Liberians Decide


As Liberians prepare to cast their votes in a landmark presidential elections, the citizens find themselves facing a choice between the new ‘rogues’ and the old ‘rogues;’ the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and the Unity Party (UP). George Weah, 57, is seeking reelection while, Joseph Boakai, former  Vice President for 12 years under Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is coming with a fight back after he was defeated by Mr. Weah in 2017.

Weah is facing 19 candidates in the presidential election which is seen to be very tough. For Boakai, he is seen as an old person who’s Vice running mate, Jeremiah Koung is heavily supported by former war-lord Prince Johnson. Johnson is seen as a man who will cut the shot if Boakai succeeds.  

The winner of the presidential race must secure 50% of the total vote cast, plus at least one more vote, in order to avoid a runoff. But   many people think that no one candidate will rise to one round.

In 2017, the voters decided on Mr. Weah who had branded himself a “Country Giant” and made no promises to the voters; not even attending any presidential debate, the voters still voted him as their next president. After the election, Mr. Boakai willingly conceded his defeat to Mr. Weah, becoming the first sitting Vice President in Liberia to do so. This peaceful transfer of power convinced many Liberians that they had made the right choice. For a short while, many Liberians believed that they may not be forced to choose, “the lesser of the two evils,” in future elections.

However, only six short years later, Liberians are preparing to head to the polls on tomorrow October 10 and once again found themselves between a rock and a hard place. This time the choices are about 20 presidential candidates, but some individuals and organizations are trying to make the elections between Weah, whose time in power has only served to embellish his unsavory reputation and Mr. Joseph Boakai, a former Vice President who was part of the UP administration which made Liberia the most corrupt country in 2013, according to various international corruption report index.  

Boakai is seen as a man who headed and presided over the most corrupt Senate in Liberia from 2006 to 2017. He admitted in one presidential debate that they squandered lot of opportunities while in power.

George Weah’s election five years ago as Liberian President was greeted with great enthusiasm and expectation. Many Liberians saw Mr. Weah as a ‘Messiah’ rescuing them from years of economic disempowerment, institutionalized corruption, and insecurity under the Unity Party-led government. However, Mr. Weah’s term as President started on a low note.

As Liberians elect their new leader, there are few areas of concern. For example, peace, security and corrupt free society.
“But let me say it here that our concern is peace.  I have to give credit to president Weah for maintaining peace for almost six years. This is good. And this is what we desire. If even you do not have much but there is sign of peace, I am happy. So, for that, I will vote for him to remain in power,” Rosetta Teah, a market lady in Pleebo Maryland county told this paper last week.

But others think differently about the election. “For us, the harmonization introduced by this government   affected many of us.  That is why I will not vote for George Weah. If he remains in power, I think the same harmonization will continue to affect us. So JNK is the one I think I will vote for. But if my candidate does not win, we will accept it and try to move on,” P. Amos Tengben, a civil servant in Zorzor, Lofa County said.

The country’s inflation was 12% in 2017 but rose to 23.6% in 2018, 27 percent in 2019, and 17% in 2020 followed by a rebound to about 6.9% in 2022. But the IMF projects that growth “should reach 5-6 percent in the medium term if Liberia taps its clear potential through persistent structural reforms and prudent policies.”

Joseph Boakai

Like the worryingly drab and uninspiring Mr. Weah, Mr. Joseph Boakai of the Unity Party is not an engaging and inspiring politician. His public utterances usually offer some interesting propositions, like referring to himself as “A race car parked in the garage” and we squandered opportunities after being Vice President, head, and presiding officer of the Senate for twelve consecutive years raised eyebrows.

His affiliation with notorious ex-warlord and current Senator Prince Johnson who was sanctioned by the United States Government for corruption under the Global Magnitsky Act and selection of Senator Jeremiah Koung as his running mate in the pending 2023 despite the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) 2021 State of Corruption Report that directly linked Senator Koung and several members of the National Legislature to massive corruption also raises eyebrow.

