In the contemporary world of ours, it is a common perception that democracy is the best form of governance and economic viability for the greater good of the largest society, the fruit of an internationally acceptable democratic tenet where the masses have a greater saying in the day-to-day running of the government. But in some occurrences, poverty-stricken masses really do not care about the form of government; they want basic necessities of life like electricity, paved roads, safe drinking water, jobs, quality education, available and affordable health care for their livelihood and unborn generations. But can these essential necessities be visible in the absence of placing state authority in the hands of a leader-one who cannot commends greater respect from the population?
Arguably, it is often said that democracy is just a concept that allows participation of the people in decisions which impact their lives, but one may ask: Is this inimical to Liberia? The answer, to some extent is yes, since Liberians especially the electorates do not stand up for what they believe to demand their leaders at the national levels to deliver on their promises. In other countries, the people hold their leaders’ feet to the fire to fulfill their promises, but for Liberia, the situation is to the dissimilar. That is why during these electorate processes, the masses are taken for a short ride moreover and very consistently for granted by those seeking their votes; all is squally due to ignorance display by the people who should firstly read between the lines before electing people to offices of public trust.
This article digs into the pitfalls and short-comings of how democracy is perceived and practices in the country with an overview of achievements and shortcomings of processes of democratization in our society. No doubt, the nation has experienced participatory democracy since 2005, following the cessation of the 14-year bloody war. But free and fairs elections, though a cardinal component, are neither the beginning nor the end of democracy; they instead formed part of the attributes of sustaining a credible process of democracy.
With less than twenty months, Liberians will again exercise their constitutional obligations to go to the poll to elect the successor to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and members of the House of Representatives. Liberians now see the 2017 General elections as the only hope and aspiration to graduate from a political static mentality that has sunk them in a state of merry-go-round, but the question is will the majority of the electorates be prepared to make sound decisions or will voters continue to trade the ever present chronic tradition of their ballots in exchanged for monetary gain coupled with other most essential materials including a ‘tea spoon full of raw rice to pathetically, but just for few minutes ease their immediate quest and livelihood. This has become the dominant way in which democracy is now conceived in a contemporary Liberian society.
Most importantly, the 2017 general and presidential elections with particular reference to the decisive presidential election, the process-service as a conduit for the nation to move another step forward; provides an opportunity for those eying the presidency to advance their respective strategies, distinctive platforms and manifestos and understanding of state power. The 2017 poll should not be used by avaricious politicians and other bureaucrats to exploit the poverty-stricken masses’ vulnerability; instead it should be classed as a precise movement for positivity in Liberia.
Unfortunately, the precise state of key political players does not support any optimism that any of them is prepared to preform if given state power. The ultimate quest of these politicians-most of whom with cobra’s heart but with sheep clothing would be considered as some hopeless utopian expeditionists; they have put into place an obscure plans using false innuendo to disadvantage the poverty-stricken masses and illiterate population, majority of whom constitute the electorates.
Assuming-perhaps as a result of the hardship in the country, the bulk of the electorates is expected to naively make wrong decisions to elect the folks before they realize the consequential backlash of their decisions. Owing to the poverties and destitution prevalent across the country, the indication is the bulk of the electorates will vote with frustration, fury and resentment, as suffering in the country will overplay in the democratic process in 2017. But let it be made clear that in term of substance, the various political parties come with nothing that give much hopes and aspirations, instead the same old story with empty impracticable promises.
Let it be understood that this administration bore the gravest burden of responsibilities because the decision to enhance positivity and inspire with increased provision of education to buttress voters’ credibility to make the right choice ultimately rested on its shoulder; there is no time for excuses since exercises placed politicians and political parties in the opposition’s community in the advantageous situation. However, in order for the 2017 democratic process to play in the current administration’s favor or its chosen candidate, the government needs to do more to deliver a bravura performance to change the dynamics of the political playing pitch which can generate youth enthusiasm. The youthful population constitutes bulk of the electorates.
