Some may argue that Liberia is more democratic today than at any time in its history, but the country’s 2017 presidential election holds stains of electoral manipulation. Electoral manipulation is best described as the set of practices that includes, among other things, stuffing ballot boxes, buying votes, and intimidating voters – and in the case of Liberia, secretly meeting with election officials.
These actions violate fundamental political freedoms, undermines the function of elections as mechanisms of accountability, destroys confidence in electoral and democratic institutions, and sometimes lead to instability – especially in fragile states like Liberia.
Why Governments Engage in Electoral Manipulation?
Several years ago, Rod R. Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois in the United States received 14 years in prison when residents of his state heard him on secretly recorded phone calls discussing what he might get in exchange for former President Obama’s Senate seat. At his sentencing, Judge James B. Zagel said, “The harm here is not measured in the value of property or money. The harm is the erosion of public trust in government.” It appears that sentiment is being felt throughout Liberia as some have challenged the results from the October 10th election.
With that, the central question becomes: why do political parties and governments employ electoral manipulation? Naturally, politicians manipulate elections to win, but in Liberia, there is a widespread public perception that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is manipulating the 2017 presidential election in support of former footballer, George Weah, to protect her legacy.
Liberians also believe President Johnson-Sirleaf has co-opted the one-time grassroots organization of the Congress for Democratic Change to allow her son, the former chair of the defunct National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) to become a Senator for Montserrado – a quid pro quo Liberian style. Senator Weah denies all claims of a quid-pro-quo by merely saying, Robert Sirleaf, is not a member of the party. These statements make some Liberians wonder if, after the elections were held, Robert Sirleaf were to become a member of Weah’s CDC, this will allow Senator Weah to sidestep his early statements and support Mr. Sirleaf – quid pro quo.
Is the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) Still a Grass Roots Organization?
Liberians are beginning to witness the intended effects of the alleged manipulations by President Sirleaf; Among other things: it has convinced some bureaucrats to join Senator Weah’s CDC and has persuaded others, who were once loyal to different political parties, to support Senator Weah.
The most harmful effect is the post-electoral increase in power of the alleged manipulator, President Sirleaf, and the loss of the grassroots franchise of the CDC. Today, while the CDC displays a puzzling slogan “Change for Hope,” some wonder where’s the change when the party is riddled with individuals who were once part of the marginalization of Liberians.