The “Ganta Declaration”—A Significant First Step Toward a Strong, Relevant Political Coalition

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The Daily Observer received first thing last Monday morning a mobile phone message from an angry caller demanding to know the political relevance of the previous weekend’s meeting of 20 political parties in Ganta, Nimba County.

The caller concluded that “Liberian politicians are not serious.” Why? Because he interpreted the so-called “Ganta Declaration,” signed by all 20 political parties present to mean that each party would contest the first round in the 2017 elections, then in case of a run-off with Unity Party in the lead, the 20 parties would then unite to defeat UP.

In other words, if the UP standard bearer, Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, won the first round with less than 51% of the ballot, the 20 parties would then join in a coalition, putting forward one from among them to defeat Boakai and the UP. This made the caller furious, concluding, “Our politicians are not serious.”

But the caller seemed to have gotten the Ganta Declaration patently wrong, according to Daily Observer Nimba Correspondent Ishmael Menkor, who covered the coalition meeting. When the Editor called Correspondent Menkor at five o’clock last Tuesday morning, Menkor, who resides in Ganta, said there was nothing in the Declaration that suggested that all 20 political parties which signed the document would each run in the first round and then collaborate in the second.

The 20 parties only agreed to collaborate to defeat the UP candidate, said Menkor. “It was a broad declaration of collaboration, without details,” he explained, adding, “there was set up a technical committee to iron out the details of the collaboration. We have to wait and see what these details will entail,” Menkor added.

We think this is a significant clarification. For if indeed all the 20 parties had decided that they would fight one another in the first round, the Ganta Declaration would surely have been an exercise in futility.

But that was not so, said Ishmael.

It remains to be seen what the Technical Committee appointed by the 20 parties will come up with. Will they agree to put forward one candidate to challenge the incumbent, Vice President Boakai?

Such a decision would indeed be historic. For in each of the past four Liberian presidential elections, those of 1985, 1997, 2005 and 2011, there have been a plethora of political parties contesting each. Several parties contested the 1985 elections, with Samuel K. Doe’s National Democratic Party (NDPL) and
Jackson F. Doe’s Liberia Action Party (LAP) emerging in the lead. Of course, the clear winner was Jackson F. Doe and LAP, but Samuel Doe and his Special Elections Commission Chairman, Emmett Harmon, rigged the vote. Several ballot boxes from up country were found thrown away on the highway to Monrovia. In addition, Chairman Harmon departed the Election Rules to appoint a 50-person committee to proceed to the Unity Conference Center in Virginia to count ballots that he and his team had carefully stuffed into ballot boxes. The 50-person committee declared Samuel Doe the winner, thus casting Emmet Harmon in historical ignominy (disgrace, infamy).

Mr. Harmon later admitted to some Liberians that he had rigged the elections because had he not, there would have been “a blood bath in the country.” But dying at 84 in 1997 while in exile in the United States, he lived long enough to see that his nefarious (immoral, evil) action sowed the seeds of the 14-year civil war in which nearly 300,000 people were killed, the country’s infrastructure destroyed and over two million people internally and externally displaced, with most of Liberia’s educated people and their born and unborn children driven into exile, never to return. These, of course, included Harmon’s own children and grandchildren.

The 1997 elections were won by Charles Taylor, the warlord whose National Patriotic Front (NPF) started the civil war in 1989. The election slogan on people’s tongues at the time was, “You killed my ma, you killed my pa, but I will vote for you.” It was clearly a vote based on fear. Taylor won a landslide victory, with his closest opponent, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, coming in a distant second.

A staggering 20 political parties contested the 2005 elections. The two leading contenders that emerged were George Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Unity Party. Because neither achieved the required 51% of the vote to be declared the outright winner, there was a run-off, which was won by Ellen.

There were 16 presidential candidates in the 2011 elections. Again the first round was won by the two same leading contending parties, Weah’s CDC standard bearer Winston Tubman, and UP’s Ellen Sirleaf, who again won the run-off, and was re-elected to a second term of office.

We pray that the Ganta Declaration will set the stage for a reasonable and responsible 2017 vote, with two, or at most three, parties contesting. This would demonstrate to us and the world that Liberia has achieved an appreciable degree of political maturity.

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