By Eddie D. Jarwolo*
As a political organizer, a campaign planning trainer and a grassroots’ leader with over 18 years of professional experience, honestly President George M. Weah can still win an election if he has the best people, placed in the right places in his government with the support or tools to start working for the Liberians’ people realizing that election is about money, people, and time. President Weah has time, and money but needs a better strategy to win back his popularity and get the people voting for him like before and even beyond.
President George M. Weah must be more accountable to the people, take full responsibility for his actions, make prudent decisions, and perform his duties in accordance with the wishes and aspirations of the people, not for himself. He must ensure public officials are accountable to the people, citizens are able to get timely information about what decisions are being made, by who and why. This will improve public trust and chances for reelection.
While the December 8, 2020 special senatorial election provided better opportunity for the opposition bloc especially winning votes from vote rich counties including Montserrado, Bong, Lofa, Bassa and Margibi, one cannot be emphatic that it is over for President Weah in 2023. According to the National Elections Commission 2017 final voter registration statistics, Montserrado constitutes 36% of registered voters followed by Bong 9%, Lofa 8%, Grand Bassa 7%, and Margibi 7%. These aggregate percentage from 5 populated counties constitutes 67% of the total number of registered voters in counties won by the opposition CPP excluding the independent elected senators.
The key challenges for President Weah: Rebranding himself, reorganizing his youth base, unifying the coalition (especially with the Vice President and the NPP bloc), improving his communication, focusing more on public services to communities, be more tolerant to opposing views, be careful with those in his circle of influence and setting up a professional campaign management team. Additionally, President Weah must improve foreign policies and relationship especially with the United States new administration, improve the economy and honestly fight corruption and human rights abuse. It will be certainly difficult for President Weah to win a credible election without a winnable vice president like Jewel Howard Taylor. He must start restoring the hope of Liberians, reconcile with Vice President Taylor and get involved more in community engagements, holding town hall meetings, and hosting monthly media events to deepen citizens’ understanding about his performance against promises he made during and after the elections.
The next three years can lend credence to the ongoing advocacy for war crime and economic crime court from Civil Society Organizations (CSO) and the international pressure groups. The administration of President Weah can garner the courage and seize the opportunity to agree on the establishment of a war crime and economic crime court. At this stage thoughts of protecting an ally, notably Senator Prince Y. Johnson for the sole purpose of wooing the Nimba votes, must be unconditionally and decisively quashed in the ultimate interest of vast majority the citizenry. The Liberian leader must take into account the principle of reciprocity – one must give and take. It is highly likely, and one may say possible that Sen. Johnson faces charges at an international court prior to the 2023 Elections.
Frankly speaking and on the basis of telling the hard truth, Messrs. Cummings, Urey and Boakia cannot win George Weah mainly because they do not have the political constituents, grassroots support, public trust, the branding and will be difficult to develop campaign messages that will resonate with the ordinary voters. For instance, since Amb. Boakia lost the 2017 election against George Weah, he has not reached out or recover from the lost. He cannot also disassociate himself from the perceived mismanagement of public funds under the Unity Party government. On the other hand, Urey left the National Patriotic Party of former President Charles Taylor that made him famous and established the All Liberian Party, (ALP), but he is still finding it difficult to survive in the political environment and Cummings still finding it difficult to be trusted by other leaders within the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP). In fact, it is assumed that Cummings does not have the voting bloc/numbers and too new to the Liberian politics as evidenced by the dismal loss of his birth county, Maryland in the just ended election. With allegations of same sex involvement by some members of the Unity Party in 2017 and stalwarts of the current ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), the Alternative National Congress (ANC) head has not been able to adequately address the gay news. His limited link with Chronic disconnect to grassroots support is a huge impediment Mr. Cummings will have to confront head on in the lead to 2023.
The opposition has its own fair chances and opportunities. What is lacking for now is genuine organization, trusted partnership and a reconnection of the bases using all existing numbers including newly elected senators’ strongholds, silent voters, undecided voters, and people who have lost fate in the Weah led administration. For instance, within the opposition’s camp radical activists like Henry Costa, Yekeh Kolubah and Abraham Darius Dillon have won the public trust through deep-seated advocacy for accountability and are going to be either key actors or kingmakers in 2023.