The nation has had two successive democracies in its history of existence, the 2005 and 2011 General Elections backed by stability, credit to the current administration for such a gain but much are expected in other areas. The enabling democratic environment currently obtaining in the country has led to the increase of political parties, free press and a vibrant civil society institutions. However, majority of these political parties are, and remain fragile, weak and often function as fly-by-night-venture upon only being active during election periods. Immediately after electoral exercises, these political institutions most often and in some cases, eventually disappeared in thin air while craving through reflection by operating from hand-bags and the back seats of some aging vehicles.
An unconfirmed statistical data shows over thirty-five would-be-presidential candidates and over one thousand-five hundred would-be-representative aspirants are eying the 2017 General Elections, while registered political parties in the country are about forty-five; by the time the nation goes to the polls, these political parties numbers are expected to double by half. What a political shame for a country with less than four million populations; now a day every Dick and Tom appeared to have solution to the numerous problems facing this country. Some of these so-called would be contenders have not won a Susu Club election while some are being hosted in a shared apartment, but yet they want the people of Liberian to trust them with the nation’s highest office; what a national disgrace.
Generally, they fall far too below the ability to possess the muscles that will propel them to play a cardinal role in influencing public policy and providing checks and balances wherein the government will not operate as an exclusive authority or law and gospel unto its self and not being answerable to the custodians (the people) of power in keeping with the nation’s constitution. These parties are not able to exercise oversight beginning with their members, moreover to run their offices professionally, effectively and smoothly.
Viable political parties and effective party system are fundamental to building a strong democracy across the country but political institutions and organizations are too puny, most of them are surviving from individual pockets. As a result, political institutions especially parties are built around individuals, such is the case of the governing Unity Party, CDC, Liberty Party, ALP, UPP, LAP, and several others. Whenever these individuals whose influences and financial assistance these parties are operating on are no more around, such a party is doomed and definitely will collapse; why? As an evident, this has been the case of several political parties such as the TWP, NPP, UPP, LUP, LAP and NDPL.
For instance, two former ruling parties-NDPL and NPP were exclusively centered on the financial supports and influences of ex-presidents Samuel K. Doe and Charles Ghankay Taylor; and true to the hard facts of reality, these two parties no longer possess the political dynamism in this era to occupy the presidency, while the ruling Unity Party likeability among voters has vanished along with its shrinking influence in the political dynamism is gradually melting away, thereby posing a daunting task for the Boakai-driven UP to take state power in 2017. But a question from skeptics is when will that generation of politicians ever learn?
This situation is not only limited to political parties but also extended to organizations and institutions in the country. Many persons have expressed fears that the departure of President Sirleaf from the political scene will ultimately be the end of the ruling Unity Party’s once respected and widely recognized leadership, thus shaping state power to another party. The question is which party with the political juice and substance to measure up to the eagerly awaited expectations of the wailing for positive and realistic change? Until political parties and institutions in the country can be prepared to smoothly operate outside the sways and pockets of individuals, Liberia’s political system is stuck in a gloomy orbit and properly set to suffer a downward trail.
Unarguably, if Senator George Weah, Senator Prince Johnson, Cllr. Charles W. Brusmskine, Simeon Freeman, Benoni Urey and Dr. Mills Jones were to terminate their memberships from the CDC, Liberty Party, ALP, MOVEE, MPC, these parties will lose their essence, steam and dynamism and would politically succumb from the political scene. One of these parties, in the 2017 presidential election is likely to be the king or the kings-maker, a trophy colonized by Senator Prince Johnson as evident in the 2011 elections.
Amazingly, despite the Unity Party’s obvious eleven years successes in some areas, unambiguous strategies for electorates for the third times to reward the party remains a challenging task to overcome in 2017. The UP has its own in-house unfavorable political situation-it is the party’s establishment versus the party’s base with the establishment firm behind Veep Boakai. But the question is can Boakai win without the steady involvement of the party based-energetic group that is credited for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s two successive elections.
