Liberian Presidential Politics: Our Finest Hour Yet


By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
October 26, 2005


Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
George Weah
Now that the first round of elections is over, the real game has just begun --- pitting George Weah against Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. The winner takes all after this crucial round, which must end in ‘sudden-death’, figuratively, for one or the other. It is our fervent hope that Liberians of all stripes will come to accept the finality of the results instead of creating tensions that could eventually lead to violence, given our tentative (explosive) state.

As I have urged in the past, I’m going to reiterate here as well: Given the negative press about Liberia over recent years, these last few weeks have been an exemplary change. The international press and high foreign dignitaries have descended upon the country and all have echoed in unison: “Liberians behave themselves finely… The Elections were free, fair and well managed.” Given our recent history, those simple expressions should mean a lot to our collective psyche.

As George Weah and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf prepare their teams for that final mile they must remind themselves that they have been honored to participate at such a level in Liberia’s finest hour. It is natural for competitive people to expect victory, but we must all be willing to paraphrase the immortal words of Sir Winston Churchill who said, “But if we fail… Let us brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that… men will say ‘this was their finest hour.’”

Since I’m a pundit I must give my own observations and analyses of the pending run-off. Truly, I believe it is too unpredictable for anyone to call now. The reason I believe so is because of the patterns we’ve observed so far; the only pattern that remains predictable is the unpredictability and independence of the voters, and if that trend continues, we must keep our fingers crossed for this last hurrah.

Let’s look at some places and numbers. In Maryland County, the expected happened: Winston Tubman, a son of the soil (of Maryland County) carried the majority of the votes cast for the presidency; he garnered 31% of votes cast. Is that a good number? Standing by itself, we can’t say. So let’s put it into contest:

George Weah, the leading overall vote getter gathered about 37% of his home county’s vote, while Charles Brumskine picked up a whopping 58% of the votes cast in Grand Bassa County. But Varney Sherman topped him by picking up 63% of the votes cast in Cape Mount County. And of course, we are still left aghast that George Weah picked up an amazing 88% of the total votes cast for president in Grand Gedeh County.

So far, it seems like the people of Maryland did not vote overwhelmingly for the favorite son of the soil; they gave him only a mere third of the total votes, but it gets uglier. The people of Maryland County did not elect a single senator running on the same ticket as their favorite presidential candidate. Their senatorial choices went for the Unity Party, but for the House of Representatives, the people of Maryland proved a little cunning; they voted for candidates representing three different parties. None of their votes went for the party of the presidential candidate. They must not be a homogeneous block down there.

In Grand Bassa County, although the native son of the soil, Charles Brumskine won as expected, his party won only one of two senatorial seats. But amazingly, his party won the four allotted seats for the House of Representatives, making it almost a clean sweep.

On the other hand, while presidential candidate Varney Sherman won an amazing 63% of the votes cast for the presidency, his party won no senatorial seats, but won all three seats for the House of Representatives.

In Montserrado County, where George Weah won the presidential vote tallies, his party also impressively won the two allotted seats for the Senate and ten out of fourteen seats for the House of Representatives. But in Grand Gedeh, where he won the presidential votes by 88%, his party failed to pick up one Senatorial seat but managed to pick up one of the three seats in the House.

The above are a sampling of the votes cast in the first round. If there is one thing that can be discerned from the foregoing, it is that we can’t expect any predictable patterns. Let’s take Maryland County again where the citizens cast only a third of their votes for Winston Tubman and no other votes for his party. He and his vice-presidential running mate had better luck in Bong County; they picked up 42% of the presidential votes cast, but not a single seat in the House or Senate. Could they deliver either county? Doubtful.

The same observation is true for Cape Mount County. Although the citizens voted overwhelmingly for their favorite son, he couldn’t convince them to vote for his party’s senatorial candidates. They used their independent judgment to vote their conscience. Now students of political science want to know if Varney Sherman can deliver votes he couldn’t pick up before for his party. This is baffling, isn’t it? But that does not stop him from promising to deliver for George Weah, as opposed to Brumskine who has refused to endorse either candidate. How effective are these would-be kingmakers, anyway?

As much as we are all preaching unity and hoping for peace, we must systematically analyze what’s at stake here. It is the old guard against the new, the intelligentsia versus the peasantry, young versus aged and the most classical divisor is sex; male versus female. Do we know whether women are going to come up overwhelmingly supporting the only female candidate? Or are men going to be their chauvinistic selves by voting against the female candidate? But we may have to cast the stereotypes and generalization out. Varney Sherman, a successful Harvard trained lawyer is casting his lot with George Weah, the high-school dropout. Winston Tubman, another Harvard-Oxford trained lawyer is also leaning the same way and so is Dr. Togbah Nah-Tipoteh. Did I say it was the intelligentsia versus the peasantry? Don’t bet on it.

My prediction: Ellen Sirleaf over George Weah by a very close margin. But when it is all done and finished, can we collectively sigh and say, “It was our finest hour?” I hope so.