West Africa (Globe Afrique) — Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has urged Liberians to ensure a peaceful and transparent election process as several presidential candidates begin campaigning Tuesday to replace Africa’s first democratically elected woman president.
President Sirleaf, who has led the West African country for 12 years, worked to restore economic stability and maintain peace in a nation recovering from prolonged civil war. During her 12 years rule, the country experienced and went through the deadly Ebola crisis as well as widespread official and organized corruption and nepotism at all levels of government, including at the presidency.
Among those running in the October 10 election are the vice president of the ruling Unity Party, Ambassador Joseph Nyumah Boakai and two of the men President Sirleaf faced during Liberia’s last vote in 2011, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine, former president of the Liberian senate and soccer legend and Montserado County’s senator George Manneh Weah.
The 78-year-old President Sirleaf admonished the country’s political leaders to put Liberia first and control the emotions of their supporters and followers. President Sirleaf made these declarations in a radio broadcast on Monday,
“We hold them as political leaders who seek the highest office of our land to act with dignity and responsibility that befits that office — to live up to their commitments to ensure violence-free elections,” she said.
Political spectators say anxiety is high over who will succeed the aging Liberian leader, a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner who led her country through the Ebola epidemic that killed more than 4,800 people.
The October’s polls are the country’s third presidential and general elections since the end of the 14-years civil war in 2003 that devastated the nation, killed over a quarter of a million people and destroyed basic social services.
Amongst the leading presidential candidates is the country’s 72-year vice president Joseph Nyumah Boakai, who has been passively endorsed by Sirleaf and seems to be benefiting by a divided opposition. On the other hand, Liberians are drawn more to the vice president because of his “humility” and “calmness.” Besides, he is the most experienced in government, with a record of more than 30-years serving in various positions in past administrations, which include being minister of agriculture, managing director of the Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation and the Liberia Petroleum Corporation, and as vice president for 12 years.
Former world soccer star George Weah, a sitting senator who ran as vice presidential candidate on the 2011 CDC’s ticket that lost to Sirleaf, is also a strong candidate. It is Weah’s second attempt at the presidency after losing the first time in 2005.
Weah is generally beloved by many Liberians for the pride he brought to the country during his days as the world best soccer player. In addition, he is a genuine humanitarian who has supported numerous causes in Liberia and throughout West Africa where Liberians were refugees.
Weah’s weakness is the perception that the country’s educated class formed about him, that he is insufficiently educated despite having a master’s degree, and, his choice of running mate.
International political analysts say it appears ex-Liberian president Charles Taylor who is serving prison time in the UK for war crimes and crimes against humanity is heavily involved in the country’s current political process in Liberia with various indirect support through surrogates.
Taylor’s wife, Jewel Taylor, a fellow senator, is the running mate to Weah under the banner of the Coalition for Democratic Change. Taylor expects Liberia to request for his release when his wife becomes the country’s vice president.
Considered to be the strongest candidate in terms of planning, execution, strategies and resource mobilization is Liberty Party’s leader Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine, a respected corporate lawyer with a stronghold in Bassa, Nimba, Bong and Montserrado counties, four of the most populated regions in the country.
With the choice of veteran but prudent political giant, Harrison Karnwea, as his running mate, Brumskine’s chances of being the next president of Liberia are much higher than they were in 2005 and 2011. This, in part is also due to his personal credibility, clear economic vision for Liberia, perseverance, endurance and more importantly, his choice of running mate. Also, as president of the Liberian senate, Brumskine instilled discipline and professionalism in the country’s legislative body by bringing to book some lawmakers who engaged in acts of corruption among other things.
Another viable candidate is businessman Benoni Urey of the All Liberian Party (ALP). Urey is a tough guy and someone who would bring about drastic social and economic changes in Liberia in terms of putting things strict. He is regarded as a job creator and someone whose has used his business skills and experience to employ his fellow Liberians. His downside is his ‘bluntness’ and ‘tough guy’ personality and appearance, telling it as it is.
There are three notable and distinguished newcomers in the presidential race this year. Alexander Cummings, a former senior executive of the global Coco Cola Corporation, Dr. Joseph Mills Jones, a senior economist and former head of the country’s central bank, and human rights activist and humanitarian MacDella Cooper. Cooper, a former model and mother of 3, is the lone female presidential candidate. Armed with a master’s degree and personal wealth, she has said that as president she would reduce her salary to $1 a year.
For his part, Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) enjoys much international credibility but has not translated that global trust and confidence into a direct heartfelt connection with ordinary Liberians in the country. His supporters say he is not a politician but a corporate manager who knows how to fix things and create value. Since departing his position as the chief administrative officer of Coco Cola, he has also underwritten more social programs in the country than any candidate in the race. These include underwriting tuition for thousands of students, erecting technical centers for computer literacy and more.
Dr. Joseph Mills Jones of the Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE) connects more with street vendors and small business owners because of his past effort, as central bank governor, in dishing out the country’s resources in the form of “small business loans,” a program which policy makers and activists termed as a waste because the government has been unable to recover millions of dollars expended under the so-called program he used to promote his current political brand.
It is widely believed that the October 10 presidential poll will head into a second round in which Vice President Joseph Boakai will likely face Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine of the Liberty, or Alexander Cummings of the Alternative National Congress. But Liberian politics’ observers say Senator George Weah could pull this off easily if he continues to be scripted and politically careful as he continues to trend now, especially with his political capital being with youth and the poor.