Symmetrically Split -CDC, UP Take Equal Halves of 55th Legislature

MONROVIA: New features continue to grow on Liberia’s democracy, which actually began taking roots just 18 years ago when the first genuine democratic elections were held in 2005, assuring this oldest African republic with a checked political history of a dawn of a new order of things. Since that time, multiple general and presidential elections, including countless midterm and bi-elections, have been held, strangely but positively registering defeat for incumbents in peaceful, free and transparent electoral procedures. Gradually, Liberians are getting used to periodic elections and all its side effects, and the political playing field is liberalizing by not only giving way to the age-old “so-say-one-so-say-all” and caucus systems, but also creating political balance necessary to ensuring popular inclusion and participation, reducing prospects for conflict and increasing possibilities for socioeconomic growth. The evidence of the positive tidings has unfolded once again in the results of yesterday’s legislative leadership elections which show an equilibrium between the would-be incumbent political administration and its incoming opposition community, as The Analyst reports.

Probably for the first time in the country’s multiparty political history, leadership positions of the National Legislature are being evenly shared between a ruling administration and an opposition community.

The country’s 176-year political history, including the last six years, witnessed a heavily biased leadership structure often in favor of the ruling establishment, keeping the opposition cornered and lukewarm and the national discourse flippant.

But the country has cut the corner on its ugly political past this term, as shown by results emerging from the election of leaders on both wings of the National Legislature—the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The incoming ruling party, called the Unity Party Alliance, and the outgoing ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), have proportionately captured each of the wings of the Capitol Building following Monday, January 15, 2024’s elections simultaneously held.

Conquering the Senate Wing

The Senate Wing has fallen to the Unity Party Alliance, as Senator Nyonblee Karngar Lawrence of Grand Bassa County, who was until the election served as Chairperson for the Committee on Rules, Order and Administration, won as Senate Pro Tempore. She was elected by acclamation, on white ballot, when other candidates who were tipped to go against her declined at the eleventh hour of the competition.

Senator Lawrence, a staunched member of the then opposition bloc that includes her Liberty Party, was well favored far ahead of the election as she was considered for the plush job.

It seems, as political commentors conjecture, the Grand Bassa Senator was widely favored by the Unity Party for the Senate Pro Tempore as her payback after losing the running mate slot to President-elect Joseph Nyuma Boakai and as a mark of her commitment to the struggle against the ruling CDC establishment.

She reportedly played a key role in standing with the President-elect during turbulent times, including those days when the opposition community was fiercely taking on President George Manneh Weah and his CDC government. Her loyalty to Mr. Boakai can also be traced to the days of then Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) and all the feuds that characterized its politics.

Prior to the election which was a mere formality at the Senate, the incoming Senators had met at the Farmington Hotel in Margibi County which was facilitated by the former Pro Temp Senator Albert Chie to brainstorm on the way forward in selecting the next President Pro Tempore of the Senate.

At the end of the meeting, a resolution signed by 17 of the 29 Senators resolved to endorse Nyonblee as the next Pro Temp, thus becoming the second elected female Pro Temp after Grace Minor who served the regime of Charles G. Taylor in an acting capacity.

As a result of the “give and take” arrangement, the leadership of the Senate was announced immediately at the end of the election and represented a cross party posture.

The leadership by committees as constituted included Senators Augustine Chea – Chairman of Judiciary; James Biney, Chairperson on Executive; Abraham Darius Dillon, Chairperson on Foreign Affairs; Albert Chie, Chairperson on Public Works and Gbebo Brown, Chairperson on Rules, Order and Administration.

Others are Prince K. Moye, Chairperson on Ways, Means and Budget; Amara Konneh, Chairperson on Public Accounts and Audits; Jonathan Boye Charles Sogbie, Chairperson on Maritime; Simeon B. Taylor, Chairperson on Lands, Mines, Energy and Natural Resources; and Edwin Melvin Snowe and Alex Tyler for ECOWAS Parliament.

The rest include Nathaniel McGill, Chairperson on Education; Prince Johnson, Chairperson on Internal Affairs, and Daba Varpilah, Chairperson on Health.

