Twenty candidates will contest in the Liberian National Elections to succeed President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, in polls that are scheduled for October. The country’s elections body has certified 986 candidates standing for the West African nation of 4.6 million people. Below is an interview Political Analysis South Africa’s Itumeleng Makgetla had with Dr. Gnaka Lagoke, Political Analyst and Founder of the Revival of Pan-Africanism Forum, on Liberia’s National Elections.
How plausible is it that the elections will invariably be a neck-and-neck race between Vice-President, Joseph Boakai, who is running on the ticket of the ruling Unity Party, and the former FIFA World Player of the Year, George Weah?
Gnaka Lagoke: I understand that for many observers, the incumbent vice-president and George Weah are seen as the two possible runners-up, because it will be difficult for one candidate to win 51% of votes required in the first round to pull off the election. But, I may say there are some invariables in this election. The voters feel some apathy, and feel deceived and disappointed by the traditional political class, of which the vice-president and Georges Weah, are members. The voter may seek to opt for a new face, who may symbolize change. It could be the former Chief Executive of Coca Cola, Alexander Cummings, and his running mate, Ambassador Jeremiah Sulunteh. Alexander Cummings is reputed as a person of good deeds, generally, and his running mate is from the Pele Tribe which is the single biggest tribe in Liberia. In other words, it is difficult to predict the outcome of this election even though candidates have their respective traditional constituencies. There is one new element in the race which is an unexpected turn of events; Georges Weah is from the Kru Tribe, which was one of the main victims at the hands of Charles Taylor, the former rebel leader and president; and who is serving 50 year jail time in the international Criminal Court prison. He has decided to take the wife of his ethnic constituency sympathiser as his running mate; because of this, many of Charles Taylor’s child soldiers support him. Yes, Charles still has some strong supporters in Liberia, but this move made him loose some respect, credibility and some prospective voters. So, let us wait and see. And the vice-president Boakai’s running mate is a former rebel leader, even though he is relatively young compared to him – Mr Weah.
On 1 August 2017, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in a special address to Liberians, said that “the 2017 elections will signal our irreversible course on the path of peace and democracy. This is the first general elections organised by us, conducted by us, and therefore all ours”. Does this mean that there will not be any external observer bodies such as the AU, ECOWAS or the UN?
It is a nice statement by the outgoing president Sirleaf, but it does mean that there will not be external observers. Based on the information, observers from the United Nations, the African Union, the ECOWAS, and the Carter Centre, are already on the ground to give their assessment of the electoral process. We may add for the reader, that the Liberian Government spent millions of dollars for the printing costs of the ballots coming all the way from Slovenia through Egypt Air, and from the neighbouring country, Ghana.
We have noted that the last two elections were conducted without public debates between candidates leading up to the polls. What mechanisms are the political parties using to communicate their manifestos?
This election is a bit different in that sense. This time there were two public debates organised by the electoral body; with George Weah’s marked absence. But all the candidates are using various forms to communicate in terms of rallies, town-hall meetings, press conferences, pamphlets, news organisations, and the internet.
In her speech in the United Nations, President Johnson stated that “The [legislative and presidential polls] will mark the first time in 73 years that political power will be handed over peacefully, and democratically, from one elected leader to another,”. What are the general expectations amongst Liberians, that this will be a peaceful election season in the country, bearing in mind Liberia’s recovery in the post-15 year civil war?
Many hope to see a peaceful transition of power like what happened in Benin, Senegal, Angola, and Tanzania. However, the situation in Liberia presents more risks of violence, than what happened in the respective countries I have mentioned. Liberia has a population of 80 000 veterans who were not offered suitable alternatives for social and economic integration. The country is suffering. The economy is moribund. The outgoing president could not meet the needs of the majority of Liberia, which has the highest illiteracy rate, with 85% of the population with no jobs. The environment is conducive to a potential violence, but it is not out of the question to anticipate full-scale violence, like the one that devastated the country for 14 years, and ended with more than 400 000 people dead. The African leaders are reaching a level of maturity in the age of the revival of Pan-Africanism, and they will have the wisdom to prevent Liberia from unraveling into another civil war. And also, many in Liberia are attached to that taste and sense of relative peace.
Can observers expect all parties to abide by the Farmington River Declaration that they signed on June 4, 2017 in the presence of ECOWAS Heads of State and representatives of the international community?
It is difficult to predict if all leaders will abide by the results of the elections. There are certainly candidates that are power-hungry, and who want power at any cost, and by any means necessary. We hope that those who still care for the country will be strong enough to prevent any post-electoral crisis, which West Africa does not need and want, now.
Long standing concerns that many Liberian politicians have wives, kids, and mortgages outside of Liberia and are not trusted by the Liberian people, have also surfaced since the electioneering kicked off. Is this a legitimate concern?
I believe I have mentioned that, without referring to the family members of the political elite living outside the country. The people of Liberia have lost faith in their leaders.