Tomorrow Tuesday, 2.4 million Liberians go to the polls to cast their ballots in a midterm senatorial election and a national referendum. Contesting for 15 available senate seats are 118 candidates, 18 of whom are women. The eligible voters will also be making a critical decision on whether or not to amend portions of the Constitution by saying “yes” or no” to eight proposition items on the referendum. As the people go to the polls tomorrow to decide on their choice of senators and the referendum, many see tomorrow’s elections as a critical crossroad that could not only shift the balance of power between the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change and the opposition bloc, but would also determine the country’s path either towards enhanced democratization or gangsterism.
One of the main issues that had been of concern to observers was the wave of electoral and political violence that marred the pre-campaign activities of candidates contesting in the senatorial elections. Between July to October 2020, supporters of CDC candidates openly clashed with supporters of the opposition CPP, in a fashion that cast serious doubt on the freeness of the midterm elections. Starting from the July 31 attack on CPP leader Cummings in Zwedru to the September 13 attack on CPP candidate Senator Abraham Darius Dillon in Clara Town, the upsurge of violence had left little doubt that the midterm election would be anything but peaceful.
The high wave of electoral violence also claimed the attention of US Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, who issued a stern warning on September 10, 2020 to politicians in African countries that encourage their supporters to engage in electoral and political violence.
“We will watch closely the actions of individuals who interfere in the democratic process and will not hesitate to consider consequences – including visa restrictions – for those responsible for election-related violence. As long-time partners to the nations of Africa, we care about the region’s democratic trajectory and are committed to working constructively with international and regional partners,” Secretary Pompeo had warned.
The US government official statement also called on governments to allow the people to peacefully assemble and speak freely because this is the core essence of a functioning democracy. “Adherence to these democratic norms and to the rule of law allows all citizens to engage in political dialogue and support their choice of candidates, parties, and platforms, Mr. Pompeo observed.
Surprisingly, the high spate of electoral and political violence drastically subsided as campaign resumed last November, sending a signal that political parties and their candidates in Liberia have heeded the warning from US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.
“Our politicians will take Mr. Pompeo seriously because they know this guy doesn’t joke when it comes to putting people on sanctions. We know what he did to our former Passport Director,” says James D. Chelley of Point Four.
The Highest Stakes
Although there are 118 candidates that are vying for 15 senate seats in the 15 political subdivisions, the stakes are much higher in Montserrado County, the most vote-rich region of the country, where two heavyweights are fielded – incumbent Senator Abraham Darius Dillon, running on the CPP ticket; and Montserrado County District #5 Representative, Thomas Fallah of the ruling CDC party.
Dillon, nicknamed “The Light” has been running a campaign on reform issues, while his supporters have been engaged in an unprecedented show of support to his reelection bid by recently raising over $2Billon Liberian dollars at home and about $26,000 United States Dollars in the Diaspora.
Fallah, nicknamed “T5”, has on the other hand been splashing cash and rice around Montserrado County. T5 has of late seen a surge in endorsements for his senatorial bid, with the latest big name being Mr. Charles Sirleaf, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia.
Observers are of the strong belief that any side (CDC or the Opposition) that comes out victorious on Tuesday in Montserrado County will make a strong determination on the outcome of the 2023 presidential and general elections.
“Liberians will be making a very critical decision tomorrow,” opined Mr. James D. Chelley of Point Four.
“I just pray that whoever wins, we will accept the results and move on. This country has been far too behind; we must now exercise political maturity at the polls and after the elections,” he cautioned.
Winner Takes All?
The ruling CDC and the Opposition bloc have already indicated that although the Montserrado County seat is very strategic for the senate race, all 15 counties are equally as important.
CDC’s policy of “Vote-one-vote-all” has already been in full effect as President Weah has been touring the countryside raising the hands of CDC candidates, to ensure that his party wins all 15 seats on Tuesday.
President Weah has even warned his officials to support and vote for all CDC candidates or else they will feel his wrath.
“You cannot be in the party and in the government at the same time and do not support it. You can be whosoever, the party will punish you if you violate their mandate,” President Weah warned on Tuesday December 1, 2020 when he toured Gbarnga, Bong County to lift the hands of Senator Henry Yallah of Bong County.
The CPP too is strongly eyeing all 15 seats as Liberians go to the polls on Tuesday. CPP political leader Alexander Cummings of the Alternative National Congress and Mr. Benoni Urey, political leader of the All Liberian Party, were in Tubmanburg, Bomi County during the week to lift the hands of Senator Sando D. Johnson, in a race that fields heavyweights such as CDC candidate Alex J. Tyler and Representative Edwin M. Snowe of Bomi County.
Former Vice President Joseph N. Boakai has taken off to Lofa County to support the CPP candidate Brownie Samukai against incumbent Senator George Tengbeh of the CDC.
The Sticky Referendum Issue
Tuesday’s vote will also have Liberians deciding on eight propositions on the national reference, which means, besides voting for their respective senators, they voters will be ticking off on eight other ballots.
The Opposition bloc has already called for postponement of the referendum due to what they say is insufficient sensitization and information on the referendum issues; but the ruling CDC is vociferously calling on the electorate to vote “yes” to all eight propositions on the referendum.
Whether they vote “ye” or “no”, Liberians will receive eight separate ballots with pictures of two passports and one passport- indicating dual citizenship; the umbrella with rain pouring over it, and the shiny sun – representing changing the voting time from the rainy season on the second Tuesday of October each voting year to the dry season on the second Tuesday of November of each voting year; a big clock and a small clock – representing that NEC must hear and decide electoral complaints from 30 days to 15 days; and the remaining 5 with the pictures of a big chair and a small chair – representing changing the President and Vice President term from 6 to 5 years; the Senators term from 9 to 7 years; the Pro Tempore term from 6 to 5 years; the Representatives term from 6 to 5 years; and the Speaker term from 6 to 5 years.
The opposition is saying that the voters did not have sufficient time to understand the symbols as they the NEC only printed the gazette a few days prior to the elections.