Politics

Liberia's Elections Halted: The Fight to Stop George Weah’s Presidency

The Liberian presidential race has reached a stalemate, leaving the country with an uncertain political future.

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is not about to get the smooth democratic transition she hoped for. This is due to a stalemate created by the Supreme Court of Liberia that has plunged the rest of the country into a state of uncertainty. The court ruled in a landmark complaint brought forth by the Liberty Party (LP) of U.S trained lawyer Cllr. Charles W. Brumskine, placing a stay order on the ensuing runoff elections. A runoff between former international footballer George Weah, of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), and Vice President Joseph Boakai, of the governing Unity Party—originally slated for November 7—will not go on as planned.

The parties and the rest of the country now have to wait for the NEC to look into the LP's complaint and issue a verdict before the rest of the country can hit play again and proceed with the runoff. In the Monday morning ruling that has had most of the country divided, the Supreme Court wrote: "Wherefore and in view of the foregoing, the Preemptory Writ of Prohibition is granted."

"The NEC is prohibited from holding the runoff elections until LP's case before it is concluded and the appropriate and due process is concluded."

Brumskine's LP is joined by three other parties including the ruling Unity Party of Johnson-Sirleaf, businessman Benoni Urey's All Liberian Party (ALP) and former Coca-Cola executive Alexander Cummings' Alternative National Congress (ANC).

These parties allege that there were massive fraud and irregularities in the voting process during the October 10 poll. But the truth of the matter is that these complaints brought on by the LP is only the tip of the iceberg of the political power struggle that is taking place in Liberia at the moment.

Interestingly, the president's party—on whose ticket she got elected twice—seems to be undermining her authority. The ruling party has launched a series of scathing personal attacks on the President because of her alleged lack of both financial and moral support for the candidacy of her Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, who is running to succeed her.

"The fight between Liberia's political elites will have an effect on the ordinary people who are yearning for change."

Even though the President's office has issued several public statements, pledging support to the Vice President, party stalwarts like disgraced former chairman, Varney Sherman, do not believe she truly supports the party.

"I cannot confirm or deny whether she supports the Party," said Sherman—the disgraced Senator of Grand Cape Mount County, who's facing trial after indictment on a Global Witness Corruption report—in an interview with FrontPageAfrica.

The last few weeks have seen a bitter public struggle between supporters of the President and members of her party who support her Vice President. The ruling party, last week joined the LP, describing the Johnson Sirleaf-led government as corrupt and marred by nepotism for the last 12 years.

It took the ruling party a difficult first round run against LP, and 18 other opposition political parties, to finally admit what every single critic of the President has been saying for over a decade. The party also maintains that massive fraud occurred during the October 10 polls and joined the LP in claiming that the President interfered in the elections.

The ruling party seems to be up for the nullification of the October 10 elections results because they want another opportunity to reevaluate the political climate, and to continue to push the divisive politics of war. Therefore making the elections more about a corrupt President and not about what they bring to the table for Liberians to give them another six years.

The party claimed that thousands of Liberians were disenfranchised but waited more than 20 days to file a complaint even though the law says 7 days after the polls. These political leaders seem to be taking a page from the Kenyan elections playbook which saw the Kenyan courts nullifying that country's elections results and ordering a rerun. But there's a huge difference; Liberia's election is still a manual process and due to under development and lack of access to good road network, elections workers have to carry ballot boxes on their heads and wade through water to get it to the nearest accessible roads.

There is also a major factor in the current stalemate we see unfolding in Liberia today that many don't seem willing to talk about. Liberian political elites seem scared of anything that resembles a country that could possibly be led by a footballer and are fighting tooth and nail to stop it. Members of the Liberian political establishment have always bonded and resolved in the claim that the Football star who is in the lead as one of the favorite to win the has no experience and lacks the sophisticated education from an Ivy League school to lead the country. Many in the elite camp liken a Weah presidency to some sort of evil that is about to be cast a spell upon the country. But Weah is popular among the disadvantaged youth and many ordinary Liberians who lack this sophisticated education but can relate to his wretched beginning.

It has even become worse now that the footballer is running against a ruling party's candidate that carries the burden of a failed regime as a record for the last 12 years. Weah came top of the list among 20 candidates running for President with 38.4 percent of the votes followed by the ruling party's candidate Boakai with 28.8 percent. Weah got the most votes in over ten of Liberia's 15 counties with the incumbent Vice President only able to win his home county of Lofa. It looks like a technical knockout for the ruling elites and challenging the results is a way of regrouping into an anti-Ellen movement; make her unpopular than she already is and paint a picture that she is supporting a Weah-candidacy against her ruling party's choice for President. The Supreme Court would then be used as an antidote to correct the process by calling for a rerun of the polls to give the elites the chance to rewrite the rules of the game.

"As the court delays the prospects for a runoff, many Liberians, including myself, are bracing for a long process of judicial rigmarole."

Many—especially from the LP and the ruling party—have hailed the court's decision of placing a stay order on the elections. But the same court would earlier in the year rule in favor of the vice Presidential candidate of the Liberty Party Harrison Karnwea formerly of the ruling party, who was in clear violation of the Code of Conduct, which called for public officials to resign two years before contesting for political office. The court ruled in the LP's favor on claims that Karnwea, at the time, did not have the "desire" to run for office because he was chosen as running-mate to someone running for the presidency.

During the handing down of this verdict in July of this year, the Justices stated that Karnwea violated Section 5.1 Code of Conduct (CoC) by holding a press conference on March 14, while serving as Managing Director of the Forestry Development Agency (FDA) to announce his resignation from the ruling party and join the LP. Despite this statement, the court gave a less stern punishment for the violations and ordered the NEC to reinstate Karnwea as LP's Vice Presidential candidate.

