The 2005 Liberian Presidential Election Favors Establishment Politicians


By Winsley S. Nanka, CPA



The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 17, 2005

The election timetable released recently by National Elections Commission (NEC) of Liberia will benefit the establishment politicians and the individuals that have name recognition in Liberia. According to press reports, legislative and presidential aspirants have between September 1 to October 10, 2005 to campaign. It would be difficult for little known candidates such as Milton Teajay, Mamadee Woah-Tee, Margaret Thompson, Joseph Korto and others to make significant progress over the relatively short campaign period given the election guidelines which restrict the activities of political parties and politicians.

The restrictive election timetable and guidelines serve as an invitation for the establishment politicians who have the resources and social connections to manipulate the electoral system. In a country like Liberia where an elite permanent political class exits, it is an unattainable objective to limit the activities of the political elite. The restrictions imposed on campaign activities by the NEC implies that the politicians with the resources and social connections are likely to “re-define as many items as possible as non-campaign activities” in order to circumvent the restrictive election guidelines.

Michael Pino-Duschinsky of the Administration and Cost of Elections (ACE), a partnership organization of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), and five leading international organizations lists four components of a fair electoral system:

· Allocation of broadcasting time to political parties and candidates between elections.
· Measures to assure fairness in news coverage and in current affairs programming.
· Televised debates between rival candidates during campaigns.
· The appointment and dismissal of senior public broadcasting executives who help to ensure manipulation or control by the establishment politicians.

Pino-Duschinsky’s checklist however, has several shortcomings in the Liberian electoral context. First, equal time to the airwaves in itself is not enough to assure victory for little known candidates who due to the restrictive election guidelines, may not campaign until forty days prior to the elections. Second, in a poverty stricken country like Liberia, it is difficult to assure fairness in programming when journalists are susceptible to bribes by resource endowed candidates. Third, Liberia does not have a culture of transparency and a well-informed society to avert the manipulation or control of the broadcast system by the establishment politicians. Furthermore, Liberia does not have a modern broadcasting network to facilitate communications across Liberia by political aspirants or a modern transportation infrastructure to enable the politicians easy access across the country.

Given the circumstances above, the establishment politicians including Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Tokpa Nah Tipoteh, Varney Sherman, Winston Tubman, Charles Brumskine, and a few others are likely to gain unfair advantages because they are well-known than the Joseph Kortos and the Margaret Thompsons of Liberian politics, and they have the resources to articulate their views over a short period of time.

Furthermore, electoral systems designed with the help of organizations like the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) for failed states emerging from conflicts .i.e. Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Liberia, etc are intended to benefit the politicians that the international community believes have the credibility to articulate the national reconstruction and democratization goals set by the international community.

For example, Dr. Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, a former United Nations official and a favorite of the international community, participated in the election system in Sierra Leone in 2002 which was designed to benefit the international community’s favored politician, Dr. Kabbah. The campaign period in the Sierra Leonean election was April 5 to May 11, 2002, few days shorter than Liberia. The 2003 election in Afghanistan followed a very similar pattern. However, it was postponed several times because of security concerns. Ultimately, the international community’s favored candidate, Mr. Karzai, Afghanistan ‘s interim president emerged victorious.

The 2005 electoral system in Liberia is likely to benefit politicians such Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Winston Tubman, Tokpa-Nah Tipoteh, Charles Brumskine, Varney Sherman, and a few others. These are the politicians that the international community believes have the credibility to harness bilateral, multilateral and domestic resources to meet the social economic development needs of Liberia. These politicians are also likely to benefit from the electoral system in Liberia because of their name recognition, and the short and restrictive campaign season. Under the present condition, it would be difficult for the rest of the presidential aspirants to make any substantial gains in the Liberian presidential election come October 2005.

Accordingly, one viable alternative for the little known presidential contenders is to postpone their presidential aspirations during the 2005 election cycle, and use the next six years to develop national constituencies, which would help to make them credible candidates in future elections.