The New Face of the 55th Legislature -What the Votes Mean for the Shifting Power Dynamics

LIBERIA: Whoever wins the presidential runoff elections on November 7 this year will have to contend with the overwhelming decision of the Liberian electorates to change 52 out of the 103 legislators that represent them in the National Legislature.

Within the Liberian Senate, a possible George Weah reelection will be boosted by the addition of new entrant Nathaniel F. McGill, former Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, who overwhelmingly won the CDC Margibi seat in the Senate, replacing outgoing Senator Jim Tornonlah. McGill’s entry into legislative politics is viewed by pundits as an adrenalin booster for the popularity of the CDC which ran a neck-to-neck race with former Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai’s Unity Party Alliance in the just-ended presidential polls.

Other feathers in the senatorial cap for incumbent Weah include Senator-elect Crayton Duncan of the CDC who replaced Senator J. Milton Teahjay; Montserrado County Senator Saah H. Joseph who retained his seat on the CDC ticket; Grand Kru Senator Albert T. Chea of the CDC who retained his seat; Bill T. Twehway of Rivercess County who replaced Francis S. Paye, and J. Gbleh Bo of the CDC who retained his seat.

Although the recent national election has upped CDC seats in the Senate from 6 to 7, however, a possible Weah presidency will see his administration struggling to push its legislative agenda amongst the likes of Bomi County Senator-elect Alex J. Tyler Sr., who replaced Morris G. Saytumah; Gbarpolu County Senator-elect Amara M. Konneh, who replaced the late Daniel Naatehn Sr. on an independent ticket; and Grand Bassa County Senator-elect Gbehzonhngar M. Findley (IND) who ousted Senator Jonathan Kaipay. It is interesting to note the increasing bad blood that developed between President Weah and Senator Findley in recent times, to the extent that Weah vowed to ensure that Findley lost the Bassa votes.

A possible Weah presidency will also see stiff resistance in the Upper House for the conveyance of its legislative agenda from the likes of Grand Cape Mount County Darbah M. Varpilah of the Unity Party, who replaced outgoing senator Varney G. Sherman; and Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson (MDR) who retained his position.

“Whoever wins, whether Boakai or Weah, must strive to win over those senators who won on independent tickets. For example, Grand Gedeh Senator-elect Thomas Yaya Nimely of the LRP, Lofa County senator-elect Momo T. Cyrus (IND) replacing Stephen Zargo; Bong County senator-elect Johnny K. Kpehe; while Rivergee County Francis S. Dopoh (IND) will be hotly pursued,” remarked James Tennison, a political analyst who spoke with this paper.

On the other hand, political pundits believe that a Joe Baoaki possible win in the runoff will benefit from the election of new entrants Darbah Varpilah and Alex Tyler from the Western Belt, as well the retention of Senator Prince Johnson (MDR) of Nimba County, who will join forces with Senators Abraham Darius Dillon of Montserrado County; Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence of Grand Bassa County, and other like-minded opposition senators, to push Boakai’s legislative agenda.

CDC Tops Seats in Lower House

Unlike the 54th Legislature that saw the ruling Party having 10 seats in the Lower House, the new Legislature has CDC garnering 25 seats, while the Unity Party which initially had 25 seats in the Lower House dropped to 11.

“This is where the trouble lies ahead for Unity Party in case Joe Boakai wins. Let’s remember that the CPP which won 5 seats in the Senate already has bad blood with the Unity Party. Even if individual partisans vote for UP in the runoff, the CPP leadership in the House will not do business with the Unity Party. Representative-elect Musa Hassan Bility is already on record for saying he will support a Joe Boakai presidency, so if Boakai should win, Bility will be one of those attacking his legislative agenda,” says Jimmy Seituah of Point Four.

Seituah’s analysis points to a painful truth. Even in the once-uncontested UPP Lofa County stronghold, the Unity Party trails behind the CDC in legislative representation, with Thomas P. Fallah, Fartorma Julie Wiah and Siafa Momo Kpoto of the CDC winning their seats in Districts 1, 2 and 3; while Gizzie K. Kollince and Augustine B. Chiewolo both won District 4 and 5 for the Unity Party.

Similarly, in Nimba County which turned out to be one of the UP’s largest strongholds during the just-ended elections, Unity Party Alliance partner MDR could only win 4 of the 9 district seats that were contested.

“Who wins these elections, especially if its Joe Boakai, will face an uphill task in unifying the people. Looking at the results of the recent national elections, there is lot of work that needs to be done,” remarked Seituah.

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