MONROVIA: One of the most important campaign statements made by President Weah so far came at a campaign rally in Bong County, specifically Palala, when he laid out his succession plan upon winning the 2023 presidential elections slated for October 10 this year.
Palala, capital city of the Panta-Kpaii Statutory District, is one of the major towns of the Central Province of Bong, and it put up a huge solidarity rally Tuesday, September 12, when President Weah and campaign entourage visiting the county spoke to its hundreds of residents.
This week, President Weah is visiting the Bong County as part of his 2023 electoral campaign which the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) dubbed as “Citizens Engagement Initiative”. Already, the Liberian leader has engaged citizens of the county from the eastern flank bordering Margibi County, holding well-attended rallies in Totoya, Gbartala, Sanoyea, Fuamah David-ta.
It was however during the Palala Citizens Engagement Initiative that the Liberian Leader spoke unambiguously to the swarms of citizens in audience and members of his entourage about what he would do in terms of political succession if granted a second term.
“When I take the presidential seat for my second term, I will not pursue a third term,” the President said in his campaign statement at the Palala rally. “I will not run for a third term because I believe in democracy; I respect the Constitution and laws of Liberia. I am an astute democrat.”
He said partisans of the ruling CDC and the Liberian people will be left to decide to carry someone from the party who will serve well.
“Of course, I believe in women participation and we have a Vice President that is working hard amongst us,” he continued amid thunderous applauses. “I pray that after our second term—in the CDC third term—we will promote and support our Vice President so that we will bring a woman back to the Liberian leadership stage.”
The President’s rather unprovoked and unsolicited pronouncement has been greeted in the Liberian intellectual arena with much analysis, with folks underscoring its essence and implications.
There are those who believe that it is part of the President’s desire—in addition to the already overwhelming endorsements from the county—to assure the people of Bong County, home of Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, that the CDC’s third term will actually be a Bong County third term.
Madam Jewel Howard Taylor was serving her second senatorial term before she was picked by the President as Vice Standard-Bearer of the Coalition for Democratic Change in 2017—an election they won. She’s hugely popular with her Bong County people and commands a lot of respect.
Furthermore, Bong County is Liberia’s third most populated province, next to Montserrado (the first) and Nimba (this second).
While other pundits are taking a look at other angles of the President’s pronouncement, applauding the President for putting himself on record, as distinguishing himself from other leaders of Africa who had altered presidential tenure rules for third or indefinitely terms, there are others who also believe it is a good move on his part because the most immediate Liberian experience showed bad blood between the outgoing president and her vice president.
Many Presidents in the West Africa subregion, and the entire Africa as well, ignored their presidential term rules—something President Weah vows not to venture with at all, calling himself a consummate democrat.
African leaders who break term rules include Guinea’s Alpha Conde of Guinea, triggering a coup; Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza, Cameroon’s Paul Biya, Chad’s Idriss Deby, Comoros’ Azali Assoumani, Congo Republic’s Denis Sassou Nguesso, Djibouti’s Ismail Omar Guelleh, Ivory Coast’s Alassane Ouattara, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Togo’s Faure Gnassingbe, and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.
The President’s declarative vow not to contest a third term is not the first time he has shown commitment to democracy, including obeying constitutional presidential term.
It can be recalled he demonstrated this rare African political trait when caused to be put into a national referendum a constitutional amendment that would reduce Liberia’s presidential and legislative terms of office. He wanted the two six-year term of the Presidency in the Constitution reduced to two five- year term; reduce senatorial nine year term to six-year term and representative six-year term to five years.
Unfortunately, politicians contested the amendment vigorously; they campaigned for its defeat successfully in the 2020 National Referendum.
Other pundits say with the pronouncements by President Weah on his succession plan, he runs in sharp contrast to former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who disavowed her vice president of 12 years in the 2017 elections and reportedly still does so in the 2023 elections.
Joseph Boakai served former President Sirleaf for 12 unbroken years but when she was quitting power in 2017, the opted to remain nonaligned, nonpartisan and ambivalent in setting our succession plan. As elections heat up again in 2023, there are reports, though unfirmed, that the first African democratically elected female president is not supporting Mr. Boakai.
As per the pronouncement of President Weah, “there is a need to bring back a female president on the Liberian political stage” and that he trusts her vice president of six years, and possibly 12 years.