Home Governance For October Elections: Money May Shape Outcome …Research Group Reveals, Outlines Other Key Factors

For October Elections: Money May Shape Outcome …Research Group Reveals, Outlines Other Key Factors

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MONROVIA: A Liberia-based think tank, Ducor Institute for Social and Economic Research, has disclosed that the 2023 Presidential and Legislative elections in Liberia will be a replay of 2017, with incumbent President George Manneh Weah and former Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai as the main frontrunners.

The Ducor Institute for Social and Economic Research supports policymakers, civil society, and community leaders to effectively tackle the causes of poverty and other socio-economic challenges by generating evidence for advocacy, dialogue, and decision-making.

In its latest Brief, styled: “Liberia’s 2023 Election: An Overview of the Landscape,” the group indicated that with few months to the elections, the two frontrunners are still working to build alliances with other parties to boost their chances of victory.

However, the group which comprises Liberian researchers, policy practitioners, and activists indicated that “the strength of the partnerships they may form, the candidate’s choice of running and the amount of money they may be willing to spend are likely to be the deciding factors in shaping the outcome” of the elections.

The 2023 elections are mandated by the Liberian Constitution, which provides that the President, Vice President, and Members of the Legislature be elected every six years.

Incumbent President Weah has indicated his intention to seek a second and final term in office.

These will be the first general and presidential elections organized since the departure (2018) of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

The National Elections Commission (NEC) is the authorized agency responsible for conducting elections for public offices in Liberia.

The Republic’s law enforcement and security agencies provide security for the electoral process. The NEC has already introduced a biometric voter registration system for the 2023 elections.

The research group however said it is unclear how this exercise will be linked to other national databases, like the database of the National Identification Registry.

The new biometric system aims to improve security and transparency, and reduce instances of fraud.

Two phases of voter registration took place from March 20 to May 11, 2023, with more than 2 million adult citizens registered.

The Brief by the research group, analyzed the context within which the elections will be held in 2023.

“Currently,” according to the researchers, “there are 21 registered political parties, but it is unlikely that all these registered parties will field candidates in the presidential election.”

The ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) — formed by the Congress for Democratic Change, National Patriotic Party (NPP) and the Liberian People’s Democratic Party (LPDP) — has endorsed incumbent President George Weah as their presidential candidate.

The Group: “Weah remains popular among his supporters, especially among young people in Montserrado County.”

His running-mate is current Vice President, Jewel Howard-Taylor selected again, despite an ongoing leadership crisis in her former ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP).

The main opposition Unity Party (UP) has endorsed former Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai as its Presidential candidate. Boakai’s running–mate is Nimba County Senator, Jeremiah Kpan Koung.
Boakai, who lost to Weah in 2017, has been mobilizing an opposition coalition to oust Weah in the intervening period.

In 2019, his party joined with others to form the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) —then comprised the UP, Liberty Party (LP), All Liberian Party (ALP) and the Alternative National Congress (ANC).

The CPP mounted a stiff challenge to the CDC in the 2020 Special Senatorial Elections, and its candidates emerged victorious in six counties, including the vote-rich counties of Montserrado, Bong, Lofa, and Grand Bassa.
However, the research group further indicated that the CPP became dogged by infighting immediately after the senatorial elections—a situation that led to the withdrawal of the UP and ALP from the alliance.

The LP, whose candidate, the late Charles Walker Brumskine, came third in the 2017 presidential election, remains divided by factional disputes. One faction headed by its political leader, Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, is actively working with the UP.
Karnga-Lawrence was reportedly among a list of politicians jostling to be selected as running mate to Boakai. Mr. Boakai later selected Senator Jeremiah Kpan Koung of Nimba as his running-mate.
Another faction of the LP, headed by its Chairman Musa Hassan Bility, remains part of the CPP which is now led by Alexander Cummings of the ANC—who came fifth in the 2017 presidential elections. Cummings is working on expanding the membership of the CPP by mobilizing other smaller parties to support his bid for the presidency.

The Liberian People’s Party (LPP) has named human rights lawyer and former President of the Liberia National Bar Association, Tiawan Gongloe, as its presidential Hopeful.

Gongloe will be campaigning on a promise to enforce the rule of law and end corruption in government.

According to the research group, “This will be Gongloe’s first attempt at the presidency, and he is expected to cause an upset in Nimba County— which has the second-largest number of votes. Gongloe is also likely to win a significant share of the vote among middle-class voters who previously supported Cummings and the ANC.”

The Brief also indicated that a recent move by the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR) to name Senator Jeremiah Koung of Nimba County as their standard bearer means Senator Prince Johnson will not be a presidential candidate in the election.

Johnson garnered over 50 percent of the votes in Nimba County in the last two presidential elections of 2011 and 2017.

His support for Weah was crucial to the latter’s victory in the presidential runoff election of 2017.

Johnson has accused Weah of failing to appoint his allies to government positions and has consequently withdrawn support for Weah.

