MONROVIA: Since August 5, when the Electoral Management Body of Liberia, the National Elections Commission (NEC), blew its whistle for the commencement of the 2023 political campaign period, Liberia went ablaze, blowing off the quiet of the nation and putting asunder normal relationships in families, religions, religions based on political preferences and choices. Presidential and political groups and individuals have had the worse to say about their opponents and the best to project about themselves—all with the intent to outdo one another. With less than 24 hours left to ground their political campaigns, political parties and candidates carried out their final strategies Saturday and Sunday (October 7 & 8) with campaign-conclusion assemblies. All is now left with the casting of ballot, the palpitation of the hearts and the bracing for the ultimate– democracy finally verdicts. The Analyst takes a bird’s eye of how it all went in the last 60 days of political conflagrations.
Presidential and legislative aspirants and their supporters have been at each other’s throat maneuvering and counter-maneuvering as to emerge victorious in the October 10 polls.
The NEC in early August qualified 1,030 candidates to contest 105 elected positions across the country. In the last two months, they have combed 73 electoral districts to make numbers of voters that would contribute to their victories.
The campaign period as announced by the NEC to span from August 5 to October 8, meaning it ceases on the midnight of this Sunday.
Over the last 63 days of campaign by political parties and independent candidates, the country’s airwaves everywhere was consumed by the noises of promises, vows, criticisms, praises, cusses, condemnations and been blood and tears.
That’s the flipside of democracy, which is well exalted at the best path for governance but often leaves behind disharmony, division and at times conflict particularly at elections that are a major centerpiece of democracy.
Generally, however, violence and bloodshed during this period has so far been minimum and isolated, with prayers that the day of balloting will be also be peaceful.
President George Manneh Weah has already announced the day of polls, October 10, a national holiday, as to allow every citizen, eligible voter, to have time to cast their vote.
To a larger extent, despite skirmishes, particularly in Nimba and Lofa Counties, where deaths were reported, the campaign of all 1030 candidates across the nation went peacefully.
A Look at the Campaign Activities by political parties
Each candidate or political party paraded with its own distinct message both in terms of promoting its image and in terms of demeaning the image of its opponent.
CDC’s “Change You Can Trust” Campaign
The ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) took the 2023 campaign with both hands not in any small way.
On Sunday, October 8, the CDC will be winding down its fury, with the closing ceremonies expected to attract an assembly of half a million supporters in Montserrado County alone.
For nearly all 63 days, except for a day or two of mourning for its fallen partisans who died in a tragic motor accident, and the time spend attending the UNGA Debate, the Coalition forces exerted all the beauties and necessary powers of incumbency, rolling through the nation—from one county to another with relative ease and a huge caravan of partisans and supporters.
It started its campaign with Montserrado County District 8, before moving in gigantic style to all other 16 electoral districts of the nation’s seat of power, Montserrado County, which is by far the largest votes-rich territory of the country.
With ten days of fierce campaign moves in Monsterrado, which excited the populations at various campaign sites in all districts, it was said by pundits as a surprise that the CDC did tremendously well in a county that is traditionally anti-incumbency.
The rise of the Montserrado population, the largest in the country, 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 CDC then moved on the western flank, where it replicated the tumultuous assemblies of Liberians at rallies. The Western Region’s three counties of Bomi, Gbarpolu, and Grand Cape Mount showed much affection to the CDC not only in huge attendances of rallies but also in the flowery speeches of support to the ruling establishment.
After the Western trail, the CDC then moved to two traditionally votes-rich counties: Margibi and Grand Bassa Counties. In these counties, including Bong County, there were also colorful ceremonies, lavish endorsements and gift adornments upon the incumbent candidate, President Weah.
After the Central Province of Bong, the CDC campaign caravan hit Nimba, a battleground county, and the home region of the President and Standard Bearer of the party, the Southeast.
Cruising through votes-rich Nimba, and transiting to Grand Gedeh, River Gee, Maryland, his home county of Grand Kru, and now in Sinoe County, there have been characteristically, uproarious, tsunamic and phenomenal rise of Liberians.
From Sinoe, where the President is today, the next move is River Cess on Saturday, before the Campaign Closing on Sunday in Montserrado.
The CDC Campaign has been held on the message of its credentials of the last six years—policies, actions and programs that are ceiling-breaking, first time in history achievements by a Liberian government. These include demolishing Degree 88A and creating space for greater democracy and freedom; free public college education; free WASSCE; free pro-poor housing—all that resonate with the impoverished majority of Liberians, including students who are first-time voters.
CDCians are also talking about stability and peace uninterrupted; macroeconomic stability after the tumult inherited by the former ruling Unity Party.
UP’s “Rescue Mission” Campaign
Despite the populist character of the ruling CDC, a trait that came as far as 2005 while in opposition, the 2023 campaign is not a walk in the park by the CDC. There has been fierce resistance from the opposition, particularly from the former ruling Unity Party, which during the last 63 days has been showing its command and appeal.
The former ruling Party has campaigned on the mantra “Rescue Mission”, which appears to resonate with Liberians who feel the country has relapsed in all spheres of development and need an injection of new dynamism to recover.
With that message, the former ruling Party has crisscrossed the nation, followed a huge supporters and triggering the hugest of assemblies to imagine.
The widely rumored ill health of the standard-bearer has not in any meaningful way dwarfed the campaign pace.
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, but this is cured by the devolution of responsibilities and assignments, sending one prominent official and crew to this region or another, and bringing to Standard Bearer in some strategic areas.
In other words, 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.
While 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, Senator Koung made a solo journey to the Southeast.
Former VP Boakai, and UP Standard Bearer, moved on the Western Region with a huge caravan of supports, triggering an enormous outpour of supports and solidarity across the region.
Also Vice Standard-Bearer Koung and “Rescue Mother” Youngblee Karnga-Larwence are on a push into Grand Bassa County, combing villages and towns.
With nearly all 73 districts aroused by UP rallies, there have been impressive assemblies of huge crowds of citizens, nearly negating the observation that it has lost appeal upon quitting power six years ago.
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.
Though critics have said the UP campaign is badly fractured 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 former ruling Party is expected to seal its campaign activities this Sunday, though there reports are scanty on the details.
CPP’s Messianic “Fixers” Message
The Collaborating Political Parties (CCP), is majorly comprised by the Alternative National Congress and the Liberty Party. It has not let anything down in this 2023 campaign, battling its way into the populace, finding a bearing to take the top.
Its campaign activities, also attracting support just as the UP and CDC, shows it cannot be dismissed politically from the 2023 electoral radar.
Two rallies are particularly outstanding—one in Kakata, Margibi County, and another in Monrovia. And alone with impressive showing across the breath and length of the country, the CPP has shown undisputed strength underpinned by the momentum and strategic messaging that belie its campaign.
In no small way the CPP has 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.
The internal dispute within the ranks of one constituent party, the Liberty Party, a cracks that sent asunder the Youngblee Karngar Lawrence faction and the Musa Bility faction, the CPP has managed to demonstrate formidability during these elections.
The CPP hears a message quite different from its two rivals—ruling CDC and former ruling UP that have been eating up 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.
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. Moniba, Mr. Clarence K. Moniba.
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 Moniba’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 Crusades 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 into 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 there and there, there has not been any incident of violence to consume to 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 Offing
In order to entrench the peace and nonviolence posture of the country, the Liberian government which is largely singly funding and policing the elections for the first in many decades, has called on the international community to set 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 had several meetings with Liberian authorities, political parties, journalists and civil society organizations.