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By-election in Liberia: An election against Weah?

30 July 2019 at 17:01 | 2978 views

By-election in Liberia: An election against Weah?

By Dagbayonoh Kiah Nyanfore II, Monrovia, Liberia

Liberians went to the polls yesterday Monday, July 29, in an election considered to be a test to President George Weah’s popularity and to how Liberians feel about his administration. The race is to choose a senator and a representative for Montserrado County, the largest county in the country.

There are seven candidates for the representative seat for District 15 and seven for the senatorial post for the county. The ruling party, the Coalition for Democratic Change, CDC, has Paulita Wie for senate and Abu Kamara for representative. They will face Abraham Dillon and Telia Urey of the four collaborative opposition parties respectively and independent candidates, including Macdella Cooper, Kimmie Weeks, and Samuel Elders for the upper house and Kevin Bayoh and Erasmu Fahnbulleh for the lower house of congress. The seats became vacant when Senator Geraldine Doe Sheriff and Representative Adolph Lawrence died separately. She was originally a CDC senator but later joined the former ruling party, the Unity Party, UP. Lawrence was a CDCian.

Montserrado County is the major stronghold of CDC. The party has dominated the county politics for the last 14 years. In 2005, the party won the two senatorial seats. It won the by-senatorial election in 2009 and in 2014 and 2018 won the seat, defeating massively President Sirleaf’s son, Robert Sirleaf. That 2014 election made George Weah senator. CDC Sah Joseph replaced him when he became president in 2018 after the 2017 Presidential Election. The party also has most of the representative seats for the county.

The four collaborative opposition parties; the Unity Party, the Liberty Party, the Alternative National Congress, and the All Liberian Party, do not think that CDC controls Montserrado, arguing that the party has lost ground and Weah’s popularity in the county and nationally has diminished since he won the presidency. A case in point is the embarrassing defeat of Weah’s handpick candidate, John Weah, in District 13 representative race in 2019 to replace Representative Sah Joseph. The district was a CDC stronghold and the representative won it two times in a row. But Edward Flomo (Color Green), an independent and a former bodyguard of George Weah, defeated the CDC candidate.

The opposition further maintains that the president has an unpopular rating nationally due to his poor handling of the county economy. The prices of basic commodities and the US exchange rate have increased, resulting in extreme economic hardship in the country. Because of this, the opposition concludes that the Montserrado electorates will vote against the CDC candidates and the opposition will win. Thus, to the collaborative parties, this election is against and is about Weah.

Paulita Wie is a deputy minister in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Prior, she headed a NGO and implemented development programs in the country. She is actively from District 8, where she ran unsuccessfully in a heated primary election in 2017. Abu Kamara is a former assistant minister in the Ministry of Transportation under the Sirleaf administration. He was declared ineligible to contest in the 2017 election due to the Codes of Conduct. He is an active resident of District 15.

Abraham Dillon is an official of the Liberty Party and is the spokesperson for the Council of Patriots, the organization which headed the June 7th Protest. He was a former staffer of Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, who is now Liberian Vice President. In 2009, he ran unsuccessfully for senator for Montserrado County. Telia Urey is an entrepreneur. She has not worked in government. She is the daughter of Benoni Urey, who is the political leader of the All Liberian Party and is considered one of the Liberian millionaires. She vows to give her government salary and benefits to the district if elected.

For the independent candidates, Macdella Cooper is a philanthropist and operates a NGO. She was a presidential candidate in the 2017 general Elections. She supported CDC in the runoff election. Kimmie Weeks is also a philanthropist. He served on the board of the Water and Sewer Corporation in the Sirleaf government. Like Urey, he plans to donate his salary and benefits to the county if elected. Samuel Enders is the representative for District 6. He owns a school in the district and is independent in the House of Representatives. The other independent candidates are Mohammed Dukuly and Massa Kanyon.

Public views on the candidates have been mixed. Some voters say that Wie lacks legislative experience and looks girlish. Others say that her experience in urban affairs and non-profit programs would benefit the county in the senate. The position has been headed by females in the past and her election would help in the need for gender equality and opportunity in the legislature. Abu Kamara has government work experience and is active in the district and understands the community issues. However, a recent revelation that he defrauded the government in his prior government post has brought the question of his character.

