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Presidential election in Liberia likely to bring more authoritarian and corrupt rule

The current atmosphere of insecurity and violence would pose on the pending elections in Liberia. With acting president eager to keep the power, the current priorities of political stability, strong security and democracy may shift ahead of elections, threatening the country with outbreak of violence.

President George Weah has predicted a landslide victory for himself in the 2023 presidential elections which, he said, would cause the opposition political parties to think that the election was rigged. The President certainly seems proactive, as he legalizes a prearranged scenario and neutralizes the attempt by opposition to challenge the outcome of election. He has probably chosen the scenario of victory with a minimal gap, as rigging would look questionable and not obvious that way.

The growing tension between constituent members of the Coalition including ‘war of words’ involving Nimba County Senator Prince Yormie Johnson and President Weah on one hand, via their respective church sermons, and the other two members-NPP and LPDP are very troubling signs with security leanings for the entire nation.

Liberians will go to the polls on October 10, 2023 to elect a new president and members of the Legislature or retain incumbent President George Manneh Weah and his ruling Coalition for Democratic Change.

In January 2023, Liberia’s President George Weah has told the parliament he would run for re-election this year after a first term marred with corruption allegations and an economic downturn. Weah took office in 2018 in the West African country’s first peaceful change of power in seven decades and is constitutionally eligible to run again in the October 10 polls.

However, Weah’s key ally Senator Prince Johnson announced last month that he and his party, the Movement for Democratic Reconstruction (MDR) were withdrawing their support of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) ruling party. Senator Johnson has said the party was withdrawing support due to Weah’s failure to fulfil their agreement that he would employ more citizens from Nimba in top positions of government.

That way, growing tension and uncertainty ahead of election might incite the President to try to influence the outcome of the vote, with higher risks of destabilization and violence for the nation.

Gabriel I.H. Williams and Emmanuel D. Abalo, former leaders of the Press Union of Liberia, issued an open letterappealing for collective action to prevent rigging of the October 2023 presidential and general elections and avert violence in Liberia. The letter also noted that consultations are urgently needed to address serious concerns that Liberia’s electoral process is being compromised by actions of the government, which appears to be working in partisanship with the National Elections Commission (NEC), a body constitutionally mandated to supervise free and fair elections in keeping with internationally established democratic standards. The mechanism to be devised from such consultations should incorporate a roadmap to ensure an electoral process that is peaceful, free and fair. The NEC’s support for a manual voting system for the October 10 election comes despite the fact that most election results in the past decade have been contested in court over claims of rigging. Liberia’s manual voting systems have been prone to manipulations, human interventions and fraud, with many calling for the use of technology to transmit election results electronically, and reduce human interference. But NEC rules out electronic voting for 2023 elections that increases fears of fraud by Liberian authorities.

Politically motivated violence could be the outcome with dire consequences for Liberian democracy. The urgency for consultation could not be more pressing, given growing public alarm that the country is becoming a powder keg of political discontent. Liberia is gradually slipping into yet another period of political violence based, in part, on several recent incidents:

  • three reported attempts to assassinate a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Gloria Musu-Scott.

The alleged attempted assassination of the former Chief Justice is the latest in a series of what appears to be politically motivated killings in which the culprits have not been brought to book since the government of President George Weah came to power in 2018.

  • In January 2023, the Liberia National Police announced the seizure of about 450 military-style weapons at the Freeport of Monrovia and parts of Montserrado County. Since then, the government has not announced the outcome of any investigation, amid growing public speculation and fear that the country is being saturated with arms. 
  • Increasingly partisan role of the Liberia National Police (LNP).

 Recent pronouncements by the AFL Chief of Staff and the Minister of National Defense give further reasons for grave concern that the AFL could once again be used by the government to terrorize and murder defenseless people as was the case in Liberia’s recent evil past

The recently released preliminary census has been widely criticized as poorly conducted, and there has also been delay in registering voters, and the National Elections Commission has ruled out the use of biometric technology for the registration process this year. Unity Party Chairman Rev. Luther Tarpeh claimed that the George Manneh Weah-led government chose to conduct a fraudulent census after slews of allegations popped out about wanton corruption and uncontrollable mismanagement of census funds, causing distrust, postponements, and pointless delays to the original start date. As such, they cannot accept its result. Opposition thinks that  top government officials were also prime beneficiaries of the massive fraud at the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services.

As the election date approaches, many critical benchmarks to ensure credible democratic elections have not been met.  Election guidelines and regulations are being flagrantly violated, such as the recent mass political rally held in Monrovia by the ruling party. Most disturbing is how the National Elections Commission (NEC) that appears to be conducting its affairs as an extension of the ruling party and the government of President Weah, who is seeking re-election.

If the election process is interrupted by disputes and other challenges, the country runs the risk of a major constitutional crisis

Issues arising from electoral disputes that end up at the Supreme Court of Liberia could plunge the country into constitutional crisis.

 The political parties whose attention is urgently needed include the following: Unity Party (UP), Alternative National Congress (ANC), Liberty Party (LP), Liberian People’s (LPP), All-Liberia Party (ALP), United People’s Party (UPP), Liberia Action Party (LAP), Liberia National Union (LINU), Liberia Unification Party (LUP), All Liberian Coalition Party (ALCOP), New Deal Movement (NDM), and People’s Liberation Party (PLP).

After voting in Africa’s first elected woman head of state in 2005, Liberians experienced another historic election in 2017 as the country ushered in its first peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected leader to another since 1944. Following the election, the country is looking to build on this milestone towards the institutionalization of a resilient democracy that delivers for its people.

Liberians remain traumatized from the predatory governance practices of the military coup that brought Samuel Doe and subsequently Charles Taylor to power.

Warlords from the civil war era have become more visible within the Weah administration. Prince Johnson gave an early endorsement to Weah. Another, Augustine Nagbe, has claimed that he was setting up a private militia to protect Weah.

The election in 2023 is expected to be a defining moment in the history of the country, but with minimum international oversight.

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