Weah facing election dilemma

MONROVIA-PRESIDENT George Weah must be thinking that with the apparent disintegration of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) – the grouping that was formed to give him a run for his money in the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for October 2023 – he has high hopes of re-election.

But is does not seem to be as clear-cut as that because even his own coalition, Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), which got him to power in 2018, is shaky.

Indeed, throughout the last few years of this coalition, it has been quite apparent that it is just a marriage of convenience, which could end acrimoniously ahead of the next voter test in October 2023.

It would seem that political in-fighting is going on within most of the parties gunning for presidential power next year.

In the National Patriotic Party (NPP) there is continuous wrangling going on over the party’s leader, Jewel Howard-Taylor, who is the country’s Vice President.

The talk among NPP stalwarts is that Howard-Taylor will be removed as a leader at the party’s convention at the end of the year.

“She is manipulating the process, but will fail,” one influential NPP member told The New Republic.

The NPP and the other coalition partner, the Liberian People Democratic Party (LPDP), have not been too happy with what they believe are unilateral decisions taken by Weah and his CDC.

Last October, things came to a head when the NPP issued a statement criticizing the undemocratic nature of the coalition when it came to taking decisions.

“This is certainly not the spirit with which the coalition was formed,” the NPP said in the statement.

The LPDP also made a similar allegation against the CDC and, by extension, Weah.

The president is facing mounting socio-economic challenges that could derail his plans to serve the country for a second term, with voters struggling to identify any areas of society that have flourished under his tenure.

Disgruntlement among civil servants, who have not been paid for months, is palpable.

The lack of regular salaries has not gone down well with these unpaid government employees who daily read newspaper stories about huge amounts of money disappearing from state coffers into the pockets of Weah’s closest acolytes.

As in most African countries, leaders have learnt salutary lessons after neglecting civil servants who are supposed to carry out the wishes of their governments.

Added to Weah’s woes is the high cost of living that is affecting most Liberians.

The price of gas has skyrocketed; poverty is on the rise; the education system is in chaos; proper health care is more or less non-existent and Liberians continue to die from preventable diseases because the money for the necessary treatment has disappeared; and people are jobless and hungry.

The health issue is of utmost importance because a healthy nation is a wealthy nation.

It is not surprising that this terrible state of affairs regarding the health sector eventually prompted the US ambassador to Liberia, Michael A. McCarthy, to break with diplomatic orthodoxy by publicly criticizing Weah’s government in an opinion piece on the embassy’s website.

He pointed out that the US was providing over $110 million a year in foreign assistance.

McCarthy said that $79 million of this went to the health sector, with $9 million earmarked for buying medications for Liberians and helping the Health Ministry to effectively improve distribution and storage of pharmaceuticals.

Clearly the US feels that its financial support is being abused and if it decides it does not want to continue to line the pockets of Weah’s cronies – inevitably – the price will be paid by ordinary people.

As Weah’s opponents point out, he has not kept to his promise of taking charge of the economy, which he promised to do in his inauguration speech.

Infrastructure contracts are dished out without adherence to procurement laws and regulations, his opponents say.

In this free-for-all economic situation, it is only the corrupt Russian, Middle Eastern and Asian businessmen who have benefited.

It is therefore not surprising that no substantial foreign direct investments from reputable global companies have materialized since Weah came to power.

So, what would be Weah’s fallback position in the wake of such political failure?

His opponents say that he would try to manipulate the election results in his favor, which would definitely not go down well in a tension-filled country.

The 2017 elections were marred by fraud and irregularities, which could have inflamed the situation.

But common sense prevailed and Weah managed to finally fulfil his dream of becoming president.

This time round, Liberians are loudly declaring that they would not tolerate electoral rigging in favor of Weah.

The National Election Commission (NEC), as in all elections in Africa, could be under immense pressure to bend towards Weah, but will be under heavy scrutiny not just from colleagues from ECOWAS, who will be eager to uphold democracy after a year of coups in the region, but from the US, whose relationship with Liberia is unique.

As we pointed out earlier, the government and opposition coalitions are no longer workable, and this means that the various political parties will have to go it alone in the first round of the presidential election, which, in the current state of disarray, might not come up with a clear winner.

So, there would have to be a run-off between the top two candidates and that would be when the horse-trading among the parties would begin.

Having antagonized his coalition partners during the last four years, it is obvious that the NPP and LPDP would not be backing Weah.

This could present an opportunity for opposition parties such as Alexander Cummings’ Alternative National Congress (ANC) and Joseph Boakai’s Unity Party (UP) to fill the breach once Weah’s coalition partners ditch him.

Will Weah learn in time for the electorate to give him the benefit of the doubt?

It’s a tough ask, because those who voted for him in 2017, are not so sure whether they would do so in 2023.

In all this, though, what ordinary Liberians are looking for are free, fair, and credible elections in 2023, which are vital to sustaining the peace and stability of the country, which would, in turn, lead to economic growth.

 

 

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