Decisive elections to hold in 10 weeks
By John Eche
Concern is mounting in informed political circles that the legacy of peace and relative stability sustained by outgoing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf may be in danger even as the process for electing her successor was formally flagged off this week.
As the process kicked off, as many as 20 presidential candidates, including a former warlord, footballer George Weah and a former fashion model, started campaigning Monday to succeed Africa’s first female head of state in the polls slated to hold on October 10.
Clearly however, bookmakers say that though Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is stepping down as President of Liberia, there is no obvious front-runner in the contest to pick her successor to lead the yet fragile West African state.
It will be recalled that the Nobel Prize-winning Sirleaf was elected following a long civil war which left deep scars on Liberia’s economy and social fabric.
Under the current polling arrangement, elections for the presidency and House of Representatives take place on October 10 — the first time since the end of the conflict in 2003 that the country will hold a vote without UN peacekeepers providing security. To cover this gap, regional support, including some 200 troops from Nigeria, has reportedly been enlisted.
Also, ahead of candidates opening their campaigns on Monday, the UN also renewed its appeal for the ballot process to go ahead smoothly, urging all “to spare no effort in their pursuit of peaceful elections.”
This is understandable as among the final president/vice-president tickets published by the National Elections Commission (NEC) on Monday, key figures from the past civil conflict loom large.
Leading the pack is Senator Prince Yormie Johnson — a onetime rebel fighter filmed quaffing his beer during the notorious murder of former president Samuel Doe in 1990. He is standing for president on the platform of the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR) party.
On his part, while football superstar and serving Senator, George Oppong Weah who is standing on the platform of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) is not publicly known to have taken part in the conflict, interestingly, he is running on the same ticket with Jewel Howard-Taylor, 54, the ex-wife of Charles Taylor, who is his vice-presidential candidate.
And while Weah is confident he would bag the job this time around,’ following on the heels of a failed bid in 2005, voices are however being raised on the kinds of deals he is reportedly making to ensure this outcome, even as the shadow of former president Charles Taylor, once Liberia’s most feared rebel fighter, and who is serving a 50-year sentence in a British jail for his role in fuelling neighbouring Sierra Leone’s own long civil conflict, lurks so heavily in his bid for the nation’s topmost job.
In the crowded field also are two prominent businessmen, Coca-Cola executive Alexander Cummings and telecoms tycoon Benoni Urey, and they are standing on pro-jobs and pro-growth platforms as they aim to bring corporate expertise to the presidency.
“Getting Liberians working is priority number one,” Urey said in a statement on Monday.
The only female presidential candidate, MacDella Cooper, a fashion model turned philanthropist who is promising “hope and reform” for the poor, largely rural nation.
Sirleaf’s vice president, who ordinarily should rank as the candidate to beat, Joseph Boakai, is hoping the record of keeping the peace will be enough to propel him to the top job, despite complaints that the ruling Unity Party has failed to deliver on the economy.
On their part, the rest of the continent and indeed the international community seem to be more preoccupied with averting potential electoral violence, even as the season tallies with the era when the Liberian security forces formally take over control of security operations in the country.
“These elections, and the subsequent transition, will mark a significant milestone whereby a sitting president will hand over power from one elected president to another,” the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), the African Union, and the regional body, ECOWAS emphasised in a recent joint statement.
“We remind political parties of their obligations to peaceful campaigning in compliance with the country’s electoral laws and international standards,” the statement concluded.
Outgoing President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf