Elections 2005: Personality Versus Institution

By George D. Yuoh


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

July 31, 2004


Forty-three presidential aspirants, and still counting! That is where we are. It is comical and implausible just looking at how many persons want to "change Liberia", a feat they believe they can achieve only if they were president. No one wants to be neither a senator nor a representative. No one wants to wait and be groomed in the act of statesmanship. Everyone wants to be President of Liberia now. I have asked myself over and over again, just why. But each time, I come to the same conclusion: greed and ignorance. Liberia is there to be exploited, and for most of these aspirants, the best medium is to be president and become the corruptor-in-chief. The presidency of Liberia has become so cheap that anyone who can buy bread, butter and coke believes he is capable of managing the affairs of such a social complex and economically underdeveloped and impoverished nation. And don't dare say that it is a matter of freedom to exercise their rights. It is ignorance to the highest extreme that causes people to believe that just anyone can be president of Liberia. Mind you, most of these president-want-to-be, have never properly managed a "waiter-market" before. But the presidency of Liberia is their practice ground. They are prepared to dig until everything caves in, even if it means taking all of us down. But this is the result of our failure to built sustainable and viable political institutions that would appropriately screen and select the best alternatives for President of Liberia.

Political Pluralism

And as we argue, there are those who are of the conviction, and who would bitterly argue no matter how impractical, that the principles of multi-party democracy are upheld when you have over 50 political parties contesting an election, even, for a population of less than 3 million; a population so sectionalized and traumatized from years of pain, hate and reprisals; a population desperately in need of the basic necessities of life. For these advocates, the mushrooming of political parties is a testament to successful political pluralism.

However, and to present a contrary view, the spirit of a multi-party framework is about giving the people viable options, in selecting the best possible alternatives of leadership that pontificates values and demonstrates the capacity to deliver the needs of the people. Democracy is about carving out and guaranteeing a system of social equality, through independence of choice, as reflective in the freedom to exercise that choice prudently. It is not about allowing a whole lot of inconsequential folder-carrying political mask-dancers and nonentities to crowd up the field, thereby diluting and impairing the vision and judgment of an already arguably illiterate population. Multi-party democracy is about choice, and about the availability of concrete alternatives. It is not about political meandering and parties auctioning to the highest bidders. In fact, the conditions of a multi-party and political pluralist system can be satisfied even if there are only two viable political institutions competing to provide the people with better alternatives to attaining a higher standard of living.

For example, and as a matter of fact, the most successful democracies existing today have been steadied upon the strength and framework of a few solid and viable political institutions. In the United States, the Democratic and Republican parties provide credible and concrete alternatives of choice for the people of America in deciding which party is better positioned to tackle the burning issues of the day. The situation is the same for the Congress and Bharatiya Janata (BJP) parties in India (the most populous democracy on earth), and the Conservative and Labor parties in Great Britain have equally provided their people with sound alternatives of political leadership. Such viable institutions also serve as check and balance to each other so that the true principles of democracy are not compromised, but protected always. Reliable and tangible opposition political parties serve as watchdogs on each other, thereby guaranteeing continuous political transparency. Too many good-for-nothing political parties are contemptuous.

Political Institutions In Liberia

As Liberians, we have never proven to be a people who believe in the power of institutions. All aspects of our lives hang on looking up to individuals. From the serious matter of religion, to the basic element of society, the family, the story is the same. For instance, people form break away churches every day because of self-interest. And congregation members would follow the break away church leaders, not on the question of faith, but on the basis of personality or relation.

The situation is even daunting when one looks at the political picture of Liberia. Here again, it is personality, rather than institution that determines political affiliation and allegiance. And instead of building sound political institutions, we prostitute our political associations to individuals out of selfishness. Almost all of the political parties existing in Liberia today are dependent on single individuals, without whom the so-called parties would crumble. Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr. owns RAP; LINU is the property of Dr. Harry F. Moniba. Dr. Togbah Nah Tipoteh has made himself the lifetime standard bearer of the LPP. The LPP's breakaway faction, New Deal, is centered on Dr. George Klay Kieh and to a lesser extend, Alaric Tokpa. The two men will now become the party's new perpetual standard-bearer and vice standard-bearer respectively. Why did Dr. Harry Moniba form LINU when he was acting standard-bearer of NDPL? Why did the founders of New Deal establish a new party when they could have closed ranks in the LPP and fought for "reforms", including dethroning the "old-man" as perpetual standard-bearer? The story is the same for almost all the other political parties and their standard-bearers. No one wants to wait, learn, and be groomed. As soon as there is a disagreement (not usually about policy and political differences, but individual interest), they jump ship and form new parties where they would be the lords and masters. For individuals to believe that they were born to only be president of Liberia is to either be grossly arrogant or extremely delusional.

