Leading Candidates Shun Debate

By Perry B. Zordyu
Email: zordyuperryb@gmail.com

The spotlight was turned on at the EJS Ministerial Complex in Monrovia’s Congo Town suburb yesterday when the first presidential debate in the October 10 election took place organized by a consortium of Liberian media and leading civil society organizations supported by Internews/USAID.

But again, Liberians who turned out to witness the most-anticipated Presidential debate were disappointed as the three leading candidates in the Presidential race were absent from the debate. Incumbent George M. Weah of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), Joseph Nyumah Boakai of the Unity Party, and Alexander B. Cummings of the Collaborating Political Party (CPP) were all absent yesterday to the disappointment of Liberians.

Just days before the Presidential and legislative Elections in Liberiawhen Liberians are expected to the polls to decide who the next leader becomes for six consecutive years and to convincingly convince the electorates, a presidential debate which was held yesterday was shunned by three leading candidates including incumbent George M. Weah, his main challenger, Joseph N. Boakai and another challenger, Alexander B. Cummings.

The presidential debate is intended to provide the space for presidential candidates to unveil their manifestos on what they intend to do as leaders of the country during the six years of their presidency.

To the disappointment of many Liberians, the main candidates in the Presidential race that include, including President Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC, opposition Unity party leader, Boakai, and Collaborating Political PartiesCandidate, Alexander Benedict Cummings were all absent during the debate thus denying Liberians to know the platforms of their next President.

Serving as Lead Moderator, veteran Liberian Journalist John Kollie said the debate is aimed at bringing all presidential candidates under the microscope with direct interaction with the citizens they want to represent.

But during the debate, many who gathered at the EJS Ministerial Complex to listen to the manifestos of the various Presidential Candidate, including UP’s Joseph Boakai, CPP’s Alexander Cummings, and incumbent Weah of CDC could not be seen as the debate went on

It can be recalled that in the 2017 Presidential Election, President Weah then candidate of the CDC escaped the debate leaving mainly his supporters and other Liberians disappointed. Though Weah did not attend the debate in 2017, he won a landslide victory over the Unity party candidate, Joseph N. Boakai.  

Meanwhile, Boakai, Cummings, and Weah did not state any reason why led to their absence from the first presidential debate but pundits believe it was due to the 8-days left for campaign periods and the candidates moving across the country to canvass for more votes.

At the same time, the debate was structured into two phases phase one ended in Monrovia while phase two is expected to begin on Friday, October 6, 2023, in Gbarnga City, Bong County.

Despite the three presidential candidates being absent, seven of the twenty presidential candidates were present and gave their six years of manifestos to Liberians.

Those presidential candidates who took part in the debate include Edward W. Appleton of the Grassroot Development Party, Allen R. Brown of Liberia Restoration Party, Movement for Progressive Change of Simeon Freeman, Liberia First Movement of Sheikh A. Kouyateh, New Liberia Party of Joshua T. Turner, Liberians for Prosperity of Richard S. Miller, and Independent Candidate Bendu A. Kromah.

Yesterday’s debate was the first-ever presidential debate since the pronouncement of the 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections which was held at the Ministerial Complex in Congo Town and organized by the Consortium of Media & Civil Society Organizations with support from Internews, USAID,and other partners.

The spotlight was turned on the EJS Ministerial Complex in Monrovia’s Congo Town suburb yesterday, Tuesday, October 3, 2023, when the first presidential debate in the October 10 election took place organized by a consortium of Liberian media and leading civil society organizations supported by Internews/USAID.

Yesterday’s debate is the first of two major presidential debates for all candidates, a week before the polls, which will be contested by 20 presidential candidates. The initiative is part of support for electoral democracy in Liberia.

Organizers said the second will be held in the Gbarnga Administration Building in central Bong County later in the week on Friday, October 6, 2023. Ten candidates will feature in the first phase of the debate in Monrovia while the other 10 will participate in the second phase in Gbarnga.

Organizers noted that all 20 presidential candidates certified by the National Elections Commission (NEC) to contest the October 10 polls have been officially invited to attend these debates.

Funded by USAID Media Activity, the presidential debate seeks to promote informed decision-making, enhance electoral transparency, foster civic engagement, facilitate policy analysis, and ensure equal representation of all candidates.

“The USAID Media Activity facilitates the presidential debate to support the electoral process and ensure informed decision-making by the Liberian people,” said Lien Bach, Chief of Party for Internews, speaking on behalf of the debate-organizing Consortium that includes the Liberia Media for Democratic Initiatives (LMDI), the Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP), the Amos C. Sawyer Foundation, the Association of Community Radios (ALICOR), Local Voices Liberia, and the Female Journalists Association of Liberia (FeJAL), amongst others.

The Chief of Party of Internews Liberia, Ms. Lien Bach has emphasized that the debates would help “increase the engagement of citizens in the elections, and bring about improved election processes that ensure trust in the future and promote a peaceful election.”

These presidential debates offer the opportunity for citizens to learn about the candidates’ positions on key issues, their policy proposals, and their vision for the future, enabling citizens to make informed choices during the elections. It also enhances electoral transparency and encourages accountability, by creating a public forum for candidates to discuss their platforms, defend their positions, and address voters’ concerns.

The Consortium of media and civil society organizations is also optimistic that the presidential debates will support civic engagement and promote voter participation, by offering a platform for increased interaction between the candidates and the public.

At the same time, the debate also facilitates policy analysis by encouraging critical examination of candidates’ policy proposals and allowing voters to compare and evaluate candidates’ ideas, plans, and strategies for the future. The debates will provide fair and equal opportunities for all candidates, regardless of their political affiliation, gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic background.

“Electoral debates play a crucial role in promoting informed decision-making, fostering transparency, and engaging citizens in the democratic process. The debate will provide a platform for open discussion, policy analysis, and voter education,” said Ms. Bach.

A press release from the Consortium said the two debates will be broadcast live on several radio stations nationwide and live-streamed on social media (Facebook) to ensure that all Liberians, home and abroad, may follow the candidates speaking on critical national issues.

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