Unfortunately, those diehards and energetic UP partisans and supporters are perpetually silenced, down-hearted while others have moved to opposition parties; the 2011 enthusiasms for UP have since evaporated and this time around, it will require Veep Boakai an uphill battle to re-invent and rally the weary enthusiasm. Just like UP, other opposition parties also have similar problems- such as one individual wanting to monopolize the entire party. Some of these parties either have political establishments or party-based, to some extent, both are missing from the party.
However, when political parties and civil society institutions are consistent in their programmatic and broad-based interests, democracy at all levels will flourish. There are number of factors which are important to the democratic system including the effectiveness of political parties and civil society institutions to ably represent the masses in advocating their well-being and interest. While In addition, democratic consolidation is dependent on people’s participation. Liberia needs to transform and build stronger political institutions and not ones that are solely supported by an individual or only exist based on the heart beats of the exclusive all powerful who alone plays the piper and therefore calls for the note. Supporting the development of parties and party structures under this current government poses a major challenge that should be given high priority.
However, being frank and honest with the word democracy, what it is, the meaning and process of it, the tenets and methods used in the enhancement and management of democracy and the results by virtue of dividends to be accrued, those nations that are doing preposterous things under the canopy of democracy would know that democracy does not grow on trees, and as such would change their minds and devise new political goals and programs. Today Liberia is classed as a “post conflict’ country (Ki-Moon, Ban 2011), making significantly progress away from war, has seen a gigantic decrease in conflict across the country at both national and local levels, even though critical issues still remain unaddressed with factors of potential conflict continuing to manifest in several practices. The issues of youth empowerment, jobs creation, reconciliation and the elimination of feeble governance undermines the nation’s emerging democracy, and persist as menace to stability and peace.
In a situation like ours, democracy requires a concerted and sustained commitment from a central government since political parties and civil society organizations are central to representative democracy. There are good political and economic reasons why a well-established political commitment should support the spread of democracy across the country and to do this effectively means giving greater consideration to the crucial contributions political parties and civil society organizations make to enhance democracy. It is generally perceived as a political system in which the supreme power lies in the citizens whose are the only custodians of state power in that they constitute electorates of those entrusted with state power to represent them (Webster, Daniel 1830). That means that all the people should be able to have their say one way or the other in everything that affects their lives.
Representative democracy certainly provides for changes in government without violence while power can be transferred from one party to another by means of elections, this what we all are anticipating in 2017. But free and fairs elections, though a cardinal component, are neither the beginning nor the end of democracy; they instead formed part of the attributes of sustaining a credible process of democracy.
The 1986 Constitution settles how State power is distributed among the different Branches of Government and the attributions assigned to each branch. According to Webster dictionary, the most common definition of democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people’ while to put it another way we can say that a government comes from the people; it is exercised by the people, and for the purpose of the people’s own interests. Democracy by another definition means a political system in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who can elect people to represent them. That means that all the people should be able to have their say in one way or another in everything that affects their lives. It can also be defined as the political orientation of those who favor government by the people or by their elected representatives. It provides for changes in government without violence while power can be transferred from one party to another by means of elections.
Please allow me to turn my attention to the doctrine of separation of power as spelled-out in the 1986 Constitution. There are three Branches within a State: They include the Legislative Branch headed by the Speaker draws up and adopts laws; the Executive Branch which operates under the authority of the President enforces laws and government’s policies, while the Judicial Branch headed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court represents the legal framework for exercising judicial power and interpreting laws. In an emerging democratic state like Liberia, there exists the doctrine of “Separation of Powers” which actually means “division” of the State‘s power rooted in the Three Branches detached of interference.
During these elections, all parties’ candidates and independent candidates campaigned freely across their constituencies while the presidential candidates campaigned throughout the country, presenting their visions and platforms or agenda to the voters by either personal interactions and through the local media. However, the local media on a large scale regularly betrothed into biased reporting by treating some candidates with favor, while the rest are not given free media access to present their cases to the people.
As a matter of fact, let look at the recent past, the fracture of the media was such that affluent candidates bought some media houses while others have established theirs to directly propagate their political agenda outside conventional and ethical media practices (2012 BBC report). To buttress this claims, Monrovia which hosts a population of about 1.4 million has over 65 newspapers, about 45 FM radio stations and eight television stations; by 2017 the number of newspapers and radio stations would reached 80 and 55, respectively.
