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Liberia elections: Explained

  Nithyashree RB

Liberia elections: Explained
Nithyashree RB

On 10 October, Liberians participated in the first round of elections to elect 73 legislators, 15 senators and the president. President Weah secured 43.83 per cent and Joseph Boakai secured 43.44 per cent with Cummings securing just 1.61 per cent. Since nobody secured an absolute majority, the second round of elections will be held on 14 November 2023 between Weah and Boakai. According to the NEC, the voter turnout was record high 78.86 per cent of 2.4 million registered voters.

 Despite the several coups in West Africa, the democracy in Liberia highlights the country’s commitment to inclusive development and stability. The election occurred on the 20th anniversary of the Accra Peace Agreement which ended the second Liberian civil war. The 2023 election is significant as this will be the first election to be conducted by the National Elections Commission (NEC) autonomously since the end of the civil war in 2003. International partners such as the UN and ECOWAS would not be supporting the election process. New reforms such as the biometric voter system have been introduced by the NEC.  

What is the background to the election?
Liberia, in 1847, upon independence elected its first President, Joseph Jenkins Roberts. The country went through several waves of political instabilities until 2003 including coups, multiple civil wars and rebel movements. Liberia has been politically stable since 2005 after Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first woman president in Africa. In 2017, International football star, George Weah, became the president with a larger public support by securing 60 per cent votes. Weah’s victory highlighted the country’s democratic transfer to power since 1944, following two civil wars between 1989 and 2003, and an Ebola outbreak between 2014 and 2016.

In April 2023, 46 political parties accredited by the National Elections Commission pledged to refrain from violence under the Farmington River Declaration. The declaration was drafted by the UN and the ECOWAS.  

The president is elected for a six-year term. The general election occurs on the second Tuesday of October during the election year. The run-off election may occur on the second Tuesday after the announcement of the results of the general election if an absolute majority has not been obtained. 

Who are the major contenders?
There are 20 contenders for the presidential seat; of which two are women. 

George Weah, a former international football star, is the current President of Liberia and is the leader of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC). CDC initially consisted of the Congress for Democratic Change, the National Patriotic Party and the Liberia People’s Democratic Party. 

Under Weah’s administration, access to electricity has increased and numerous road infrastructure projects are underway across the country. Persisting corruption and increase in food prices jeopardise his victory. His election manifesto guarantees a social health insurance scheme and off-the-grid solar energy for public hospitals and secondary hospitals. It also includes formalising artisanal and small-scale mining activities.

Joseph Boakai, also known as “Sleepy Joe,” leads the Unity Party which is in coalition with the Movement for Democratic Reconstruction (MDR). Boakai has emerged as a strong contender against Weah. Boakai, who is 78 years old, was the minister of agriculture from 1983 to 1985 and was the vice president under the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf administration. His election campaign focuses on development in the agricultural sector, facilitating cross-border trade, fighting against corruption and energy recycling.

Alexander B Cumming, leader of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) now leads the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) which is made up of ANC and Liberty Party (LP). He was placed fifth in the 2017 presidential election. His campaign emphasises women's empowerment, youth employment and human rights.

Other notable contenders include Tiawan Gongloe of the Liberian People’s Party, who is a human rights lawyer. Sara Nyanti, a former deputy special representative of the UN mission in South Sudan is also one of the contenders. 

What are the major issues?
Corruption and economic crisis are some of the major issues persisting in the country. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Liberia ranks 142 out of 180 countries. In 2017, Weah’s administration pledged to fight corruption, however, it failed. Trust in government institutions is diminishing as corruption persists. 

In 2022, the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned three government officials of Liberia. Nathaniel McGill (Chief of Staff), Sayma Syrenius Cephus (Solicitor General and Chief Prosecutor) and Bill Twehey (Managing Director of the National Port Authority (NPA). The sanctioned individuals were involved in public corruption. 

High rates of poverty resulting from civil wars are exacerbated by corruption. According to the World Bank, more than half the population receive USD 1.90 wage per day, and half a million face food insecurity due to rising food prices due to the Ukraine war.

Institutionally, the National Police face challenges in ensuring safety and security to the Liberians. According to the Elections Coordinating Committee’s chairperson Oscar Bloh, the absence of international partners in overseeing the elections will burden the police. Bloh states: “The police, the internal security, they are faced with enormous challenges from limited human resource capacity, limited logistics, uniform issues, issues of finances to deploy across the country.” 

About the author
Nithyashree RB is a Postgraduate Scholar at Stella Maris College, Chennai.

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