Opposition Parties Collaborate to Stem "Presidential Syndrome"
November 24, 2000

The US elections and the strength of its democracy which sets it apart and provides the standard by which other are measured, have captured the attention and have become the compelling focus of discussion in many parts of the world. While there is real concern about the impact the outcome of the US presidential elections will have on world democracy, it is clear that despots and dictators in many third world countries who not understanding the vitality and institutional strength of American democracy, may find grounds for rationalizing the weakness in their own electoral system, or try to justify the lack of transparency in their democratic practice.

The 2003 General and Presidential elections in Liberia will be a critical test that will determine whether the country will continue on its current path, or breakaway and begin to establish the democratic foundations for building a new society.

While it seems a distant reality, the 2003 Presidential election is imminent. But whether this will come to pass shall largely depend on whether or not the conditions are created for holding free, fair, inclusive and transparent elections, and whether Mr. Taylor abides by the timetable. Given the current reality, it is clear that Liberians cannot expect Mr. Taylor to easily relinquish power. As various strategies are considered, there is a growing sentiment and movement among various groups and political parties to form one giant united front to challenge Mr. Taylor and peacefully remove him from power.

Hedging their bets, several political parties have organized themselves into a framework called the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), to mount a challenge against Mr. Taylor and his National Patriotic Party (NPP) in both the general and presidential elections in 2003. There are eleven parties reported to be involved in this undertaking, which comprised the following: Unity Party (UP), Liberian People's Party (LPP), United People's Party (UPP), Liberian Action Party (LAP), National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL), Free Democratic Party (FDP), Progressive People's Party (PPP), Liberia National Union (LINU), People's Democratic Party of Liberia (PDPL), Reformation Alliance Party (RAP), and the All Liberian Coalition Party (ALCOP). It is also reported that the True Whig Party (TWP) has recently signed on, which brings the group to twelve.

In its Memorandum of Understanding for Cooperation, the CPP says its goal is "to fulfill the hope and aspirations of the Liberian people in the installation of a sustainable democracy in Liberia". To achieve this goal, the CPP has advanced a 13-point objective, which among many others, is "to contribute to the creation of a conductive environment for the holding of free, fair and democratic elections; to encourage all aspirants to pursue state power through the ballot box; to promote human rights, civil liberties and social justice in Liberia; to give highest priority to food, health and education for the Liberian people in the drive to improving their living conditions; and to foster national reconciliation," just to name a few.

Perhaps learning from past experience, the CPP has developed two project documents, which are intended to provide ground rules and set a clear policy direction for collaboration among the various parties involved. In its document on Reconciliation and Peace-building, it asserts that "the history of Liberia has been characterized essentially by the absence of democracy, the lack of power in the people to take action to change their condition for the better." It makes the compelling point that "throughout the domains of governance in Liberia, the government, civil society and the private sector, there is consensus to the effect that this absence of democracy is the overriding root cause of the civil war."

In a companion document, Mass Conscientization and Mobilization, the CPP underscores the importance of the constitutional rights of the people. It argues that the "most crucial (test) for the building of sustainable democracy is a working knowledge among the Liberian people about their constitutional rights." Among its numerous programs, it wants to organize programs on the constitution within communities, schools, religious organizations and the mass media. It also wants to educate the citizenry about Liberia elections' laws.

The idea of political parties coming together to cooperate for a single purpose is ennobling. It bespeaks of the importance of putting national agenda above party interest. While this is neither the first nor second attempt, it seems apparent that this time around, the appropriate steps are being taken to address past mistakes. But the challenge in confronting an entrenched dictatorship is monumental! "Creating a conductive environment for free, fair and democratic elections," and "encouraging aspirants to seek state power through the ballot box," are the two most urgent challenges to be faced by the group.

But there are troubling and dangerous signs ahead which are not necessarily insurmountable. President Taylor and his party's announcement that it intends to hang on to power for 20 years leaves doubt of not playing by the rules. President Taylor's nose-thumbing in your face threat that he would never allow the United States and Great Britain to participate in observing Liberian elections, makes the challenge even greater for the new formation. "I know free and fair elections mean for America and Britain to control them, we'll not allow that to happen" Taylor avowed. (International observers often help validate election results. The Carter Center has played this role, but recently closed down its operations in Liberia).

But aside from the roadblocks placed in the way by the regime, political alliances and/or coalitions are themselves difficult to manage and fraught with problems as was evident in the 1997 elections, and before that, the 1985 elections. There are varied interests and agendas involved which are often conflicting and at times, diametrically opposed. This new formation is perhaps the third attempt at putting together a unifying front to challenge a dictatorship. It must be remembered that both in 1985 (against Doe) and 1997 (against Taylor), these same parties came together under the framework of the "Grand Coalition" and later, "The Alliance of Political Parties," but collapsed under their own weight due to internal bickering, hidden agendas and personality clashes, a kind of "presidential syndrome" where everyone wants to be President whether he/she is presidential material.

"We've learned our lesson and are not prepared to repeat the mistakes of the past when we challenged Doe and Taylor. We are finding common grounds by identifying our interest early so that we can speak with one voice. Moreover, we are preparing the Liberian electorate by educating them about the constitution and the election laws We want to also reach out to Liberians abroad to seek their support in this very important effort that has to do with the future of democracy in Liberia," says John Karweaye, a member of the Collaborating Political Parties.

Commenting further, Karweaye says that the "CPP intends to field one candidate for the current vacant House seat for Bomi County. This would be a test case for the political unity of our working together."

The CPP efforts clearly hold promise if it is able to confront the spectre that haunted previous efforts and past formations. The existence of such a movement on the ground with a complementing support from Liberians abroad can be a winning strategy for the future.