Ahead of the 2023 presidential elections the former Vice President, Joseph N. Boakai has reinforced his stance on his earlier comment that former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf squandered a lot of opportunities during the Unity Party’s (UP) twelve years of leadership.

Enough of this! For the records, Mr. Boakai as the Vice President of Liberia had within his powers to do more. The Vice President is part of the Executive Branch. The constitutionally defined role of the Vice President is to serve as President of the Senate as well as Presiding Officer of the Senate. “Article 51 of the Liberian Constitution also says the Vice-President “Shall assist the President in the discharge of his functions.” According to Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute Shall in Law, Shall is an imperative command usually indicating that certain actions are mandatory and not permissive.

Between 2006 and 2017, while Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was globe-trotted and gallivanted, Boakai was the de facto President. He assisted Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in her discharge of her functions as per the Constitution mandated. Mr. Boakai was the most important liaison between the administration and the Senate and benefited tremendously. All the bogus concession agreements and loan agreements approved through the Liberian Senate were presided over by Mr. Boakai in his capacity as Presiding Officer and President of the Senate as mandated constitutionally. Did he realize the opportunities were being squandered when these bogus concessions and loan agreements were being signed? If Liberia has failed in the past twelve years when the Unity Party was in power, then the Vice President is responsible for this failure as well. As a race car parked in the garage, Mr. Boakai neglected his duties to assist the President in the discharge of her duties as mandated constitutionally. Not only Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Mr. Boakai should explain to Liberians why the Sirleaf/Boakai administration shattered the dreams of the country.

Mr. Boakai was one of the custodians of the machinery for national development for 12 years, how did he utilize that; how was it channeled? It was under the Unity Party-led government that Liberia was rated the most corrupt country in the world in 2013 by the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. Where was Mr. Boakai when more than 20 government ministers were accused of corruption by the country’s independent corruption watchdog, the General Auditing Commission, but not one of them was prosecuted during the Unity Party’s first term?

Mr. Boakai headed the senate and presided over its functions which made him the second most influential person in Liberia. He was so powerful as the president of the senate that nineteen Liberian senators supported his 2017 presidential bid. Mr. Boakai also performed supervisory functions over a number of institutions and agencies including the Liberia National Lotteries (LOTTO), the Liberia Marketing Association (LIMA), the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE), and the National Commission on Disarmament Demobilization Resettlement and Reintegration (NCDDRR).

Some Liberians who spoke to the TNR said, “Clearly, neither Weah nor Boakai offers any transformation change for the long-suffering Liberia masses as evidenced by 18 years of stewardship of the Liberians.

Alexander B. Cummings

Of the 20 contenders vying for Liberia’s presidency in this year’s elections, none comes close to the business experience of Alexander Benedict Cummings. No other Liberian and few other Africans have climbed so high in the global corporate world. The Standard-bearer of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) made an extraordinary journey from Monrovia’s poor neighborhoods to the heights of global business as a top executive at the multinational Coca-Cola.

In an interview in his Monrovia office Cummings, 67, said that experience, and his global business contacts are the key to turning Liberia’s broken economy around.

But that business success was not enough to convince voters in 2017’s Presidential race when he came in fifth with just 7 percent of the vote. This time around Cummings has things that eluded him last time; campaign experience, name recognition and years on the ground. Election observers are not sure it will be enough to defeat incumbent President George Weah and former Vice President Joseph Boakai. But Cummings professes confidence. If he makes the second round, he claims, he can win.

Tiawan Gongloe

Counselor Tiawan Saye Gongloe, a veteran statesman and respected Human Rights Lawyer is one of few of the 20 Presidential Candidates in tomorrow’s election with a detailed plan to fix Liberia’s problems.

At the forefront of his presidential campaign, Gongloe, a former Cabinet Minister and Solicitor General has unveiled a comprehensive 10-point plan called, “A Better Liberia Agenda,” and a 12-point, “Strategy to Fight Corruption in Liberia,” which aims to strengthen the rule of law, combat corruption, and implement an economic policy focused on decentralizing the economy and promoting youth employment while expanding the government’s revenue base. He claims that these strategies will serve as the guiding principles for the national reform and renewal he intends to lead.