While others think the Senate leadership election lacked political steams, and some say most of the senators fear each other and wanted no confrontation, there are some Liberians who think the senators acted responsibly and maturely as to measure up to their “House of Elders” nickname.

Though both the Unity Party and CDC and independent senators benefitted in terms of placement to important Senate Committees, the fact remains it will be controlled by the incoming UP Alliance

While Senator Karngar-Lawrence will be playing the partisan cards as the chief administrator, along with key UP posts such as Chairpersons on Executive, Foreign Affairs, Internal Affairs and others, the incoming administration will be further emboldened by the Vice President who will be the presider.

CDC Takes Siege of House of Reps

While the Senate election was done as a “family affairs”, the House of Representatives was effectively dynamited by a fierce contestation. The Deputy Speaker, Cllr. Fonati J. Koffa, of the CDC and Representative Richard Nagbe Koon of District 11, Montserrado County of the Unity Party Alliance clashed in perhaps the most titanic battle ever in recent time.

At the end of the electoral process, CDC’s Koffa trounced Koon by 36-31 out of the 67 votes cast.

What further entrenched the claws of the CDC on the House of Representatives was the victory of Thomas Fallah, another staunched CDCians, who defeated Musa Hassan Bility 42-24.

Both Representatives Samuel Kogar and Moima Briggs-Mensah who had earlier indicated interest to contest for the Deputy Speaker stepped down from the race for various reasons.

The win of the two most powerful leadership positions on the House Wing of the National Legislature by the CDC is both a consolation for a party that narrowly lost the Presidency to its main rival, the UP, and also a reassurance that the CDC still fits in the power play of national politics.

Speaker of the House, according to the Constitution of Liberia, is third in terms of power succession after the Vice President, and is the most official platform addressee next to the President and Vice President.

The elected Speaker, Koffa, is a shrewd bureaucrat and public servant, an astute lawyer and gamechanger, according to those familiar with him. His deputy, Fallah, another diehard CDCian, is a forceful politician who made the history of dampening the political chances of the current President-elect in Foya, a district both share in Lofa County.

Symmetrical Equilibrium

The current composition of the National Legislature where the opposition will be controlling the House of Representatives, which is the microcosm of the Liberian population, and the Senate Wing is controlled by the ruling party, is a groundbreaking development.

This has eluded Liberia for so long.

Though it is not immediately guessable whether the Koffa leadership will stand up to keep the balance or will cow to the presidency, many pundits are of the opinion that a new development in the body politics of the country is added to the maturing pace of the Liberian democracy.

Others say while everyone sees this to be the beginning of a stern check on the wanton powers of the president and the ruling establishment, it could all amount to nothing if the House leadership sells itself to the whims of the Executive.

“Our democracy is growing and it is high time we appreciate every milestone being achieved,” Jeremiah O. Kay, a university professor. “What we are now seeing promises to produce the proper checks and balances in governance as articulated by the Liberian Constitution, and surely there is a sense in which it will impact on the lives of our people.”

He however added that it will be a missed opportunity if Representatives Koffa, his deputy Fallah and others return to business as usual and sell their birthrights to the mighty ruling establishment.

Professor Kay warned the incoming President, Boakai, not to attempt to frustrate the efforts of the lawmakers to elect their own leaders but work towards maintaining a cordial relationship with new leadership at the House of Representatives.

“If you ask me to advise the incoming President, Ambassador Joseph Nyuma Boakai, I will tell him not to bother Speaker Koffa with all kinds of threats of removal. The incoming president will have to rely on Koffa to provide a robust critique of the government which will improve the work of the incoming president.”

He added: “Boakai needs to avoid being partisan and face the task of governance squarely. To succeed, he will need constructive criticism and not praise singing. So, I don’t see the point of the Unity Party going to court to stop the new speaker; trust me it will backfire.”

Unlike the House of Senate, the leadership of the House of Representatives is yet to be formed and with such a large number of 72 members with various backgrounds and interests, it may take some days before the leadership will be fully constituted.

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