The anticipated Election in 2005 is intended to redirect our nation on the path towards peace, and prosperity. Avalanche of political parties and presidential aspirants in a traumatized society like ours may reflect the desire for expansive political involvement on the assumption that “the presidency is the basis for power and wealth without fear of accountability”. In a society with less than 35% literacy rate and assuming that majority of potential voters are presently living in displaced areas in and around Monrovia, the rationale for level playing the field must reflect the desire of the traumatized population (including Civil Society, former combatants, and the larger society) for a government accountable to its people through a realistic strategy designed prior to elections 2005. Despite elections being nearly 16 months away, there are credible reports of intended horse trading and proportional distribution of positions of power, all at the expense of an electorate desperate for political guidance and return to ‘normalcy’. The cost thus becomes lack of accountability to the electorate resulting from the lack of a statutory mandate for strategic reforms.
There has been little or marginally insignificant historical precedence in Liberia for self-induced political reforms since 1979, when the True-Whig Party initiated reforms within its rank and file. It may be argued that the actions of the True-Whig Party was intended to reform its decision making process, and expand its participatory base to strengthen its hold unto political power. Even though the conclusions were cut short by events of April 1980, such exclusionary tactic could not easily represent a strategic mandate through a political forum reflecting a cross section of potential electorates of diverse orientation and interests.
Thus, the legacy of our contemporary conflict suggests that Liberians are
entrapped in a vicious cycle of exclusionary government that has become
the total preserve of the president as head of government. Under this scenario,
elections 2005 without a clear strategic mandate from the electorate prior
to elections may again lead to further exclusion and post-elections political
Liberian political class seemed so mesmerized by the presidency and so shortsighted that instead of looking for a way out of this vicious cycle, they are too busy trying to make deals and pull each other down like crabs in a bucket.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) may be considered "comprehensive" to the extent that it shared power among all armed groups. However, it is woefully inadequate as a strategic instrument for political and economic reforms that can help Liberians deal with the serious structural defects that led to continuous breakdowns and violent crisis. It is evident that DDR remains an established conclusion and overriding prerequisite upon which the electoral process is expected to be drawn upon. However, it may be considered short-sighted if our focus remain fixed only on day to day violation of provisions under the CPA, forgetting strategic issues of political and economic reforms for decentralization of political power, credible checks and balances among our three tier of government, demand for transparent accountability by institutions and structures of government, and those who occupy those positions. Such strategic mandate will ensure that the enormous latitude of the presidency and the power it renders will be subject to statutory scrutiny, resulting from pre-election mandate, and not necessarily political party electoral platform. .
To hold elections in 2005 without substantive strategic political mandate for governance reform is to suggest that after 15 years of violence, Liberia will be returning to the very same system of patronage and its resulting effects. The assumption one can draw from this situation is that the only thing that went wrong leading to violence was that a notorious character (Ghankay Taylor) became president. Even if we grant this assumption to be true--absurd as this is, what measures can be taken to prevent another "notorious character" from becoming president and plunging us back in chaos and violence after elections 2005? Liberians must find a way out of this trap.
It is recognizable that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement called for the creation of a Governance Reform Commission, and that this commission is still in its formative stage (two members have already declined their appointments). It is our understanding that this commission intends to travel to other parts of the country to gather opinion and ideas from the public. However, there are very credible and established activities and participation suggesting that some members of this Commission will contest for electoral positions in 2005. Thus, it may be rationally anticipated that the conclusions derived by this Commission may face questionable objectivity, resembling efforts of the Kesselly (Dr. Edward Beyan Kesselly) Commission to review the already draft Constitution from the Sawyer Commission of 1983, since it was known that Dr. Kesselly intended to contest the Presidency. Nevertheless, the work of this Governance Reform Commission under Bryant’s watch could be incorporated into the overall preparation of this initiative for Mandate 2005.
The solution could be a gathering/or a forum, credible and inclusive enough, prior to elections 2005, in order for Liberians from all walks of life and diverse persuasion, to deliberate and generate a strategic mandate for reforms. This strategic mandate should evolve to become an integral part of our contemporary dynamics to lead our country, through the ‘transitional process’ after elections 2005, thus laying the basis for the transformation of our society from the path of insecurity and patronage to civility, the rule of law and developing “a wholesome functioning society…”
There is little doubt that the 2003 Accra CPA for Liberia is the legal basis for the functions of the Bryant Administration. However, can we expect that the Transitional Legislative Assembly would be credible and bold enough to grant statutory authority for such strategic mandate emerging out of this forum to be included in the platform of parties registered for elections 2005, and that the emerging winning political party be held accountable for the implementation of such strategic mandate?
It is easier to assume that the leadership of registered political parties are matured enough to learn from the experience of our paternal conflict and thus serve the people well. However, are there any basis to trust that the winner of elections 2005 will be capable of initiating wide ranging strategic reforms on itself, thus limiting its presidential supremacy and lack of transparent accountability? Lessons from our recent past suggest that politicians in Liberia have shown inclinations not to be held accountable for their actions, and the exercise of political power seem to be the continuous rationale for tactics initiated.
I have no doubt in my mind that the way out of this is the evolution of a strategic mandate by the people of Liberia, prior to elections 2005, with statutory endorsement from the Bryant Administration. Liberians have a duty to think creatively of ways to serve the interest of Liberia and to bequeath to the children of Liberia a system that can endure the hurdles of good governance and reliance on the rule of law.