Regrettably, a negative side effect sets in during this period, generating protestations and wailing by some opposition parties who went about complaining that they were denied total access to public facilities. Notwithstanding, the system allows voters to cast secret ballots, free of intimidation, violence and inducement. The exercise allows independent observers to observe the voting and the vote counting to ensure that the process is free of corruption, intimidation, and fraud. The political environment remains stable, horrifying sounds of guns and other deadly artilleries have not been part of the dispensation. but there are still serious unsettled challenges which threaten the sustainability of peace in the country.
Several programs at the national level to repair broken ties between the government and the people remain fragmentary, public institutions and agencies responsible for mending broken wounds have not done much in their assigned tasks. The police and other law enforcement visibility are mainly present in the seat of government, leaving the rural parts of the country vulnerable.
The Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon in his 2010 detailed reports to the Security Council on political, economic and security situation in Liberia, described the current democracy in the country as ‘fragile’, expressing fears that the country might slip back into conflict upon the departure of the United Nations Mission in Liberia(UNMIL). But President Johnson-Sirleaf in her recent Annual Address to the nation stated the country security apparatus are ready to take over security in the absent of UNMIL.
In his instructive book title: Liberia’s Emerging Democracy, the author- Josephus Moses Gray documented that political activities in the country shows how the most dynamic and fastest growing areas of the country are cultivating a new institutionalization and democratization at all levels of the country, pointing that viable political parties and effective party systems are fundamental to building a strong democracy.
Mr. Gray, however, argued that when the masses are vulnerable under such a state of privilege, electorates make their choices on the basis of primeval issues such as religion, ethnicity, race and personality, rather than alternative developmental programs voters rarely and genuinely expressed their opinion since, for them, the ballot is essentially a token exchange in an immediate, highly personalized relationship of dependency.
Presently, criminality is on the rise – from highway and armed robberies to pick-pocketing amongst other felonious and petty crimes. Besides, political contentions that could lead to societal chaos and political instability have remained unresolved. The young people participation in post-election violence and dozens of other violent scenarios persistently masterminded by their disgruntled youth and students in Monrovia and parts of the country need to be addressed. These instances of post conflict violence have undermined progress to move the country away from civil disorder and political turbulence. This is troubling especially for our democracy. Several public and private facilities have suffered great destruction at the hands of violent youth; these persistent acts have disproved the scrupulous acceptability, application and workings of universal doctrine of democratic elections as a guide to determine stability and peace.
Let us not dis-remember that the history of Liberia is saddled with vague attempts and pretenses as reflective many decades ago by most of the professed torchbearers of this doctrine who were themselves lumbered with tinted and self-driven agenda and motives. Consequent to this, these attempts and pretenses which were intended to plant the seed of democracy though on the right soil have just become too difficult to germinate the acceptable results because of misplacement of facts and circumstances thus for obvious reasons, misled some cogent historical accounts of the country.
Notwithstanding, the latter has turned out to be an open secret that if at all Liberians have not tongue-tasted democracy directly or indirectly, then it is and must begin to form a salient feature to confront radically, the incumbent as they (people) troop and prepare themselves to ensure that the 2017 and beyond bear witness that indeed the rightful decisions are made for the benefit of the greater population.
Let it also be understood, that different situations in different countries demand different methods; therefore the situation in Liberia should be treated under our common democratic acceptable system. Our democracy cannot be complacent and avoid the suggestions that western models and systems are perfect.
To see itself being worthy of the challenges and the fortitude to weather the socio-politico-economic as well as religious storms, it has to withstand the test of times especially in the changing fortune of times; and watching itself coming out successfully will not only determine its viability, but will also serve as a symbol of emulation, thereby painting a clear and progressively positive picture that no nation can exist in isolation despite and in spite of its wealth, fame, might and political clout. Part Two to follow in subsequent edition.
Author: Josephus Moses Gray