MONROVIA: After all the superfluity about multiparty democracy in Liberia, the naked fact is that the country and its people since 2005 have been literally settling for a two-party system—the aisle divided in “blue” and “green” orientations or between the Coalition for Democracy party (CDC) and the Unity Party (UP). This is obviously making the Liberian political game much tortuous because it always have got competitions involving the two camps fiercer. Even in the pending contestations for the covetous position of Speaker of the House of Representatives—the third top national position in terms of constitutional succession—it is earthshattering and the nation is on edge. Candidates of the two traditional rivals are at it again, begging the question of whether, at the end of the day, Liberia would have a Unity Party House Speaker to entrench the development trajectory unhindered as others contend, or whether there will be opposition CDC House Speaker that will emerge in order to ensure the balance of power. Or will be it a liberal House Speaker from a third party who will make the trick for the peace of things? The Analyst reports.
The Speaker of the Liberian House of Representatives position, which during the days of the True Whig Party was a so-say-one-so-say-all thing, or an issue of favorite presidential pick or a bride-for-job during other political epochs, has now reached a point of crusading intellectual and partisan fight amongst candidates.
The survivor of the current fight will be head of representatives from all 73 districts, but getting the job is not lying down in the park.
The lineup, or the most prominent of them, are known, and they seem to come from the main political parties, each having his eyes on partisan power advantage, despite some internal squabbles taking place.
Pundits who closely follow partisan politics here believe the race has brought to the fore old quarrels, opening old wounds, between the traditional rivals, the Coalition for Democratic Change, formerly the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and the Unity Party.
Amongst the known prominent candidates for the House Speakership emerging from the CDC are Deputy Speaker Jonathan Fonati Koffa of Grand Kru, and former Representative of Montserrado County District 5, now Lofa County Representative-elect Thomas Fallah.
For the Unity Party, which is the incoming administration, Mr. Richard N. Koon is the challenger, while in the middle of the fight is businessman Musa Hasan Bility of the Liberty Party component of the Collaborating Political Party (CPP).
Strengths, Chances of Each
According to pundits, there are very good reasons for each of the contestants in the speaker race to be seen as having brighter chances to win or poor rating for the job, for all of the parties as well as the contenders do have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Jonathan Fonati Koffa
Grand Kru County Representative J. Fonati Koffa is assumed the presumptive winner even before voting is called to order. He is widely considered the most experienced amongst the candidates, having served as deputy speaker of the House for about six years.
Other pundits say besides his experience advantage, Koffa is a man of letters who understands the science of political lobby with superb shrewdness, emboldened by his knowledge of and association with diverse public and private bureaucrats.
Commentators who closely follow CDC politics say Koffa is the favorite of CDC bigwigs, including President Weah, who feel his success as the House Speaker will bring much consolation to the Southeast which is politically cut off by the election of the next President and Vice President from the West and North of Liberia respectively.
How that rather sentimental argument will work is not known, but what is most advantageous to Mr. Koffa is that were he to play the regional cards, the most of the CDC lawmakers emerging in the Southeast could prefer him in addition to the CDC representatives-elect of Montserrado County.
The CDC has 25 representative-elect, excluding independents who could have been CDC lawmakers but suffered the party’s primary anomalies.
Whatever the case, the Grand Kru lawmaker’s biggest asset is his lobbying power combined with what other pundits describe as his “benevolent political style”.
A lawyer, he is a skillful planner and lobbyist, one pundit said, having served as the founder and Managing Partner of the International Law Group (ILG), practicing law since 1997, both in Liberia and the United States of America.
Hon. Cllr. Koffa was also admitted into the Supreme Court Bar of the Republic of Liberia with distinct honor as valedictorian of the graduating class.
In 2016, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appointed Koffa as Minister of State without Portfolio and Special Prosecutor of the Sable Mining Bribery scandal case.
A few months later, he was appointed legal counsel to the President of Liberia.
Cllr. Koffa resigned in late July 2017 to participate in the General and Presidential elections as a candidate for the Representative seat in Grand Kru County District #2.
On October 19, he was declared the winner of that electoral process, and in 2021, he was subsequently elected as Deputy Speaker of the 54th Legislature of the Republic of Liberia.
Hon. Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa is the immediate past Chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the 54th National Legislature. He was a member of the Committee on Elections and Inauguration and the Committee on Human & Civil Rights.