A second layer dicking deep into the Liberian politics and elections is pinpointing towards a demand that the candidates own factor is greater and voters are focusing less about the political party factor because most parties lack internal democracy, lack clear vision and strategies. They also lack the grassroots support and have no sustainable plans after elections and are controlled by few people. Many people think the newly elected senators won not because of their parties’ affiliation but because of their personal engagement with the people. However, depending on their performances in the Liberian Senate this could give hope for the opposition bloc to make a case that collectively they can bring the needed change. Moreover, no one should underestimate those combinations that brought them to power as most of the margins were relatively small which means, losing a single factor could make them lose elections anytime.
The key challenges for the opposition: Keeping the coalition especially the CPP together, putting aside personal ego, greed, envy, establishing a strong opposition bloc within the Legislature to demand more accountability from the ruling party, developing an effective and efficient decentralized political system, developing a strong campaign team with the right people on board, developing a strong campaign communication/message/theme that will resonate with the people, and developing a fundraising strategy. Finally, identifying a winnable candidate from a vote-rich county against President Weah as election is about numbers. I will also be seeking to remind us all that Liberia is getting too popularized and thus call for a candidate who is willing to listen, focus on issues and ensure that their campaign is focused on clearly defined outputs without becoming too ambiguous. A true leader needed must have the negotiating power to bridge established hurdles and guaranteeing that the “PEOPLE FACTOR” IS SURPREME.
It is highly likely that the opposition CPP will breakout before the 2023 elections because of vices such as greed, envy, and ego. In fact, holding the bloc may not be the only option at this stage. There is an opportunity for a new movement within the opposition of the emerging leaders. I foresee that the movement will be led by Abraham Darius Dillon and Edith Gongloe-Weh both from the Liberty Party as President and Vice Presidential Candidates in the 2023 election holding all else constant this would be a winnable team for the opposition against George Weah as these candidates represent the two biggest vote rich counties of Montserrado and Nimba. The Dillon and Edith factor can easily be branded by an excellent campaign strategist. They can collectively fundraise; they are now the new face in the political environment, they have won the public trust especially Dillon who recently won the Montserrado County senatorial election with over 200k votes the highest ever in the country recent history. No matter the outcome of the ongoing voter fraud case at National Elections Commission (NEC), Madam Gongloe-Weh has proven to be a formidable force in the vote rich Nimba County. She will be accepted by the people of Nimba. However, the best option for Edith is to accept the 2020 senatorial election result and make a public statement that yes, she strongly believes that she won the election but for the sake of peace and unity she will let it go and she should take the courage to participate in the by-election for the House of Representatives replacing Senator-elect Jeremiah Koung as an entry to competitive national politics. Dillon could also win votes in Grand Bassa, Margibi and Rivercess based on his ethnicity and message. To still make use of the other factors, Boakai votes will be needed to match the votes and ensure that it is not just new faces. They have the ability to network and can take existing votes from Lofa to increase the chances in case there is a head to head in many counties.
The Deputy Speakership: The Nimba County politics will be key in the 2023 elections. The opposition bloc in the Legislature should allow Nimba County take on the Deputy Speaker position and advocate for the establishment of a war and economic crime court to silent the so-called political godfather of Nimba. Voters in Nimba cast their ballots against the national referendum regardless of President Weah calls for the yes votes. This means, Nimba will be a county to consider strongly in the 2023 elections so getting an educated, experienced, and loving daughter of Nimba County will be the best option to defeat President Weah and his CDC. Nimba and Montserrado counties constitute 49% of the national votes. With Dillon the campaign will be more about transparency, accountability, and provision of basic social services a message that is resonating well with the people.
If President Weah has a great campaign team and he starts working honestly on fighting corruption and addressing the provision of basic social services, the campaign could be good for him. Do not be surprised to see in 2023 George M. Weah and Jewel Howard-Taylor on the CDC ticket and Dillon and Edith on the Opposition ticket. God bless Liberia and safe the state.
About the writer:
Eddie D. Jarwolo is a Liberian civil society leader with over 18 years of professional experience. He earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology from the A.M.E Zion University and a Master of Public Administration’s degree in Public Sector Management from the Cuttington University Graduate School. Eddie has participated in various international fellowships programs including the U.S. Department of State International Visitor’s Exchange Program, the U.S. Department of State Community Solutions Fellowship Program, and the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowship. Eddie is the Executive Director of Naymote Partners for Democratic Development and in 2016 Eddie established the Young Political Leadership School Africa, a school designed to contribute to the formation of a new generation of character-driven political leaders that would be accountable, responsive, and accessible to the needs and interests of their citizens and help to shape the future of their respective countries in the positive direction. https://www.yplsa.org/. the school has trained 630 young political leaders across the ECOWAS region.