Epic But Peaceful Campaign So Far -Parties, Candidates Scavenge for Votes across Nation

MONROVIA: Since the National Elections Commission (NEC), Liberia’s electoral management body, sounded the whistle on August 5 this year to summon political parties and independent candidates into action for campaign, Liberia has been restless with the noises of politicians seeking voters’ confidence and ultimately victory over rivals. While they all may not employ the same intensity, force and strategy, every power-seeking group and individual has been crisscrossing villages, towns and citizens promising heavens and paradises for the country. And citizens are aligning themselves accordingly. As The Analyst reports, the competitions and campaigns have gone generally practically peaceful against earlier fears for violence and bitter acrimonies much to the delight of Liberians and the larger global community having interest in the country’s affairs.

It was August 5, 2023 the National Elections Commission (NEC), consistent with its Elections 2023 Timetable, announced the commencement of political campaigns in the country, something that the nation had been bracing for months earlier.

The NEC pronouncement of the start of the campaign followed the certification of political parties and ambitious power-seekers opting for independent contestation for legislative posts and the presidency.

Earlier on July 14, 2023, the NEC had released the roster of contestants, indicating that 1,030 aspirants – 871 males and 159 females – poised to scavenge over the total number of nearly 2.5 million voters on October 10, 2023.

Of the 1030 NEC-certified candidates, 800 politicians are contesting for 73 representative seats while 73 senatorial candidates are fighting over 15 vacancies in the Liberian Senate.

At the end of the day, it is expected that of the 1030 Liberians vying for various presidential and legislative positions, only a paltry 103 will come out with smiles while 925 will end up licking their boots in defeat.

The common question has been, “Who will smile and who will lick the boots in defeat?” That’s the question pundits are pondering; that’s the question voters will decide October 10, and that’s the question candidates are sweating, spending and trembling to unpack.

Already, a month and half has elapsed in the campaign and the time left – 29 days – seems insufficient for any contestant who might not have done much in the last couple of weeks.

The Epic ‘Fight’ Intensifies

From the look of things, the stakes are high. And tension is brewing consuming every corner of the country.

Even before echoes of the trumpet of campaign commencement pronouncement hit the airwaves, the bulk of 800 politicians – presidential and legislative contestants — registered for various elective posts were in the “trenches” – taking their flights anywhere in their electoral boundaries to get to the deciders of their fates.

The fight is nearly in its 36th day, and so much fireworks and political noises have consumed the quiet of the nation, from every hamlet and nook.

The major presidential candidates and their parties, including the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), the former ruling Unity Party (UP), the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) and a host of others, amongst them two independent presidential candidates, are letting anything lying down.

CDC: Taking No Chances

The ruling CDC has not been leaving anything to chance. Less than twenty four hours in the campaign time, and as if it had been planning for years, the Coalition sprang itself into motion, ceasing first the 17 electoral districts of the nation’s seat of power, Montserrado County, which is by far the largest votes-rich territory of the country.

A week and half stampeding-criss crossing of the Montserrado, the rise of the populations at various campaign sites in all districts, might have sent chills in spines of rival parties and candidates and provoked good reason there should be stiff plotting to undo that they were seeing the CDC do in the nation’s capital.

The euphoria and literally tumultuous assemblies of Liberians at rallies organized by the CDC have not shown any inkling of dying down even as incumbent President George Manneh Weah and his caravan of supporters left Montserrado for the Western Region’s three counties of Bomi, Gbarpolu, and Grand Cape Mount.

The tales of tsunami campaign rallies followed the CDC as it moved into two other handsomely populous counties—Margibi and Grand Bassa Counties—where citizens followed their compatriots in the Montserrado and the Western Liberia with colorful ceremonies, lavish endorsements and gift adornments upon the incumbent candidate, President Weah.

The CDC is expected to hit the Central Province of Bong, and it is left to be seen if the uproarious rise of the people for the party in other provinces already combed will be replicated in the central region.

Observers say they have no reason to doubt the replication given the amount of work done by the Government in its first term.

The message which seems to resonate with the huge assemblies of crowds at CDC rallies have been what its spokespersons, including the President, believe to be the record of the party: its unbridled move for transformation underpinned by the zest for more paved roads, free public college tuition, economic and political stabilities,  free housing units, free WASSCE, and others.