Johnson will be fighting to retain his Nimba County senatorial seat—which he has occupied since 2006—while campaigning for his protégé, Koung, to win the presidential vote in the county.

Despite the MDR’s popularity in Nimba, the other leading parties have stepped up efforts to build new alliances in the county—hoping that Johnson’s absence from the presidential race may improve their chances of increasing their share of the vote in Nimba.

Until recently, MaCdella Cooper was so far the only known female presidential aspirant. Cooper first ran for the position in 2017 as the Liberia Restoration Party’s (LRP) candidate.

She recently announced her decision not to contest for the Nation’s Presidency in the 2023 elections although she remains the political leader of her political party, Movement for One Liberia which she established after the 2017 elections.

Despite being the only female presidential candidate, Cooper won less than one percent of the presidential vote in 2017.

Like Cooper, most female legislative candidates suffered a similar fate in their constituencies.

The research Brief also asserted that women in Liberia face numerous structural and cultural barriers which affect their participation in electoral politics and national and local leadership structures.

The share of women in the current legislature (both houses combined) is only 9 percent.

One factor constraining the participation of women in electoral politics could be the relatively high cost of candidate registration and campaigning, the Brief added.

Although some political parties reduced registration fees for women legislative candidates in 2017, the prohibitive cost of campaigning in some constituencies limited their prospects against relatively wealthy male candidates.

All 73 seats in the House of Representatives and half of the 30 seats in the Senate will be contested in October.

Hundreds of candidates are expected to participate in these elections, with the leading parties—UP, CDC, and CPP—expected to field candidates across the country.
According to the research Brief, smaller parties and independents are not likely to contest in most constituencies.

“The lack of ideological commitment to political parties, fluid loyalty, and the uncompetitive nature of party primaries mean politicians can change sides at any time. The more prominent parties are expected to field relatively wealthy and well-connected aspiring members in the legislative elections,” added the Brief.
“In contrast, the less wealthy aspirants are likely to run as independents or on smaller parties’ tickets. Smaller parties are usually convenient vehicles for legislative candidates that lost the primaries of the larger parties and aspirants wishing to avoid the high cost of running as independents,” added the Brief.

According to the research group, independent legislative candidates dropped from 233 in 2011 to 54 in 2017 and are likely to remain at this lower level in 2023 due to many political parties willing to recruit and field candidates.
Three key issues the electoral campaign is expected to be dominated by three main themes: the economy, the fight against corruption and the prosecution of war and economic crimes.

“ First, Liberia has been faced with pressing economic challenges since the Ebola epidemic broke out nearly a decade ago, which led to a slump in economic output from a growth rate of 8.7 percent in 2013 to -1.56 percent by the time the epidemic ended in 2016.

The withdrawal of the UN Mission in 2018, the Covid-19 pandemic which broke out in 2020, and the global economic fallout from the Russia-Ukraine war have all impacted subsequent economic recovery efforts.

Fiscal constraints compelled the government to abolish its rice (the country’s staple) subsidy policy in December 2022.

This led to a 25 percent increase in the retail price of a 25kg bag of rice. The government’s policy of ‘harmonizing’ the public sector payroll, which began in 2018, led to cuts in the salaries and benefits of civil servants and increased the economic hardships facing many Liberians.

While the government argues that the policy promotes equity and saves resources for capital and social investments, the opposition has accused the government of undermining morale and prospects for better living standards among civil servants. Despite numerous strikes over low wages and poor working conditions, the government has not reversed the policy.

President Weah is expected to campaign on his policy interventions that have brought inflation under control, from 27 percent in 2019 to 7 percent in 2022, and led to an appreciation of the Liberian dollar against the US dollar by 21 percent between 2019 and 2022; while his opponents are criticizing him for failing to produce jobs, and reduce poverty.”

“Second, President Weah campaigned, in 2017, on a promise to fight corruption and has made some efforts to reform the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission by strengthening its independence and capacity to investigate and prosecute cases.

However, his government has been dogged by multiple corruption scandals.

In August 2022, the US government imposed sanctions on three top officials, including his Chief of Office Staff, for alleged corruption.

Although the designated officials were forced to resign due to the sanctions, the Liberian government has yet to investigate the allegations,” said the Brief.

“Third, on the 18th of August, Liberia will commemorate 20 years since the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement’s (CPA) signing.

Twenty years of uninterrupted stability is a remarkable milestone. However, the celebration of this milestone will be mixed due to the unfinished business of the CPA.

The TRC Final Report released in June 2009 has yet to be implemented. Both previous and current administration’s efforts at implementation have yet to go far enough to address questions of accountability and reparation.

Even though the government promised—in the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (Pillar Three, Sustaining the Peace)—to increase civic trust, co-existence, access to justice and the rule of law, no attempt has been made to implement the TRC’s recommendations on criminal prosecution and reparation.