Abraham Dillon, as stated earlier, has work experience as an ex-senate staffer. His is an advocate. But many voters believe that he would not contribute much in the Senate, pointing out that he has no college degree or he did not complete high school. Losine Kamara, an electronics shop owner, commented that Dillon would be a disservice to the county, “he has nothing to offer, is hungry, unemployed, and will just make a noise like Yekeh Kelubah”, Losine added. But DJ, a customer and a regular visitor to Losine’s shop, disagreed, saying that Dillon advocacy would add a voice in the senate for the poor. Other voters criticized that Dillon squandered a government scholarship opportunity to attend a college in the US “but he returned with nothing, and another opportunity was given him and he did the same. Why should he be rewarded with one of the important political position in the nation”?
Telia Urey’s promise to offer her representative income to the district is remarkable and welcoming. She speaks softly and is said to employ many residents in her business. However, she is viewed as an outsider who just moved into the district to become a politician. It is said that she does not have a registered voting card for the district and would not vote not even for herself in the district this election. Others think that she was selected on the party ticket because of her father and is running on his name.

Kimmie Weeks is viewed positively as a young and articulate person who shows concern for the country. But he is not well known. Joshua Nugbe, who said that he would vote for him, does not think Weeks would win because many people do not know about him.

Macdella Cooper got public notoriety during the 2017 election, but she is not making many public appearances in this election. Her campaign officials have been promoting her mostly on the radios. Also, she is seen on big billboards.
Not much has been talked about Enders. While some viewers respect him for defecting popular radio talk show host Henry Costa in the 2017 representative elections, others think that he should concentrate on District 6 representation and not on the senate.

Kelvin Bayoh is an independent for District 15 representative and is the protégée of late representative Lawrence. He vows to continue the good work of Lawrence and said to have been endorsed by the Lawrence family, but it appears that little campaign activities have been carried out by his camp. Erasmu Fahnbulleh is a district activist. Though he recently denied a Urey team pronouncement that he has withdrawn from the race and endorsed Urey, like Bayoh, his campaign has not been much talked about. Two other independent candidates are Siebo Frank and Amos Nyan-Tabor. Their names too have not advertised that much in the election.

This election has local and national implication. As mentioned earlier, the main opposition block is campaigning on Weah presidency. To the opposition, a loss of his candidates would mean that things are not well with the Liberian people and it would send a powerful message to the president to wake up. But if CDC candidates win, it would show that the people are not listening to the opposition and CDC is really the political king in Montserrado and the president is still popular. Some opposition advocates say that they would stop talking if the CDC wins. Representative Yekeh Kelubah, a strong critic of the president, stated that he would join the party is CDC is victorious. Some analysts, however, view that such pronouncement is intended to galvanize his supporters to vote against the ruling party.

In the past two months, the campaign has gotten really heated. In June this year, President Weah spoke at a CDC rally saying that Dillon needs to return to school just as he, Weah, did when the Liberian people did not elect him president in 2005 because he was a school drop-out. “I went back to school and got a Master’s degree”, he said, adding that Dillon needs to do the same. Weah also accused Benoni Urey of being a killer and a thief. He called Talia Urey a little girl and that the Ureys will not win an election in this period. Some analysts viewed the remarks as being below the belt. But others disagreed. For instance, Dweh Boley, a former LPRC official, stated that Urey started the fight when he called CDCians cockroaches at a political event. Urey daughter Telia described CDCians as tiny-tiny CDCians.
Viewing the campaign activities, it appears that the race is between CDC and the four collaborating opposition parties. An independent could do well, however.
Campaigning for political election is expensive. A candidate must be financially able. One way to see if a campaign is financially well is to look at its level of campaigning and advertisement. A financially prepared campaign has big billboards and vagarious media promotion and advocacy. In this election, Paulita Wie is seen on large billboards with a picture of the president placed in strategic areas, usually on busy streets. Macdella Cooper has some big billboards, followed by Kimmie Weeks, but little. These billboards are complemented by flyers. Dillon, Urey, and other independent candidates do not have big billboards. They have flyers. Moreover, Wie and Abu Kamara’s campaign T-shirts carry pictures of the candidates with that of President Weah. The other candidates do not have that. Their individual T-shirts only carry their pictures and not also of their political leaders. This is important in a political campaign advertisement. A local candidate most has the endorsement or picture of the party political leader. Good image and big support are necessary for an electoral campaign.