Former ruling UP: Rescuing Relapsing Nation

It will be mistaken for anyone to conjecture that what obviously seems to be earth-shattering rise of the population at rallies of the CDC has effectively ended the crowd politics during these elections. The former ruling Unity Party has also been showing its command and appeal, and whenever and wherever it has held campaign rallies, one is tempted to ask, “Are political parties now manufacturing human beings in Liberia?”

So far, as seem particularly in constituency districts visited in Montserrado County, the Unity Party has shown impressive assemblies of huge crowds of citizens, nearly negating the observation that it has lost appeal upon quitting power six years ago.

Though it can be admitted that the former ruling UP might not be moving with the same rigidity of speed and the grandiose of logistics as the ruling CDC, it however will be a mistake for one to think it is lagging far behind in terms of popularity and solidarity in the public realm.

In the face of speculations that the Standard-Bearer, former Vice President Joseph Boakai, is frail and unable to withstand the rigors of “campaigneering”, the UP is not showing signs of weakness—certainly not in its crowd sizes, and not in its messaging, propaganda and rhetoric.

For the most part, the message of Unity Party seemingly resonates with its base and within the “undecided” cleavage of the electorate. It has been contending that it is on a “rescue mission” of a country they claim is being badly managed by the ruling CDC, which is laying waste all that was gained and developed under UP rule from 2006 to 2017.

The former ruling Party is holding the CDC responsible for “pervasive” high cost of living, lack of foreign direct investments in six years, triggering mass unemployment; rampancy of illicit drugs and substances costing the health and life of young people, and that there is time for the party to retake leadership to re-stabilize the nation.

So far, the full campaign has not crossed Montserrado in a month and half, though it is reported that Senator Prince Johnson and UP Vice Standard-bearer Jeremiah Koung have been winding up things in their native Nimba County, Liberia’s second votes-rich province, and that the UP message is also resonating there.

While the Standard Bearer, former VP Boakai, holds on to Montserrada and Vice Standard-Bearer Koung is holding up things in Nimba, “Rescue Mother” Youngblee Karnga-Larwence is pushing the UP agenda in her native Grand Bassa County, combing villages and towns.

It is not known whether what seems to be fractured campaign mode by the UP is due to lack of adequate resources to launch a joint campaign or it’s a strategy to move “octopusly” across the country as to catch up with time and shock the nation with a decisive victory.”

The UP entourage, along with the Standard Bearer, is on the move for the Western flank this week, and left to be seen if residues of citizens left behind by CDC will flock its campaign rallies in Bomi, Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu.

Meanwhile, the assemblies around the country are as impressive as the messaging and the outpouring of assurances from the electorate in areas already covered.

CPP – New Said with Messianic Message

The Collaborating Political Parties (CCP), in its ranks the Alternative National Congress, the Liberty Party, and a few others, are not to be dismissed from the 2023 electoral radar, for they are also stepping out across the breadth and length of the country with substantive momentum and strategic messaging.

Despite being decapitated in the aftermath of internal cracks that sent asunder the Youngblee Karngar Lawrence faction and the Musa Bility faction, the Liberty Party as a constituent member of the CPP has been healing and maturing into a formidable opposition with a message anyone decent and level-headed Liberian would want to hear.

The CPP has joined the 2023 electoral fray with a message quite different from its two rivals—ruling CDC and former ruling UP that have been eating each other up in the battle of titans.

At the helm of the party are two distinguished personalities, highly brilliant figures—international entrepreneur and business executive Alexander Cummings, and ace jurist Charlyne Brumskine, who by no account have come to the presidential race with “no experience” or “no taint” – depending on who’s speaking – of the Liberian presidential leadership.

The party has also deepened its claws into the Liberian electoral landscape, holding grounds in multiple electoral territories including the Bassaland and the Southeast, and campaigning reportedly vigorously all out in other urban and rural parts.

While the momentum generated by the CPP campaign may not be compared to those of the ruling CDC and former ruling UP, it could be a shocker on October 10 if the CPP trail is dismissed as inconsequential.

Beneath the ongoing uproarious crowd campaigning is this fact: the silent electorate – those who do not jump up and down at rallies and don’t beat their chest to victory – is the largest chunk of voters. It seems that it is this segment of voters that is the target of the CPP, which of course has also assembled impressive crowds of voters at various rallies to its credit but is more strategic, employing what is called “Jehovah Witness” mode.

Behind the ticket’s faces, there is an outstanding war room manned by some of Liberia’s best minds—a composite of shrewd planners, organizers, mobilizers and orators, and no one can tell exactly how deep and wide they might have thrown their political nets in the ocean of undecided and silent voters.

