The practice of politics in Liberia seems to be going contrary to the essence of Democracy. In Article 77(a) of the Liberian Constitution, it states that “The essence of democracy is free competition of ideas expressed by political parties and political groups as well as by individuals.” Along this line, one will understand that political parties must compete in ideas (i.e., platforms) through elections while individuals equally do same within political parties to meet the needs of democracy.
However, this democratic principle defined by the Liberian Constitution is not wholly followed in Liberian politics, but individuals with influence are left with the option to decide how the process goes. For instance, it is observed that many political parties in recent days have elected standard bearers without any opposing candidates contesting against them, but triumphing on “White ballots” during their conventions. The Alternative National Congress (ANC) at its recent primary in Kakata, Margibi County did not have any opposing candidates contesting against Alexander Cummings and former Liberian Ambassador to the United States, Jeremiah Sulunteh, for the standard bearer and vice positions. Though a stay order has been placed on her election, the Union of Liberian Democrats (ULD) during the week elected MacDella Cooper on “White ballot.” There were no opposing candidates to contest in the Liberty Party’s convention in Lofa County, but Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine, who resigned from politics following his failed presidential bid in the 2011 election, somersaulted and took over the party as its standard bearer. Senator Prince Y. Johnson, who founded the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR), turned out to be the indispensable standard bearer, without an opposition; same with Benoni Urey of the All Liberian Party (ALP) and former Central Bank Governor Mills Jones of the Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE). Members of the Congress (now Coalition) for Democratic Change came out rightly to say that its standard bearer position belongs to George Weah and there would be no primary race for the position.
One may wonder why all these instances occur in our democratic system. We can, however, point out a few conditions: First, most Liberian politicians do not have the financial capacity to influence the electorates, thereby leaving the individuals with strong financial backings to go on the parties’ tickets unchallenged. Second, political parties in Liberia are not supported by their members, but tied around key individuals. This gives more power to financially potent individuals to be the sole decision makers in these parties.
The consequences of these circumstances prevailing in Liberia are enormous. Among them include the rise of an intransigent and arrogant ruler, the lack of understanding of parties’ manifestos, the individual president’s platform, and any conflict between the two. There is also the lack of clear information about candidates, among others. This leaves the ordinary voters with no option, but to rely on political rhetoric, tribalism, sectionalism, money, t-shirts and a bag of rice to make political decisions in elections.
Didn’t we see the US election? There were many candidates that contested primaries in both the Democrat and Republican parties. And as they went through at different times, the two potential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, were elected to represent their respective parties in the presidential election. After successfully unveiling their platforms to their partisans, they were endorsed and presented to the rest of America; and having won the election, Donald Trump ascended to the presidency.
Whichever candidate wins the presidency, there is no doubt that he/she will prioritize the payment of political and financial debts to supporters and creditor(s), among others. Herein is a clear risk of putting campaign promises on the back-burner in order to appease key supporters. This also often happens at the expense of the entire country, whose meager financial position and development agenda could easily get side-tracked or worse, derailed.
We believe that if Liberians learn to support their parties and are open to democratic competition in primaries, issues will be debated and citizens will have a voice in decision making at the level of the party, and the country. On the other hand, leaving a party hanging on a rich man’s shoulder undermines the true principle of democracy and breeds dictatorships.