Musa Hasan Bility
There are those who think Nimba County District #7 Representative-elect Bility could snatch away the highly coveted position, owing to his shrewd political maneuvering ability. Though a businessman, Musa Bility has shown his political clout over the last three years, having come from political obscurity to the prominent post of Chairman of a major political party and major alliance.
He was considered one of the new comers in the Liberty Party, but he quickly excelled to prominent positions, some would say under questionable circumstances, but he has proven invincible in all struggles that confronted him in the party.
With intense opposition from conventional politicians and ace radicals in the Liberty Party, he held on to the grips, not only by maintaining the Chairmanship amid stern opposition, but also by expelling older and even founding members from the party. And he has done that consistently clearly, backed by law; meaning winning most if not all legal challenges against him.
According to some pundits, this fighting power that he brings to the speakership contestation is one of his high points that warn others not to dismiss his participation.
Besides that, some analysts say Bility as a businessman, is “liberal” in dispensing cash, and that he could compete with other heavyweights by using this wherewithal to claw to himself unsuspecting and vulnerable voters, most of whom are new comers, grubbing about in the corridors of the Legislature, finding their bearings.
The pundits also contend that he could be seen as the compromised candidate between the two extremes – CDC and UP, and is someone that will be needed to be in the center for easy reconciliation after a venomous national elections period.
If the candidates were to play the regional cards, Bility will still have some edge. He would be counting on eight other representatives from his Nimba County.
Richard N. Koon
It is believed that Koon is pursuing the House Speakership on the old mat—the President and the House Speaker of Liberia being partisans. Like former President Sirleaf and Alex Tyler from the same Bomi County, or also like President George Manneh Weah and Bhafol Chambers from the same party, CDC.
It is said that the Unity Party is endeavoring with all its weight to ensure that it follows the old mat, which allowed incumbent administrations maintain a strong legislative agenda with their “own” on the House Throne.
For the Unity Party to undo policies of its CDC predecessor—policies it may deem abhorrent, some experts say, the party will have to obtain the headship of the House to enable it navigate its way consistent to its own national programs.
Koon, Representative-elect of Montserrado District #11, has been in the officialdom of the House since 2018 on the ticket of the Unity Party, and he’s credited for being one of the technical minds amongst peers at the Legislature.
He draws strength from his expertise as a good team player and financial expert. He lectures Accounting at the University of Liberia’s Masters’ Program, and served many private sector positions in the areas of finance, including international NGOs.
His chances are also found in the crack of rival CDC which is featuring two strong persons from within. This means while the CDC candidates will be scavenging over its support base, the UP consolidation would overturn all other candidates.
The entire Unity Party power architecture is rallying behind the Koon candidature, and are accordingly weaponizing the party’s 2023 presidential victory momentum amongst newly elected representatives, most of them independents.
The Party won ten of the 73 seats during the legislative elections held October 10, and there is high possibility to attract more in the coming days.
Thomas Fallah, as far as Liberia’s recent political history is concerned, is one of the young “political gladiators” of the country, showing high political pedigree and success.
Though younger in terms of age amongst other contestants, he is one of the oldest serving lawmakers in the country, having won the representative seat of District #5 Montserrado thrice (2005, 2011 and 2017), before his recent election as Representative of District #1 in Lofa County.
There are pundits who believe eyes must be fixed on this Lofa progeny in the coming years because he is one Liberian who has successfully beat intractable odds and navigated the complicated labyrinth of Liberian politics so expertly and has got a promising future.
To be elected overwhelmingly in a district of his home province of Lofa has stunned many, since that county is the home of former Vice President and now President-elect Joseph N. Boakai. In fact, Mr. Fallah won in the Foya region whence also hails Amb. Boakai who is considered the Political Godfather of Lofa.
CDC insiders say between the two candidates hailing from the party, Fallah is the favorite amongst ordinary partisans for two of other reasons—he has been a CDCian for quite a long time and that he has built a better human relationship with particularly ordinary partisans over the years.
As a representative of a district in Montserrado County for 18 years, other analysts are of the view that Fallah’s Montserrado County colleagues, both old and new, as well as independents of his home Lofa County, sharpen his chances for a win of the Speaker post, provided ongoing lobbying amongst CDC bigwigs asking him to step aside doesn’t work.