“The broom will be used to sweep away the old politics of big-shotism, tribalism, sectionalism, regionalism, nepotism, selfishness, greed for power, corruption, arrogance of power, elitism, injustice, impunity, and reckless disregard for the rule of law and human rights as well as other forms of misuse of public office and abuse of power,” Gongloe told newsmen.

As part of his anti-corruption agenda, Gongloe plans to commission routine audits, including lifestyle audits, of all public servants to determine if they are spending above their means. “Without the rule of law, which provides the framework for all activities we can go nowhere,” he said. “The issue of corruption is fundamentally a rule of law question because corruption is essentially theft of the people’s money.”

Fondly known as the “Poor-man’s Lawyer,” Gongloe’s journey, from people-centric activism to his resolute stance against corruption has earned him the admiration and respect of countless Liberians.

“He has the best potential to lead Liberia from its present state of decomposition and decay,” says Dr. Sam Kpahn, Gongloe’s longtime friend. “Because he is steadfast and reliable, he is a great role model, someone who leads by example which is the most important characteristic that Liberia needs presently.”

But Gongloe is a new comer and getting the people’s votes will be difficult in these elections. Observers say Gongloe needs to fight hard if he is to come closer to incumbent Weah, former Vice President Boakai or Alexander Cummings who is contesting the Presidential election for the second time.

Liberian voters’ inexplicable reluctance to give a chance to fresh faces and new ideas is the main reason behind the hopeless dilemma; however, less experienced candidates who failed to enter the presidential race in time and convince the masses that they could stand up to seasoned politicians like Weah and Boakai could pledge their supports to the two best candidates if there is any run-off election.

As Liberians troop to the various polling places tomorrow, they are to receive lists of Presidential ballot papers of 20 Presidential Candidates. Incumbent Weah is facing 19 candidates and a second round of voting is set for early November, unless a candidate secures an unlikely absolute majority in the first round.

Polling stations will open from 0800 to 1800 GMT, and the country’s 2.4 million voters will also be choosing who takes up the 73 seats in the House of Representatives and the 15 members of the Senate. The first results are expected within a few days of the vote.

Former Vice President Joseph Boakai from the Unity Party is among the frontrunners for the presidency. He has said that any vote cheating or manipulation will lead to “the end of this country.” Around half the population lives on less than $1.90 a day, the World Bank says © JOHN WESSELS / AFP Boakai, 78, is seeking revenge against the incumbent President who beat him in the second round in 2017.

He has forged alliances including with former warlord and Senator Prince Johnson who has threatened a popular revolt if the ruling party manipulates the elections. Boakai has pledged to restore the country’s image, develop infrastructure and improve life for the poorest in Liberia.

More than a fifth of the population lives on less than US$2.15 a day, according to the World Bank, and the price of staple foods has soared.

Boakai, who served as Vice President between 2006 and 2018, presents himself as an honest alternative to Weah, whom he accuses of presiding over a corrupt system. The United States has sanctioned five senior Liberian officials for alleged corruption in three years. The watchdog Transparency International ranked Liberia 142nd of 180 countries in its 2022 corruption perceptions index

“President Weah is the man of the situation. He built roads, made education free. And there was coronavirus for two years. Now he will do better,” said John Seaton, 24, a resident of Buchanan City, Grand Bassa County.

Weah came to power in 2018 after winning an October 2017 election, capitalizing on his iconic status acquired after becoming the first and only African to win football’s most prestigious individual award, the Ballon d’Or, in 1995.

His party, the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) has been holding street processions with loudspeakers blasting music praising Weah. Along with Boakai, Weah’s main rivals are former Coca-Cola executive and philanthropist Alexander Cummings and human rights lawyer Tiawan Gongloe. The results they secure could be decisive in the run-off.

Now, as the West African nation of Liberia goes to the polls on tomorrow to decide whether to give football legend George Weah a second term as president, the United States Government has warned politicians that they will face visa restriction if they undermine the democracy in Liberia;

Morrison O.G. Sayon writes.

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