"He resigned after the Code of Conduct was declared constitutional. His conduct of not resigning two years earlier is in violation, we don't believe that the action is egregious in nature," stated the court.

As the court delays the prospects for a runoff, many Liberians, including myself, are bracing for a long process of judicial rigmarole, something that is looking to be a fight between Liberia's political elites and Johnson-Sirleaf.

The fight between Liberia's political elites will have an effect on the ordinary people who are yearning for change.

During the early days of the campaign, the ruling party and other political commentators accused President Johnson-Sirleaf of bankrolling Charles Brumskine's Liberty Party, which the LP has vehemently denied. They still ran a campaign that claimed that they wouldn't attack the President because she is no longer running for office. All of that changed when Brumskine lost the elections and launched a verbal attack on the President on the BBC.

Brumskine, in an interview with the BBC, accused outgoing President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of not following the law when she refused to take up her seat as Senator of Montserrado County under then military despot Samuel K. Doe in the 1985 elections.

"Election took place long before election day," claims Brumskine but he went ahead anyway and participated in the polls along with the other candidates who are contesting.

"...Unlike in 1985, when President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf ran to be Senator of Montserrado County, when her party lost the election and she and others felt that they were cheated, they brought a war upon our country that cost the loss of lives. Our country was completely destroyed."

The government fired back through the ministry of information in a strongly worded statement condemning Brumskine's attacks on the President.

"[These are] simply the rants of a sore and selfish loser who is so blinded by ego and arrogance that even after 12 years of rejection by the voters, he is unable to accept that he is not the presidential choice of the Liberian people," Information Minister Eugene Nagbe said. It must be stated that people loyal to the President have been distributed across the major political parties including LP, UP, CDC and the ANC.

The fight between Liberia's political elites will have an effect on the ordinary people who are yearning for change, as expressed in the first round of the elections. But that change will only come if the democratic process is not hijacked by the courts in, what looks like, an attempt to create a constitutional crisis that would then pave the way for an interim government.

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***

"We should burn these girls!"

"No, let's take them with us!"

"Why not leave them here?"

The men were still arguing, dozens of them trading verbal blows while Saa and the other horrified girls looked on. None of the men seemed particularly troubled by the fact that the lives of almost three hundred schoolgirls hung in the balance. Amid all the yelling, the girls had been divided into groups. Each batch would burn in a different room in the school buildings that were aflame just a few feet away. Tensions were escalating when a slim man with outsize eyes suddenly appeared. Saa had never seen him before. Like many of the insurgents, he too looked young and was just as scruffy. But when he spoke, tempers seemed to cool for a moment.

"Ah! What are you trying to do?"

"We wanted to burn them!"

"Why not take them with us, since we have an empty vehicle?"

His suggestion triggered a fresh round of quarreling. The same positions were expressed, and the newcomer continued to calmly repeat his idea of taking the girls with them, till he finally got his way. The girls later discovered his name was Mallam Abba. He was a commander.

"Follow us!" the men shouted.

None of it made any sense to Saa. Why? To where? As the insurgents shuffled her out of the compound, she felt as if her whole life were on fire. All Saa could see was the ominous orange glow of flames consuming every one of her school buildings. With every step, the fears within her grew. She struggled to make sense of the competing thoughts throbbing in her head. This isn't supposed to be happening. The insurgents had asked about the boys and the brick-making machine; they'd systematically emptied the school store, carrying bag after bag of foodstuffs and loading all of it into the huge waiting truck. With everything now packed away, Saa had thought the insurgents would simply let the girls go home. After all, that's what had happened during their previous attacks on schools—they'd always let the schoolgirls go, after handing out a warning to abandon their education and strict instructions to get married. Saa had simply expected the same thing to happen once more, not this.

She scanned the crowd of faces surrounding her; the creased brows and startled expressions of the others made it clear that everyone was equally confused. Whatever the turmoil they were feeling, they kept it to themselves. No one said a word. Saa fell into a sort of orderly scrum with the men corralling and motioning her forward with their guns, each weapon held high and pointed straight at the girls.

Saa and Blessing moved in unison, along with the hundreds of others, snaking along in the dark through the open compound gate, past the small guard post usually occupied by Mr. Jida, which now sat empty. Yelling came from nearby Chibok town. Saa could smell burning, then heard the sound of gunshots and people running. It was bedlam.

Just beyond the compound walls sat a crowd of bushes. As she and the men moved out into the open, Saa felt their thorns spring forward, eager to pull at her clothing and scratch and pierce her body. Careful not to yell out in pain, she tried to keep her clothes beyond the reach of the grasping thicket with no time to pause and examine what might be broken skin.

Saa retreated into herself and turned to the faith that had anchored her entire life. Lord, am I going to die tonight, or will I survive? Desperate to live, unspoken prayers filled her mind and she pleaded, repeatedly, God save me.

She was still praying as they walked down the dirt path away from the flaming school. The shabby-looking men with their wild eyes gave no explanation or directions. They simply motioned with their heads and the sweep of their rifles, making it clear to keep moving. As the reality began to sink in, Saa felt her chest tightening. Her heart was going to beat its way out of her body. But she couldn't allow herself to cry or make any sound. Any kind of display would make her a target, and who knew what these men might do?

The insurgents walked alongside, behind, and in front of her; they were everywhere. Every time Saa looked around, their menacing forms filled her view. Initially, all the girls were steered away from the main road and onto a rambling path overgrown with bushes; the detour was likely made in an attempt to avoid detection.

Parents lining up for reunion with daughters (c) Adam Dobby


***

This excerpt was published with permission from the author. 'Beneath the Tamarind Tree' is available now.

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