And there are still others who consider the formation of political parties as a lucrative business enterprise. There are a good number of registered political parties in Liberia that were established solely for financial gains, and are currently up for grabs, as long as one can meet the asking price. During the 1997 elections, we saw how parties were auctioned for cash and political appointed positions. Alliances were not made based on the commonality of ideologies and platforms. People out-rightly sold and bought into parties to satisfy their greed. This is not political pluralism. This is not the spirit and letter of democracy. This is cloned political thievery.

Looking Forward

Recently, a good friend of mine told me that, "this coming election, and whoever is capable of winning will be determined by who buys the most bags of rice during campaign." Sad but true! The elections will not be about which party has the best platform and the most qualified candidate to implement a set of practical policies that will lead Liberia out of this seemingly perpetual chaos and into a brighter future. It will not be about which party understands the plight of the Liberian people, and is poised to tackle those problems head on. Neither will it be about the party that has a track record of providing economic development as well as much needed political stability. It will not be about the party that will present the most qualified candidate, capable of earning back for Liberia, its once respected status among the comity of nations in this our civilized world. Instead, the elections will be about untested and unproven men/women who have done nothing of substance for Liberia, but who are always stretching their hands to Liberia for something.

The situation is more serious than it looks. And when you look at how long a time political institutions (SUP, SIM and then lately STUDA) have survived on the campus of the University of Liberia without wholesale fragmentation, you can only wonder how come this spirit of institutional preservation hasn't been transferred into our larger society. How come the same people who would have given their lives to protect the integrity, stability and identity of SUP and or SIM, would fail to hold together and unite a single political party? How come?? But again, you and I know the answer: greed, self-interest and ignorance are the only logical conclusions.

So, as we journey towards this very significant aspect of our move back towards self-rule (UN and ECOWAS currently decide how we should govern ourselves), we cannot take lightly the outcome of the elections in 2005. This is the outcome that will either make us a new and vibrant nation, or break us and throw us into a bottomless abyss. The current political players and so-called party leaders have not shown the resolve and capacity to, and are probably incapable of building the kind of political institutions we need to hold firm the cherished values of multi-party and institutional democracy so desperately needed in Liberia. I cannot see them, by themselves, uniting or merging their parties to build wholesome and viable alternative political institutions that would guarantee the continuous delivery of intelligent and pro-active leadership for Liberia.

Because of obvious reasons, the only alternative right now is to look towards the National Elections Commission (NEC) to set the tone for a more serious political engagement, and help us weed out the parasitical leeches masquerading as political parties. The NEC needs to fine-tune the elections guidelines and the requirements for registering a political party such that the jokers can get back to what they know best, to joke. During the last elections (1997), a lot of these same parties could not even afford transportation for their volunteers and presidential candidates to move around Monrovia to campaign. They could not afford campaign materials, including t-shirts, stickers, flyers, banners, etc. Political parties contesting for the presidency of Liberia were located in the bags or small folders of their presidential candidates. You cannot denigrate the Office of the President of Liberia to such low levels! We must set very high standards and it is about time that we raise the bar. In this connection, here are a few suggestions:

· That all political parties, current and future, be required to post surety bonds (cash only) of not less than L$1,000,000.00;

· Before any political party is certified to field a presidential and vice presidential team in the coming elections, it must demonstrate that it has the following structures in place: (1) party office for which it has ownership of, for not less than two years; (2) produce a verifiable bank account in Liberia with an available balance of at least L$1,000,000.00;
(3) list of party's executives, and tentative venues and schedules of convention;

· All parties wishing to contest the presidential election must periodically show proof of funding as may be required by the NEC. This is to ensure that other countries and prohibited institutions and individuals do not fund a candidate, thereby unduly influencing the outcome of the elections.

I know some, if not all, of the parties will probably scream against these few recommendations. But if they cannot conform to such relative meager standards then they do not deserve to be in the race. Put your money where your mouth is. If you continuously say you are "stake holders", then let's see the worth of your stocks. National politics is not a joking business, and it is not for hungry lions. We are talking about the life of an embattled nation. It must not be offered cheaply!