IF ELECTIONS WERE HELD TODAY WHO’ll GET LIBERIA’S VOTE?
Sirleaf-Boakai; Brumskine Siakor; Tubman-Weah Or Mayson-Korto; Strenghts Vs. Weaknesses Of The Candidates In Play
Rodney D. Sieh, firstname.lastname@example.org
The road to the 2011 presidential elections is shaping up with many of the key candidates sealing partnership deals with the announcement of running mates. The biggest news this week is what many are describing as George Weah’s ultimate sacrifice which relegated him to second fiddle and Ambassador Winston Tubman to the top. With so much tension in the air, FrontPageAfrica deciphers the presidential tickets of the key candidates, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses ahead of the campaign season.
Bracing for an election many consider will be the defining moment whether as to whether Liberia will become a true democracy, both the Americans and European Union have insisted on free and transparent elections.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton are on record as urging the incumbent government that they want a transparent election that will usher in a smooth transition. While visiting Liberia, Secretary Clinton declared that America will spend US$17.5 million on the elections. European Union has also given around Euros 8 Million to be spent on the elections.
As we did in 2005 elections, FrontPageAfrica, in the coming weeks, intends to go behind the scenes to bring the real challenges and positions of each political camp now that the field is becoming clearer and the dust settles on who the main candidates are. Each camp is canvassing all ready for votes and conducting internal polls to show where they stand with the electorates. From discussing with insiders from various political camps, FrontpageAfrica have compiled projections of how the race would shape if elections were held today.
The new event that George Manneh Weah has decided to go second, indicates the extent to which the opposition candidate wants to see UP Ellen Sirleaf ousted but does the pairing with Tubman presents the most potent threat? Analysts are unsure.
Until the Kakata convention, the ruling party’s formula had been based on Weah, emerging into a second round duel with the incumbent Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, in a head-to-head rematch with Weah, redux 2005. The thinking in some circles was that Weah was the most likely candidate that President Sirleaf could defeat easily in a second round. As it now turns out, Weah has denied UP that choice and that opportunity.
Political observers say tribal and money politics are still key in Liberian and African politics. Initially political bases are being built on tribal lines and on the basis of money. But FPA has learned that tribal politics will play big in the first second.
It is also widely agreed even within UP circles that President is popular outside of Liberia but unpopular domestically because of the issue of corruption and impunity, high unemployment and lack of a reconciliation agenda. Even international partners will concede in private that the President is not popular on the ground. President Sirleaf herself has indicated that she needs to focus on the domestic agenda.
Given all of the variables and internal information within each political party, FPA has determined the following percentages heading into the first round, although these percentages can change within the next 6 months to elections.
In 2005, Sirleaf received 19 percent during the first round. She is expected to increase her base of support by 5 percent. During the second round, she received support from other candidates to take her over the top. In reflection, Sirleaf’s true base of support the 19 percent she received so an analysis must begin from the point of the first round.
Brumskine contested in 2005 that he was cheated during the first round when he received 13 percent of the votes. He is expected to double his numbers because of the support he will get in vote rich Bong County, as he has picked Siakor as his running mate. It is also indicative that Brumskine and Dew Mayson are splitting the youth and student votes, due to the high unemployment amongst the youths and student population. Students blamed the high unemployment on the Sirleaf administration bringing people from abroad to take jobs that can be performed by them.
Mayson is expected to split the southern votes with the Weah-Tubman ticket. Picking Jewel will also take votes away from Siakor. NPP support is also vital in Bong County. Jewel is also likely to bring in the women vote, as she has shown to be popular with women and she understands the issues. But there are indications that Dew will pick Dr. Korto, former Education Minister. But Korto impact will be minimal due to the fact Nimbaians are most likely to go for the top ticket, Prince Johnson.
In addition to the Nimba vote, Prince Johnson is likely to sweep the ex-soldiers and their widows who have come to see him as their savior, as he too is an ex-military general.
Tubman-Weah would have been an instant win except for the fact Tubman and Sirleaf share the common criticism of age with many Liberians asking whether they would want another Tubman in the Mansion. Some supporters of Weah also likely to defect to Brumskine and Dew Mayson, as they would prefer Weah as the Presidential candidate. This is why even though Weah campaigned for Tubman in Kakata, he received 116 votes and Tubman received 118 votes during the convention.
An even more interesting twist to the upcoming elections is the clash of the Harvard-Trained. Tubman, the Harvard-trained lawyer is going up against the incumbent, Sirleaf, the Harvard-Trained economist. Both ran on separate tickets in 2005 with Weah losing to Sirleaf in a runoff. With Tubman now on top, experts see the likelihood that the election is poised for a second round considering the changing dynamics emerging in the playing field.
Ravaged by civil wars for years until 2003, Liberia is nursing a fragile peace with the help of U.N. peacekeepers into what will easily go down as the most crucial elections in the country’s history. If the elections were held today, the lucky money points to a second round. Here’s a sampling of what the leading candidates can expect on the campaign trail in the coming weeks as we decipher their strengths, weaknesses and what they must do if they hope to emerge victorious at the polls.
