By Joseph G. Bartuah, Jr.
On October 31, the Bush Chicken newspaper reported that the Unity Party (UP) was joining forces with the All Liberia Party (ALP) and the Liberty Party (LP) to dispute irregularities in the October 10, 2017 election. The Liberty Party (LP) was the disputant in chief. The Reuters News agency also reported on October 11, 2017, a day after the elections, that the party was protesting any result from the National Election Commission (NEC). A statement from party Chairman Benjamin Sanvee alleged that the elections were flawed with “irregularities” and fraud.
It is reasonable for the ALP to join the Liberty Party dispute. After all, the party came 6th in the 20-candidate race, receiving only 1.6 percent of the votes. If the dispute by the Liberty Party is successful in ordering a new election, the ALP might probably have the opportunity to increase its vote tally. Even though the probability of ALP obtaining a second place in a rerun election is not very high, one cannot, however, rule but the possibility, since politics is an art of the possible. Moreover even if the ALP can’t increase their vote tally in a second round electoral process, they have nothing to lose. In other words, because they are already down, they fear no fall.
It is also reasonable for the Liberty Party to continue protesting the election results. Although the party only received 9.6 percent of the total votes, it is possible that they could increase their vote tally, in case of an election re-run. In fact, the party came third in the October 10th elections; being a second placer or even a first winner in a re-run election is therefore, not a farfetched dream or illogical.
Now, in the case of the Unity Party, it is very difficult to understand what proverbial fish the ruling party has to fry in Liberty Party’s political oil. To begin with, the party came second in the October elections, winning about 30 percent of the vote. This result guaranteed that UP would be one of the two parties to participate in the run-off election, giving them a clear shot at the presidency. The party was about 10 points down from George Weah’s 40 percent share of the votes. The runoff election would give them the probability of gathering all of the necessary votes to win the presidency. But they have decided to join the ALP and the LP in protesting the election results.
It seems the Unity Party is especially bothered that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf allegedly intervened in the election. This was expressed unequivocally by Mr. Wilmot Paye, the UP’s chairman. “We are aware that long before the October 10 polls, Sirleaf had invited election magistrates to her residence for a meeting, which is unprecedented in election history. Our respective political parties maintain that this act clearly amounted to interference with the electoral process and has no legal basis or justification whatsoever” he said. Paye’s statement probably articulates the reason behind the Unity Party’s decision to join the dispute.
If the allegation by the Unity Party is true, then the president is utterly wrong and there should be no place for such action in our democracy. But that should not be a reason for the Unity Party to abandon a winnable election. By joining the Liberty Party, the Unity Party has put emotions in favor of strategy.
The emotions started boiling way before the elections. Former Unity Party Chairman Varney Sherman made it clear in an interview with FrontPage Africa. Asked if he was bitter, Cllr. Sherman said, “If you were me, will you smile? I spent years in this country trying to build my reputation as a lawyer and one night, one moment, some British boy destroys it.” He was certainly referring to the decision by the Sirleaf government to prosecute him and others in a corruption case. The fact that the president had done nothing to deter some of her close associates, including Gbehzohngar Findley, Harrison Karnwea and most importantly her son, Mr. Robert Sirleaf, from jumping to rival political parties, further helped to exacerbate the situation and increased her negative perception in the eyes of the UP and others.
There are unsubstantiated rumors out there that the president has been supporting the CDC. The office of the president has categorically denied such speculations. But who cares about the truth when the lies seem more persuasive and entertaining?
The emotional decision by the Unity Party to join the Liberty Party in protesting the October elections could cost them a chance at winning the presidency. Who knows what the outcome of the dispute could be? If the Liberty Party prevails, there could be a new election in which the UP, like other political parties, would have to spend a substantial amount of money on campaigning again. What if such extraordinary expenses lead to the same result of second place? Would that make any sense? There are twenty candidates running for president; it is possible but highly unlikely that the UP will win an outright plural majority to secure the presidency. In the current scenario, even if the NEC or the Supreme Court decides that there were no irregularities or fraud, the Unity Party would still be occupying one of the coveted top two positions.
It is not impossible that the Unity Party can come second in the first round and win the plural majority in the runoff election. Under President Sirleaf, the party won about 20 percent of the vote in 2005 before going on to win 60 percent of the vote in the runoff election. President Sirleaf’s 20 percent vote in the first round of the 2005 elections is 10 points less than the 30 percent vote Vice President Joseph Boakai collected in the October 2017 elections. Hence, the UP could still win the runoff election against Senator George Weah of the CDC. However, because UP, in concert with the LP, is starkly delaying the run-off election, the possibility of the UP winning the election now is slim. They have decided to allocate their much needed resources to the heavy cost of litigation, which is sapping needed energy from their political base.
Viewed from another angle, it is also possible that the UP’s decision to join the LP in disputing the outcome of first round election is strategic. It could be a way of killing the spirit out of George Weah and his rabble-dazzle supporters. If this is so, it could be paramount in slowing down the momentum before the runoff election. However, public comments by the leadership of the UP indicate the decision was mainly based on emotion rather than being strategic.
It is hard to win elections based on emotions. Sure, it is true that many political leaders in Liberia have been stoking the clannish emotion of their followers. One of such leaders is Senator Prince Johnson. He has built a cult-like following that got him 8 percent of votes in this year’s presidential election and had in the past, guaranteed his re-election as a senator, even in the absence of little or no legislative achievement. But Joseph Boakai is not Prince Johnson with clannish baggage. Because the UP has a candidate who is a national figure, it has to think and act strategically in order to emerge victorious in this crucial election. If not, the ruling party might unfortunately be staring at defeat to the emotional chagrin of its many adherents.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joseph G. Bartuah, Jr. 28, who currently serves as Secretary-General of the Liberian Community in Boston, Massachusetts, is pursuing a master’s degree in Government at Harvard University, also in Boston, Massachusetts. He’s a 2014 graduate of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, with double Bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Criminal Justice. His dad, Joe Bartuah, Sr. is former Managing Editor of The News newspaper in Monrovia. He can be reached at email@example.com or 857-413-0852.