Liberians are gearing up for the country’s general elections on the 10th of October 2017. Seventy three new Representatives and a president wIll be elected on that day. The elections are considered to be crucial because this would be the first transition of a democratically elected government in the country since the end of a fourteen year Civil war and a test of outgoing president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government’s popularity.
Faced with the daunting task of rebuilding the country from the ravages of two civil wars scratch, Sirleaf’s government commenced what is considered one of the toughest reconstruction efforts faced by any government on the continent. A complete overhaul of the country’s infrastructure was expedient, so also was the need to rehabilitate over a million lives that had been displaced. On top of that, Liberia gained global attention with the debilitating effect of the ebola scourge, which claimed over three thousand lives and put the country’s economy and healthcare infrastructure under severe strain.
In Liberia, elections are not about the presidential imperative, but more about relevant achievements of the government that are evident, and there are many who question the government’s record on some prevailing social issues. 22 political parties have already indicated interest to vie for the presidency. The election is set for October 10 this year and the momentum is already high with presidential candidates looking to gain political advantage in a last minute rush to win over the undecided in preparation for the process.
Among the contestants three names stand out as likely successors to Johnson-Sirleaf: the current Vice President Joseph Boakai of the ruling Unity Party (UP), Cllr. Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party (LP), who was Senate President Pro-tempore when Charles Taylor was president, and George Weah of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), former football star who would be making his second attempt for the presidential seat besides running once as a running mate.
Support for each candidate is evident across the country but there are conflicting opinions about who would be the best man to steer the ship of state at such a crucial point in the country’s history. There have also been predictions based on perceived voting trends. Some say it is very unlikely that Weah will win, though not impossible.
More people remember him for his gift on the pitch and far less as a politician.
Political observers say Weah’s main problem is obvious, from an assessment of the most likely voting trends. The prediction is that Brumskine and a few other candidates will collectively get between 20 and 30 percent of the first round vote. This would mean that neither of the two leading candidates (Boakai and Weah) wll get the 50 percent plus one vote required to win the first round. The elections will then go to a deciding second round. If this happens, Boakai is most likely to take the race. This is possible, if history repeats itself. In the second round votes in 2005 and 2011, the Unity Party got almost all of the non-CDC party votes.
Boakai’s main challenge will be defending the record of the Johnson-Sirleaf government’s twelve year rule, for which there are a number of critics. His supporters point to what they describe as a tough but reasonably productive twelve years. No doubt, Liberia has witnessed significant changes since 2007: it’s GDP soared for a period, although it slowed in the last three years. There have been evident efforts to rebuild the war ravaged infrastructure, reconstructing the country’s vast road network and rebuilding it’s health and education facilities.
Boakai’s relevance within political circles in Liberia, and across West Africa, is well established. His decision to run for the office of President is significant, considering the many challenges faced and successes recorded by the incumbent government, of which he has been a part since its inception in 2004. The government is rounding up its two (constitutionally approved) terms of six years each in office in 2017.
The Vice president’s candidacy has the backing of the incumbent president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, though there are insinuations that president Sirleaf has not shown the necessary public support for Boakai’s candidacy. Some see this as a clear indication of Sirleaf’s respect for the transparency of the electoral process. They say Sirleaf’s decision indicates confidence in Boakai’s ability to run on his own merit.
Boakai’s political clout in the country has also broadened his support base. By the provisions of the Liberian constitution, the Vice President is also President of the Liberian Senate and he presides two days a week over plenary sessions of that body. He also performs supervisory functions over a number of institutions and agencies.
Sirleaf is unlikely to have that much direct influence on the outcome of the votes but her government’s record of consistency in the implementation of a tough reform programme, faced by exhilarating global circumstances, will surely count in building strong public support for the Vice president.
As was expected, the campaigns leading up to the general elections have been centered around key economic, social and political issues that are of importance to the Liberian people. The key debates during the election campaigns include the prospect of an economic recovery, following the devastating effect of the Ebola crisis on the country’s different sectors, and who presents a workable plan that would lift the country out of its current condition;
Liberians have continued to express varying opinions about who they would prefer as the candidate that would provide the most convincing strategy for the revival of the country’s once extremely lucrative agriculture, mining and trade sectors just as there have been heated debates about the most acceptable process through which the necessary overhaul of institutions that suffered neglect from years of conflict could be carried out. There is also the need for continued expansion of infrastructure to rural communities that were cut off during the Civil war years.
Beyond these issues, candidates will also be assessed on their ability for sound political judgment. This is necessary because Liberia presents a complex political environment shaped by its multi-ethnic make up and it’s long and complex political history defined by a unique governance structure that has shaped current political debates. For example, Liberia’s government is modeled on the representative democratic republic of the United States but with a uniquely unitary framework. This presents its own unique template for local representation and sound political judgment of potential leaders.
Boakai’s candidacy has attracted many neutrals who voice their skepticism of the intents of the plethora of presidential aspirants, many of whom are new on the political landscape.
As the party flagbearer, Boakai also appears to be a uniting force for those who continue to strive for a strong political alliance of the divergent lineal interests that have shaped Liberian politics for many years. These two factors seem to be giving VP Boakai leverage as the 2017 general and presidential elections approach. This is aside from the massive support that the ‘Boakai Movement’ and other related organizations are receiving from every corner of the country since the VP declared his intention to contest the presidency.
How Boakai puts these advantages to use, if he wins, would be an enduring test of his political and administrative skills.