Liberia: Farewell Madam President...

16Oct 2017
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Liberia: Farewell Madam President...

ON Tuesday, October 10, 2017, registered Liberian voters across the country went to the polls to elect a new president and a new House of Representatives for another six years.

Certainly, the elections are a huge transition in the history of the country, because as President Sirleaf told the UN General Assembly, "it will mark the first time in 73 years that political power will be handed over peacefully, and democratically, from one elected leader to another."

What I am not sure about though, is when the President said "This paves the way for the next generation of Liberians to lead the countryinto the future." This part of the speech has since reignited the generational change debate, but please allow me reserve my comments onthis, at least for this article.

Oh, how pleasing it was to listen to President delivered her last address at the UN General Assembly on 19 September 2017. It wasperhaps the most punctuated of all the addresses. Her eloquence and her speech delivery powers have never been in doubt. She gotapplauded at almost every point of her speech as she told the Liberian story and her role played in the narrative. It was a narrative thatsummed up the country's recovery from a civil war to where are today at her exit. An appealing story, I thought. Wasn't it?

One of the poignant moments that stands out in the speech is where she said, "Eleven years ago, in September of 2006, I stood beforethis august body as the newly elected president of the Republic of Liberia, and, the first woman to be democratically elected as head ofState on the African continent. Today, I address you for the last time as I bring to closure my two terms of elected office." So, I joinedthose who are predisposed to saying congratulations, Madam President!

Understandably, our President needed to be celebrated by world leaders because a favorite past time of especially African leaders is toimposed themselves on their people anyhow. So, for one of those power-thirsty leaders to surrender to the constitutional mandate toquit, that person should be worthy of commendation. Farewell Madam President, you will be remembered for quitting on schedule.

And the speech could only get sweeter as the President boastfully said the elections "signal the irreversible course that Liberia hasembarked upon to consolidate its young, post-conflict democracy and that democracy is on the march in Liberia and on an irreversiblepath forward on the African continent." Great and strong declaration, Madam President even though I am not sure about this assertion.Is the state of being of our democracy irreversible? Well, maybe. But I do have some thoughts, if you do not mind. Admittedly, Liberia has scored some marks in its democratic development, but irreversible, madam President? This is my doubt beggingfor clarity.

Now, it is good to recount successes but it is better not to embellish the reality so that people succeeding you will note where thechallenges are and how to build on your progress.

For instance, I think the President was honest when she told the nation in her last State of the Nation's Address that her governmentfailed in reconciling the nation and the fight against corruption. 

With that pronouncement, the next government is forewarned that these are two problem areas that must be given attention. But in fact,reconciliation and corruption fight are two solid foundations of democratic governance. 

To have failed on those two fronts, I am afraid our democracy is not entrenched enough to be irreversible - I think our democracy is toofragile.

Not only did we failed in the fight against corruption and reconciliation as a people, I should submit to you that our justice system is waytoo old-fashioned to appreciate the democratic development sweeping across the globe. It was strange for the Supreme Court forinstance, to rule against holding elections for city majors in favor of appointing them. Without impugning on its integrity, the Judiciary hassome distance to cover to redeem itself.

There is a general lack of trust and fear for its independence. Memories are still fresh regarding the Court's opinion on the disputed codeof conduct for public officials, which effectively rendered the instrument non-existent. It remains a moot point that we could paper over inthe exigency of time-at this moment of electioneering where all serious issues as that could be easily swept under the carpet. But evenbefore the chicken will come back to roost let me probe other niggling questions.

Let me hasten to state that I doubt our democracy is on an irreversible path when the government did not act fast enough to effect thenecessary legal reforms [including the media legal environment] to consolidate and sustain the democracy. The President reneged onabolishing anti-speech laws, which are counter- productive to our democratic asperations and could reverse the gains.

I expected the President to use her influence and her sense of participatory democracy to reduce the six-year presidential term of office.The Government spent a lot of money on a Constitutional review process, soliciting views across the country but made little effort to holdthe referendum. That referendum which should have happened a year ahead of these elections, failed to take place for obvious reasons.Little political commitment and so no money alibi that stands on thin legs. Where there is a will, there ought to be a way for the all-powerful Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Maybe the strategy was get the process bogged down with so many propositions including the conflict-ridden "Christian State" debate tocover the real issues. I have never heard of a referendum with seven propositions - in fact the Legislature had picked those seven from alist of twenty-five submitted by the President. Seriously? I think we should be asking for a new constitution instead.

Notwithstanding the failure to hold the referendum, if the Government was keen on reducing the tenure of office, it would have beenstudying how to put that single proposition on the ballot for Tuesday's elections. After all, the people overwhelmingly suggested areduction in the length of the presidential and representative terms from 6 to 4 and the Senate from 9 to 6 years respectively. We arerecalling what obtained during the constitutional review process over two years ago. Many Liberians hold that the current terms are toolong and could undoubtedly derail the fledgling democratic process.

Since Madam President also botched on this important reform, I really thought our political leaders who have all been campaigning on'CHANGE' would make a redemptive statement for the sustenance of peace and democracy in Liberia by pushing the government to getthe National Elections Commission (NEC) to put on the ballot, reduction in the Presidential and Legislative terms. 

I had written Speaker Emmanuel Nuquay with the hope that this issue would claim the attention of the House of Representatives. What amissed opportunity!

Essentially, a vote on 10 October, would have been more appropriate because the current president is not standing, she would notbenefit from the new amended term of reduction in tenure.

So, it would have turned out that we will not just usher in a new government in next January, but a fresh beginning in strengthening ourdemocracy. Important still, Tuesday's votes would have gone a long way in reassuring Liberians that they can go to the polls as often torenew the mandate and/or change their leaders when they so desire.

Former US President, Barack Obama was right when he said, "The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, butthey endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose." Thegreater purpose here being, developing strengthening our democratic ethics. Justifiably, we have seen an increase in the number of Liberians who are eager to participate in the political governance of the country,while others are desperate to hold onto power.

Tuesday's ballot will see 20 candidates for the one presidential seat and 984 candidates for 73 representative seats. In 2011, we had 16presidential candidates, while representative candidates were 793. So, there is an increase by 4 presidential candidates and 192representative candidates, as you can see. This number excludes the senate.

With such a swelling interest in the few elective posts in our country, I am afraid there is a possibility that the attending passion in thepolitical contest could boil over. For example, some of these contestants have remarked in open conversion that "I cannot afford to stayin opposition for another 12 years." Whatever that means, is anybody's guess; but the true is that election is one of the triggers of conflict.So, the onus is on us to reduce the inclination towards conflict.

Much is still desired in putting our democracy on an irreversible path. President sirleaf will be gone, but we have a collectiveresponsibility as a people to create the enabling legal environment that will not only sustain the peace, but also strengthen our democraticdevelopment.