The CPP has put forward a ticket bearing names that appear a far cry from regular Liberian politicians—two individuals who have not been in the Liberian political scheme of things, and therefore claim to be clean and innocent of the debauchery of Liberian politics.

In a sense, the CPP has been campaigning on a “messianic mantra”—a campaign of redemption, fixing the statehood as the new messiah on the Liberian political bloc.

In effect, the party is wooing Liberians on the message that they are not like the former ruling Unity Party which, drowned in corruption and graft, had “squandered opportunities”, despite colossal international goodwill granted the country for 12 years after the civil conflict, and that it is also not like the incumbent CDC which is “sliding the country back into poverty, mismanagement and corruption”.

Satellite of underdogs: Spoilers or Shockers

Three parties in the presidential race—CDC, UP and CPP—are however not the only ones making cases to the Liberian electorate. There are a horde of other political parties and independent tickets that are not taking things lying down also.

On the list are renowned human rights defender and public servant, Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe, who and his legendary United People’s Party are warming up things across the country. Even before the campaign period was announced by the NEC, the learned lawyer and his UPP were on “acquaintance engagements” with the electorate, taking a countryside tour that reached nearly all 73 electoral districts of Liberia.

Though Cllr. Gongloe served prominently in the government of the former ruling Unity Party, which critics say was highly corrupt during its two term (2006 – 2017), he is highly regarded and rated as a “clean man” who means well for the country.

His UPP is one of the oldest political parties in the country, and with the record of being a domain of some of Liberia’s iconic intellectuals, progressives, and political tacticians.

His message has been quite radical, promising to undo a lot of bureaucratic regimes, vowing to audit and prosecute corrupt officials, including predecessors of his administration if he wins, and closing down the Ministry of Information, Cultural and Tourism and other “useless state agencies”.

Besides Gongloe’s UPP and the three other parties discussed supra, there are 16 other presidential contenders – two independent candidates and 14 political parties, including the son of former Vice President of Liberia, Harris F. Monibah, Mr. Clarence K. Monibah.

Each of those have since begun campaigning as well, no doubt clinging to various demographic blocs, as one would see from Gongloe’s Nimba County, Clarence Monibah’s Lofa County, and Lusinee F. Kamara’s Mandingo voting bloc.

That Liberia’s electorate, like in all other democracies, is demography-sensitive cannot be overruled, and there is no doubt that each of the candidates or parties, with noted ancestry to particular democratic blocs, will pull reasonable votes from the leading parties and candidates.

Meanwhile, the voting population landscape is shaking vigorously, and each party or candidate has been quite intentional, strategic and robust in getting a pie of the electorate.

Peaceful Campaign so Far

Compared to elections in the West Africa sub-region, if not all of Africa in recent months, the Liberian campaign period has once again been resoundingly peaceful and cordial, despite the high stakes and seeming tensions brewing.

Early this year, all presidential candidates and parties, under the coordination of the ECOWAS and the international community, signed the Farmington Declaration calling for nonviolent and peaceful elections.

Nearly a month and half into the campaigns, each of the candidates and parties have conducted themselves quite orderly and peacefully to the delight of themselves and the general public, though there is an isolated incident resulting in stone throwing between supporters of UP and CDC which occurred briefly in the Sinkor area in late August.

In the face of inflammatory rhetoric, nonetheless being spewed here and there, there has not been any incident of violence to consume the peace of a particular community let alone the country—signs that the entire electoral period may be generally peaceful and nonviolent.

International Observers in the Offing

In order to entrench the peace and nonviolence posture of the country, the Liberian government which is largely single funding and policing the elections for the first in many decades, has called on the international community to set up their observatory gadgets.

In a release, the Election Observation Mission of the European Union (EU EOM), has announced the arrival of its team led by Chief Observer Andreas Schieder, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Austria, to observe the General Elections on 10 October.

“Today the EU EOM has deployed 20 Long-Term Observers all over Liberia,” the release said, adding that the current Liberian elections mark a significant milestone in consolidation of Liberian democracy.

The European Union Election Observation Mission will monitor the process impartially and independently, said the head of the mission who added: “I can ensure that our team of analysts and observers will deliver an objective assessment of the upcoming electoral process.”

The group of experts consists of an election, political, legal, campaign finance, media and social media, and a data analyst.

On 4 September, the team met with the Chairwoman and Commissioners of the National Elections Commission of Liberia (NEC). Since then, the EU EOM has had several meetings with Liberian authorities, political parties, journalists and civil society organizations.

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