The possibility of a run-off between presidential hopefuls George Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and Joseph Boakai of the ruling Unity Party (UP), is becoming increasingly likely as unofficial polling results so far confirm traditional geographical strongholds of either party.
For clarity, the National Elections Commission (NEC) is expected to begin announcing official provisional results today.
However, so far since October 10, unofficial results of the presidential elections broadcast on national radio from polling centres in different parts of Liberia show the two candidates performing exceptionally better than the 18 others who feel they have what it takes to lead the country. The unofficial count, even in the race among candidates for the House of Representatives, has led several hopefuls to already concede defeat, while others have declared outright victory ahead of an official announcement by NEC.
These results, though unofficial and in progress, are not entirely surprising, partly because they are announced in the presence of observers and poll watchers loyal to the various candidates. However, these results confirm traditional strongholds certain political parties possess in various parts of the country. For example, the Unity party presidential candidate, Boakai, appears to be performing quite well so far in vote-rich Nimba County as well as his home county of Lofa. Yet the CDC candidate, Weah, is so far practically sweeping the southeast and boasts a large following in Montserrado County, where its standard-bearer currently holds the senior senatorial seat, which he won by a landslide at his first attempt in 2014.
Bong and Margibi counties could be major battleground areas even though UP has had an upper hand there before.
Weah’s CDC is also doing exceptionally well in the southeastern part of the country, and it has been that way since he first ran for President of Liberia in 2005. The CDC appeared to be in total control of Grand Bassa, Rivercess, Sinoe, Grand Kru, Maryland, River Gee and Grand Gedeh counties, the total votes from which could almost match the achievement of his opponent in Nimba.
Dividing the vote
Traditional turfs aside, another factor that continues to make room for run-off elections in Liberia of late, is the plethora of presidential candidates. This election period, Liberia audaciously boasts a total of 20 presidential candidates, many of whom have barely achieved a handful of votes in the unofficial count so far. Of the 20, about seven of them are actually pulling together significant amounts of votes from various parts of the country. Apart from the two earlier mentioned, there are Charles Walker Brumskine (Liberty Party), Alexander B. Cummings (Alternative National Congress), J. Mills Jones (Movement for Economic Empowerment), Prince Y. Johnson (Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction), and perhaps one other.
So many choices of candidates make it difficult — almost impossible for any one candidate to achieve a 50% plus one which, according to Liberia’s election law, is considered an outright win.
In the past two elections, the crowded presidential race could be regarded as a business venture of sorts, especially for those who knew before hand that they could not win, but managed to pull together enough of a following to “float” to one of the two candidates who would make it to the second round. Compensation could come in the form of cash or kind, such as a plush government position at home or abroad.
Interview with ECOWAS Election Observer Mission Head, John Mahama.
Of course, not every candidate might be considered a broker of the electorate. There are others who genuinely believe they are called to lead and have a solid chance; while others, still, are in it to spoil the vote for another rival candidate. Their utterances, actions and campaign organization tend to give the public a basic idea of the strength of each candidate, in terms of how far their campaign will go.
For example, newcomer Alexander B. Cummings (ANC) appears to really believe that he is called to lead Liberia as president, while businessman Benoni W. Urey of the All Liberian Party (ALP), is driven by an ambition that appears divided between priorities of winning outright versus ensuring that a Unity Party candidate does not reach the presidency again. “I don’t have to become President of Liberia,” he once told the Daily Observer in an interview. “I really want to make sure that the Unity Party does not win this election,” he said.
Following the 2005 elections, presidential hopeful Dr. Joseph D. Z. Korto, having fallen short in the first round, yielded his constituents to candidate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who made it to the second round against two-time rival George M. Weah. In the end, Korto eventually became Minister of Education in the first administration of President Sirleaf.
There are signs that Liberia’s democracy is maturing and that the electorate are, in turn, becoming increasingly politically aware. Examples abound in cases where, more than a decade ago, voters blindly chose candidates based more on party, religious or tribal affiliation rather than what causes and policies they stood for. Now, voters are carefully studying all candidates to know their competencies, core values and scruples, among other things, while choosing who to vote for.
This also means that the brokerage market for constituents in a run-off election may soon become extinct.
Be that as it may, the CDC and the UP have for the last 12 years been ultimate arch-rivals, bitterly battling for political power in Liberia with tremendous partisan support on either side, polarized by perceived levels of competence and patriotism of their respective candidates. While their traditional spheres of influence have been rather hard to shake, disruptive forces such as the Cummings’ ANC and Jones’ MOVEE have come to the fore to offer compelling alternatives, tackling the one issue that matters to most: economic opportunities for all.
Apart from the traditional third-place split between one-county candidates like Charles W. Brumskine (Grand Bassa) and Prince Y. Johnson (Nimba) these factors have significantly contributed to the reason why a run-off election is highly plausible.