefore, allows for many political parties and independent candidates. However, multi-party democracy, being a system in which multiple political parties across the political spectrum contest in national elections, and the Constitution insisting that a one-party state is unconstitutional, we can have three or four political parties in the country, since this is within the confines of the Constitution.
The plea by the CSOs for a reduction in the number of political parties is, therefore, most cogent and timely. The constitution review process was aimed at soliciting views of Liberians on constitutional issues. Their lawmakers, however, disregarded some of the salient issues, including “Reduction of Political Parties.” We are of the conviction that reducing the number of political parties will help to institutionalize existing parties, and encourage every Liberian to align him or herself with any party, regardless of ethnic or sectional background.
The plea by the CSOs is also in compliance with Article 17 of the Constitution, since the people have the right to petition their representatives or the government for redress of grievances. Democracy is government of the people, for the people and by the people. The people have raised their concern to reduce the number of political parties. Let the Legislature consider the people’s views and act accordingly.