Why did Boakai make a gamble and choose Jeremiah Koung as his running mate?

By  Nemen M. Kpahn

Politics make strange bedfellows. Yesterday’s political allies could be today’s allies, while today’s allies could be tomorrow’s bitter political enemies. For example, Charles Taylor and the late Alhaji Kromah, who were erstwhile bitter rivals and enemies during the early phase of the Liberian civil war, would unite in 1996 to fight the late Roosevelt Johnson and help reduce Monrovia to ruins 1996.

In 2017, former Senate Pro Temp Gbessongar Findley put an elaborate show in Buchanan to host a UP convention in the coastal city, anticipating that he would be named as running mate to Joe Boakai. But, when Boakai again surprised observers by naming Emmanuel Nuquay as his running mate, quicker than a quicksand, Findley announced his support for the now-ruling CDC.

The framers of Liberia’s constitution did not want two centers of power, so they made the office of the Vice President very ceremonial with little real power except for breaking vote ties in the Senate. However, because of Ambassador Boakai’s age, his Vice President may assume the role of a President in waiting. Speculations have been mounting for months as to who will be former Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai’s running mate in the pending October 2023 elections.

And the names kept coming up. One minute it was Nyonblee Karnga- Lawrence, the affable Senator from Grand Bassa County, who expressed her desire to be Boikai’s running mate in a Facebook post spruiking her qualification and suitability for the role if offered to her by Ambassador Boakai. Somewhere in early April, images of an eloquent and, at times, abrasive talk show host Henry Costa looking Vice Presidential with hands upraised with the enigmatic title of Rescue2 began to flood social media pages. By mid-April, the name Jeremiah Kpan-Koung started to emerge as running mate to Joe Boakai. However, Senator Karnga was still the front-runner for the VP slot of the Unity Party.

Yet on Friday, April 28, 2023, Joe Boakai stunned the world and upended Liberian politics by confirming the rumours leading to the Unity Party’s convention.

Jeremiah Koung, the neophyte (new with little experience) Senator from Nimba County, would indeed be JNB’s running mate!

Although there have been frenetic rumours up to the time of the event circulating that Jeremiah Kpan-Koung would indeed be Boakai’s running mate, the confirmation of the rumour brought surprise and anger from long-time friends and allies of the former Vice President.

Why would Joe Boakai alienate Nyonblee Karnga, a capable leader or spurn the political and considerable financial support of Benoni Urey by not naming his (Urey’s) protégé Henry Pedro Costa?

On the eve of the convention, Senator Karnga announced in a cryptic Facebook post that she and her branch of the Liberty Party would be engaging in consultation with their members. Joe Boakai, it seems, was willing to risk it all to have Jeremiah Koung as his running mate, even if it meant losing the support of Urey, Costa, Karnga, and even the support of influential Montserrado Senator Darius Dillon to have sanctioned Senator Prince Johnson’s political protégé Jeremiah Koung as his running mate. Why?

In 2017, Joe Boakai was widely criticised when he picked Emmanuel Nuquay as his running mate. Nuquay could not even deliver his home county, Margibi, to the Unity Party. As a result, Joe Boakai suffered the humiliation of winning only his home county of Lofa in the 2nde round of the election. Joe Boakai, it appeared, was determined to avoid repeating that mistake. Ambassador Boakai and the Unity Party wanted someone who could deliver the votes even if such an individual had some political flaws.

Prince Johnson, the political Godfather of Nimba County, backing him, and Jeremiah Koung would undoubtedly deliver. After all, there is an affinity between Nimba, Lofa and Bong Counties. All three counties became counties together in 1964, so they share some historical closeness. In the 2011 Presidential elections, Senator Johnson came 3rd in the first round receiving 139,789 votes. In the 2017 Presidential race, Prince Johnson received 127,666 votes representing 8.22% of the total votes ahead of Alexander Cummings. Despite allegations of war crimes, Senator Johnson has an uncanny ability to pick a winning candidate to back. Senator Johnson’s support delivered the popular vote in Nimba County to former President Sirleaf in the 2011 elections. The same thing happened in 2017 when Senator Johnson endorsed incumbent President George Weah and delivered the popular vote to Weah’s CDC. Joe Boakai surmised that with Jeremiah Koung as his running mate and Senator Johnson’s support, he would win the popular vote in Nimba. Winning the popular vote in his home county of Lofa and winning the popular vote of Liberia’s second most populated county will put him in an excellent position to win the Presidency in his final quest for the highest elected position in Liberia. A win in Nimba, Lofa, and a competitive showing in Montserrado, Bong, Margibi, Grand Bassa and the western provinces Joe Boakai and his advisers believe would be a winning ticket.

Whether this bold gamble pays out remains to be seen. But, this time, a son of Nimba is in the race in the person of Tiawon Gongloe, a financially weak but well-known human rights campaigner and he could divide the Nimba County vote.

Come what may, former President Joseph Nyumah Boakai and his advisers believe selecting Jeremiah Koung will deliver more than it detracts from his quest for the Presidency. Only time will tell if this gamble works.

The writer is a communication specialist and holds a double master’s degree in communication and research. He lives in Brisbane, in the state of Queensland in Australia.

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