At a recent campaign launch of Dillon on July 13, the campaign looked not to have enough T-shirts. Instead, it used campaign T-shirts of the Liberty Party with pictures of Charles Brumskine and Harrison Karnwea, presidential and vice-presidential candidates for 2017. It appeared that the Dillon campaign did not have enough money to purchase adequate T-shirts for this election. The Brumskine-Karwea T-shirts were given out to individuals in the streets. In the ELWA Junction area, a pedestrian who wore the T-shirt said that it was given to him and because it was free, he took it happily. When asked if he knew Dillon and whether he would vote in the election, he did not answer. The campaign launch was not attended by the political leaders of the main opposition, particularly Brumskine of the Liberty Party. Senator Nyonblee Karngar Lawrence, who took over Brumskine as current head, did not also attend. This would indicate that Dillon does not have the full support of the leaders.

Many of those who attended Dillon’s rally at the Unity Party headquarters and at the Liberty headquarters later went to CDC Party headquarters, which is not far from the Liberty headquarters. This was not strange. It happened in 2017 when some of those who attended Liberty Party rally later went to a CDC event next door. I indicated this phenomenon in my coverage of the Liberty Party final rally in 2017. This is to show that a large crowd at a political event in Liberia does not necessarily mean that the party will win. Though the Liberty Party pulled out a large crowd, it came third in the 2017 Presidential Election.

Election turnout is the key. Usually, the turnout in a by-election in Liberia is low. Particularly, when there are no big names in the race, the turnout is lower. The weather is also a factor. An election on a rainy day would have a poor turnout. July is a rainy month in Liberia. This could affect the turnout.

However, based on the county recent voting data, a low and high turnout would benefit CDC. But the opposition could win if there is a large crossover of CDCians to the opposition at the polls. Macdalla Cooper Massa Kanyon coming into the race could split the women votes, benefiting the opposition. But they are not actively campaigning as stated before especially of Cooper. Also, Kevin Bayoh of District 15 could be the surprise horse. As said earlier, his candidacy is backed by the Lawrence family. The late representative was very loved and had overwhelming support in the district.

If the opposition loses, it could cry fault that it was cheated. It could point out to the many changes of the election date are intended to benefit the ruling party. Certainly, the change of the election date may have slowed down campaign momentum. The opposition could also say that Weah’s statement that a Urey cannot win was intended to stop the daughter from wining. But these accusations would be mild political. An investigation in the accusation could find the assertion untrue. The four collaborating opposition parties are not the only one in the race. Secondly, evidence shows that the ballot material came late from abroad. Losing parties do not easily accept defeat. But a defeat of the ruling party could be embarrassing to the president. On the other hand, it would make him be more serious about the problems of the country and make him listen.

Accordingly, the voting process would be as follows:
A voter card would be checked at the voting center to determine which precinct the voter would go. At the precinct, the card would be inspected and checked against the voter roll. The voter would be given a ballot listing all the candidates with their pictures and political affiliations. The voter would be directed to the booth to mark the ballot. The voter would lastly place the marked ballot into the box. The voter’s card would be punched and the voter’s right thumb would be inked to indicate that the voter has voted. There would be monitors to witness the progress. The process should be fair, transparent, and peaceful.

The poles should close at 6 PM Liberian time and the counting of the ballots should start thereafter. Each candidate’s representative should be present at the counting and would signature the tally sheet. The sheet will be posted at the voting center for public view. By 9 or 10 PM, the preliminary results from the sheets should be announced by the media. The National Election Commission should give the official results probably by the end of the week.