President Sirleaf (seated right) and Vice President Boakai (seated left)
The 2017 Elections: Ellen Unity Party vs Boakai Unity Party; how the rift escalated
Liberia has conducted two successful presidential elections since her civil war officially ended in 2005. Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf defeated soccer legend George Weah in 2005 and in 2011, Cllr. Winston Tubman, a renowned international lawyer and nephew of the late President William V. S. Tubman was defeated again by Madam Sirleaf.
As President Sirleaf second and final term is coming to an end, the process of electing a new President is ongoing. So far, the frontrunners in these elections are Senator George Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change and Vice President Joseph Boakai of the Unity Party, the same party which President Sirleaf won with in the two recent elections. However, tensions have been very high between President Sirleaf and her Vice President. In a preceding article titled “The Ellen House of Cards”, I gave some details and historical facts about some internal disagreements which led to the president’s quest to support the Liberty Party and the Coalition for Democratic Change. Since the President has been playing some political cards, Vice President Boakai and his surrogates have a share in the problem.
Every country where a Vice President wants to assume power after the sitting President term ends, that sitting President must be involved heavily in the day-to-day electoral activities of his or her subordinate. On the other hand, that was not the case with the Unity Party.
With a long-time feud between the President and Senator Varney Sherman, Vice President Boakai and his surrogates leaned the Sherman side instead of finding ways to de-escalate the problem. Because he didn’t want the President to talk him into making decisions about his electoral process, the Vice President start using proxies to communicate with the President when in fact, he has her personal number. A case caught the President’s attention after she promised to give him a hefty amount of Liberian dollars to boost his electoral process. Instead of calling the President directly, he started sending messages to her through her Special Assistant and other people close to her. President Sirleaf then asked why the Vice President can’t call her directly, and if he doesn’t, she will not give the money.
The Boakai camp started to react by eliminating Ellen loyalists out of their planning process, notably, their former Secretary General Eugene Nagbe was kept out of the loop. Many times, meetings were held behind Eugene’s back and he was only informed about decisions after those meetings. In addition to Ellen’s pressure, this was a major reason for Minister Nagbe’s resignation from the post of Secretary General of the party. To add salt on the sore, Vice President Boakai had Gbezongar Findley as top of the pile for selection as Vice Standard Bearer due to President Sirleaf’s request.
However, the Vice President and the Sherman surrogates such as Wilmot Paye and others eliminated Findley’s name with fear of too much loyalty to the President. The Vice President did not inform President Sirleaf about his choice for running mate until two hours before the announcement. If you readers can recall, the announcement of Nuquay by the Unity Party was delayed by few hours from the original time set because the President was very furious. In addition, the President wanted Hon. Edwin Snowe to head the Unity Party national campaign team. The Vice President and his surrogates changed it at the eleventh hour and went with Senator Thomas Grupee instead. Then, to add trouble to problems, after all these slaps in President Sirleaf’s face, Vice President Boakai and his surrogates held a thanksgiving service for Senator Sherman after he came back from the United States where he underwent a brain surgery.
With all the above stated and many others, President Sirleaf surmised that she has lost her grip on the party. The President confided in people close to her that Vice President Boakai made a serious error in judgment by going against her and her wishes and that he will pay the price for it. She has withheld financial support to the party and her loyalists are giving the party cold shoulders while many are planning defections; which started with Gbehzongar Findley. With Ellen holding back financially, the Unity Party is faced with serious logistical constraints. While some members who are officials of government are willing to contribute to the party, they are afraid that their contribution might offend the President and she might come after them. In addition, the party is in a “Susu Club” state: members are urged to contribute as guarantee for a place in positions picking when the Vice President wins. The higher a person contributes, the better are their chances.
In concluding this piece, the rift in the Unity Party can be looked at from two angles. As much as she is the President and represents the party, Madam Sirleaf should have left Boakai to run his own show. After Boakai was petitioned in Lofa, Madam President during an interview said, “I support Vice President Boakai intent to contest, but he will get it the same way I got it”. With that statement, some people will say she should leave the Oldman to run his own show. On the other hand, President Sirleaf has won two elections: this means she knows how to win and understands the mentality of the Liberian people.
Vice President Boakai should have taken cue from Ellen’s playbook and her strategies. Ellen may have become unpopular with the Liberian people in recent times, but one thing that you can’t take away from the Madam is her understanding of Liberia’s political landscape and the way Liberians think. Furthermore, Boakai’s backing out from the Ellen’s presidency is a poor strategy. If he wanted to disassociate himself from the Ellen’s Presidency, he was supposed to resign a year or six months prior to the elections. Ellen sees his action as an affront to her. The election is a month and few weeks away. Will Ellen mend the broken pieces with her Vice President before October 10? That is a question that will have a hard-positive answer as the damage is almost irreparable; especially with a Varney Sherman as a confidant to Vice President Boakai. Maybe the Vice President just ate his cake before he had it.
Till then, we wish Vice President Boakai well as we watch the drama unfolds….