In 2021, the Senate adopted a resolution to enact a Transitional Justice Commission (TJC). The proposed mandate of the TJC was to review and audit the outcome of the TRC process.

The Liberian Bar Association has drafted a bill to establish a war and economic crimes court in Liberia. In collaboration with its international partners, Liberian civil society organizations are using universal jurisdiction to identify and prosecute perpetrators/warlords named in the TRC Report who emigrated to the United States and Europe by lying on their immigration records to conceal their wartime past.

Accordingly, Liberian campaigners for the prosecution of war crimes are placing back on the electoral agenda the TRC Final Report as one of the unfinished businesses of the CPA.

While these issues will feature prominently in speeches and campaign promises, the outcome of the presidential vote is more likely to be determined by the campaign funding available to the candidates and the strength and effectiveness of the political alliances they may build.

For the legislative elections, voters hardly consider national issues in making their choices, nor do they examine candidates based on their competency and past performance in public or private services.

Because voters hardly feel the impact of public policy on their individual lives and communities, voting decisions in the legislative elections are determined mainly by the candidate’s ability to distribute patronage that directly benefits the electorate and their immediate community.

Maintaining peace Liberia will commemorate two decades of peace and stability on August 18, 2023, the anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended the civil war in 2003.

This remarkable feat demonstrates the resilience of the Liberian society and the commitment to peace among the citizens.

Despite this record of relative stability, the root causes of the conflict remain largely unaddressed.

Firstly, derogatory intergroup stereotypes such as “countryman” and “congo man”, condemned by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in its final report, continue to be used as ethnic identifiers.

Secondly, a series of mysterious deaths of citizens and the ensuing ‘unsatisfactory investigations’ have increased public mistrust in the government.

Third, the post-war voting pattern that emerged in 2005 revealed that Liberians who were unsure about their security voted for individuals who protected their ethnic group during the conflict.

In some counties, this voting pattern remains to this day. Further, the 2016 and 2017 Social Cohesion and Reconciliation Index surveys determined that Liberians in the rural parts demonstrate stronger loyalty towards traditional hierarchy than values of democracy.

Nonetheless, the elections will be held in a relatively stable security environment.

While there has been a long period of peace marked by the end of violence in 2003, poor social and economic conditions and the rise in the number of ‘disadvantaged’ youths affected by drug addiction continue to threaten overall stability.

Development indices, for instance, the UN Human Development Index, point to poor and uneven socio-economic development across the country, indicating susceptibility to crisis and state failures.

There are also concerns over the capacities and capabilities of the security forces, specifically the Liberia National Police, to execute their duties efficiently and professionally.

Its ability to handle street demonstrations has been questioned in recent years. In 2019, the police used disproportionate force on protestors, calling for fiscal transparency and accountability and establishing a war and economic crimes court in Liberia.

A recent rise in political violence is also concerning. During the 2020 senatorial elections, several candidates faced harassment and threats against their lives.

In Grand Cape Mount County, a vehicle reportedly belonging to the CPP senatorial candidate was attacked and burned; and in Gbarpolu, the leading senatorial candidate (an independent) and her supporters were maltreated by local authorities and supporters of the CDC.

In July 2022, the University of Liberia students protesting against the government on the day of the celebration of Liberia’s 175th Independence Day were attacked by a group affiliated with the ruling party-CDC.

While in December, a supporter of Alexander Cummings, and organizer of a rally against the cost-of-living crisis, was similarly attacked by unidentified individuals at a radio station where he had gone to speak about his planned public demonstration.”

In its conclusion, the research group asserted that the 2023 election is expected to be hotly contested.

“While President Weah may benefit from extra advantages as an incumbent candidate, the presidential election’s winner remains far from clear.

He faces a well-experienced and competent opposition movement. Despite the disintegration of the CPP, talks are reportedly ongoing to form a bigger opposition coalition ahead of the polls or during the run-off (a likely scenario).

According to the Brief, “ The contentious nature of the presidential and legislative elections, as indicated in recent political speeches—and from the experience from the 2020 Senatorial elections—suggest there might be more violence in some counties, particularly Montserrado County.”

“To enhance trust in the process, it is advisable that the NEC improves the transparency of the process and ensures that poll workers and security personnel receive adequate training on crucial aspects of the process. To mitigate tensions and avert potential incidences of violence, political parties must strengthen their processes of internal party democracy and ensure they conduct free, fair and transparent primaries; and provide adequate training for their poll watchers on the voting, counting and tallying procedures and processes laid out in the electoral laws and regulations of NEC.

Additionally, the civil society movement and international organizations must establish and facilitate mechanisms for dialogues among the political parties, NEC, and other vital electoral actors and provide mass citizen education on all aspects of the process, including sensitization against electoral violence and fraud.

Early engagement, dialogue, and mass education will likely improve transparency, enhance citizens’ trust and confidence, and ultimately boost the outcome’s legitimacy.

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