STRENGTHS: What the ticket has going for it is the incumbent’s edge. Incumbents running for second terms usually benefit from the advantage that comes with power. This has been evident in the wake of recent endorsements from many pledging their loyalties to the incumbent.
WEAKNESSES: The age factor could pose some problems and despite the belief among party faithful that the ruling party will secure a first-round victory. The emerging geographical dynamics may not be in the ruling party’s favor if elections were held today. The issue of corruption still remains an Achilles that will have to be dealt with or at least curbed before elections.
WHAT THEY NEED TO WORK ON? The vote-rich county previously believed to be in the bag for the ruling party may be in need of a miracle. Developments in Lofa are far behind and senior county executives are unsure whether they will secure funding in time for Independence Day which many believe will be a flop if things do not turn around in a hurry. Complicating matters, this is the home of the Vice President and last-minute slip-up is the last thing the incumbent needs as the post-war nation inches toward elections. Criticisms have also befallen some senior government ministers hailing from the county who have failed to take leadership on issues of development and reconciliation. Defense Minister Samuka, Finance Minister Ngafuan and veep Boakia have been put on notice and time is running out.
STRENGTHS: The Bong County-Grand Bassa Combo is proving to be a handful with partisans from various political parties acknowledging that Siakor’s simple-man mantra and knowledge of the issues coupled with Brumskine’s popularity in Bassa could make them a force come to be reckoned with. Brumskine’s Liberty Party has been consistent in taking the incumbent government to task on the issues and has been drumming international support in Washington and the Congressional Black Caucus.
WEAKNESSES: Brumskine is still nurturing a perception that he does not relate to the average Liberian, an aura of mystique that has perhaps kept him from reaching the promise land. Will 2011 be his year?
WHAT THEY NEED TO WORK ON? A little more coming down to earth from Brumskine will go a long way. His stuck-up persona and lack of hands-on relationship with voters could deny Brumskine the crown he has coveted for years.
STRENGHTS: Like Sirleaf, Tubman possesses a wealth of experience as a former ambassador and head of the United Nations mission in Somalia. His fourth place showing in 2005 and Weah’s backing this time around could put him over the top but could also sink him depending on whether the party’s grassroot embraces the ticket.
WEAKNESSES: While many believe Tubman’s experience puts him on a level playing field with Sirleaf, there are questions about the timing of his presidency and whether the age factor could drive voters away. Don’t forget also, disgruntled partisans of the Congress for Democratic Change who are still bitter that Weah abandoned his quest for the older Tubman. Tubman also carries the baggage of his failed marriages with Samuel Doe’s National Democratic Party of Liberia and of late Liberian National Union(LINU). Would the veteran diplomat be prepared to expected the unexpected if things turn south?
WHAT THEY NEED TO WORK ON? Convincing grassroot CDCians that they can deliver would be key here. This is where Tubman’s diplomatic credential could come in handy as both he and Weah try to convince CDC grassrooters that they should stop the whining and come aboard the train to victory. Tubman’s fate lies in whether he can muster the courage to unite a party on opposing ends of the political stick, still weighing whether the reversal of age could sink or swim the party with the self-proclaim numerical edge.
STRENGHTS: Dew Mayson has created a persona that he can generate campaign funding. It is based on that, that many feel he can muster a win for the presidency. In recent weeks, Mayson has been strengthening his bases in the southeast and Montserrado County where some believe he could be a factor. Mayson also appears to have the backing of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Party and is being backed by what’s left of the progressive era.
WEAKNESSES: Mayson has endured a lot of missteps on the campaign trail leading many to label him a flip-flop. First, he led residents of Bong County to believe that he was carrying former first lady Jewel Howard Taylor as his running mate and later backpedaled on the issue. Of late, there are speculations that former Education Minister Korto will be Mayson’s running mate. Korto’s corruption baggage could haunt a candidate who has been critical of the incumbent Achilles, which is corruption, should he stick with the former Education minister. Mayson, for now appears to be caught between a rock and a hard place – the Taylor baggage if he sticks with Jewel or the corruption label if he decides to lean on Korto. No doubt a herculean task for the Ambassador. Perhaps the most important dilemma clouding Mayson is the recent criticism from UP chairman Varney Sherman that Mayson is not a professor and has been masquerading as on for years. Mayson is yet to address the low-blow regarding his professorship or lack of one. Will voters hold him to the fire?
WHAT THEY NEED TO WORK ON? Mayson still has a lot of convincing to do and address lingering concerns over his role in the sale of Liberian embassies abroad. While he is drowning in the perception that he can generate funding for a campaign, aides and even his critics say Mayson is yet to display the cash many anticipate he would have at this stage. Perhaps some say he is waiting for the campaign to heat up. Most importantly, Mayson must begin deciphering his chances and whether he’ll be better off with or without Jewel or Korto. Time is running out and Mayson faces criticism that he does not respond well to the pressure lingering at his doorsteps and the ultimate decision which could make or break his candidacy.