It was in 1923, during the administration of President that C.D.B. King, that the then ruling True Whig Party (TWP) became mightier than ever before—why? It was that year that the TWP initiated its “caucus” system, which predetermined who was to be nominated for any elective post.
This was so because ever since the eminent Liberian pioneer Elijah Johnson’s son, Hilary Richard Wright Johnson, became President in 1884, the TWP had become the nation’s unchallenged ruling party—a position it was to enjoy until its military overthrow in April 1980.
The background to this is that in 1883 Hilary Richard Wright Johnson became arguably the most popular person ever to be elected President, because he was nominated by both the TWP and J.J. Roberts’ Republican Party (RP). The RP had ruled Liberian from Independence in 1847 to 1870, when E.J. Roye, the TWP’s first standard bearer, became President, having defeated the RP in the 1869 elections. But following Roye’s overthrow in the nation’s first coup d’etat on October 26, 1871, President Roberts was recalled to serve in an interregnum administration until 1876, when he died.
The TWP returned to power in 1877, when Anthony William Gardiner was elected President, followed in 1883 by Alfred Francis Russell. The TWP was now firmly in power. Then emerged the giant in Liberian politics, H.R.W. Johnson, who in 1884 became the first politician to be nominated by the two existing political parties—TWP and RP! Elected, therefore, unopposed, the ingenious H.R.W.J. brilliantly recruited into his Cabinet leading Republican and TWP members. After that, no one ever again heard of the RP. Thus began the TWP’s political supremacy in Liberia.
By 1923 the TWP under President King had grown so comfortable with power that King decided to make elections to the Legislature a foregone conclusion once the party’s “caucus” had nominated a candidate. The first attempt, however, backfired. The Marylanders wanted a kindhearted and flamboyant young lawyer, William V.S. (Shad) Tubman, as their Senator; but the TWP, having someone else in mind, rejected Shad. It was at that point that the Marylanders began singing their demanding song, “No Tubman, no Senator.” The TWP backed down, and that is how Tubman entered national politics.
It is startlingly ironic that immediately upon being handpicked by President Edwin J. Barclay to be his successor, again through the party “caucus,” Tubman consolidated the caucus system—the same system that had rejected him in 1923. After his first election in 1943, the TWP caucus became a permanent reality, choosing in every campaign season all political candidates, from town chief to president.
That is what seems to be happening in Liberia today. Many parties, including the ruling Unity Party, seem to have adopted the caucus system by choosing candidates favored by the UP’s powers that be.
It was this that led Gbarpolu County Senator Theodore Momo, a UP stalwart, to resign from the ruling party. He sensed foul play when the party selected former Liberty Party (LP) partisan Gertrude Tene Lamin as the UP senatorial candidate in the ensuing October 2014 elections.
The angry Senator Momo promptly accused UP of having “violated” the guidelines of the Elections Commission (NEC).
There are reports of confusion within UP elsewhere. The UP primary in Bong County, which Cuttington University President Henrique Tokpa won as UP’s senatorial candidate, is reported to have ended in disarray.
There are also reports of problems in other parties, including the main opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and Liberty Party (LP).
One of our chief concerns is that we hear little about political parties until campaign time. This is most unfortunate. NEC should ensure that political parties hold regular congresses or conventions. But we hear little of this until campaign season, when politicians begin scrambling for nominations.
When last, for example, has the ruling UP, the opposition CDC, Liberty Party, National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) and National Patriotic Party (NPP) held a congress?
Yet is this not what political parties should be doing, in an effort to continue the development of a democratic culture in Liberia?
We hope that following the 2014 senatorial elections, NEC will ensure that political parties begin engaging and organizing their partisans on a regular basis and holding periodic conventions, rather than wait until campaign time to start making noises.