Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ellen dares Liberia’s political opposition!

By ralph geeplay

Introduction: The Liberian constitution demands the president of the Republic of Liberia address the joint section of the Liberian Assembly during the last working Monday in January of every year. During such address, the president must deal with the health and wealth of the nation: the country’s socio-economic and political growth. That Sirleaf did during her 5th annual address in 2010, but she went further, declaring she would contest the elections, removing any doubts in the minds of her opponents in the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report which barred her and others from holding political office for 30 years. She also became the first Liberian sitting president to pronounce her reelection campaign before the Liberian Congress, when she declared: "I WILL BE A FORMIDABLE CANDIDATE!” The elections are finally here, and this is the piece as it was written on February 3rd 2010.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stood before the Liberian congress a week ago, enumerating her administration’s success since she assumed the mantle of state four years ago. Her address would become a bombshell that would send surge of waves beyond the borders of Liberia, and with it she broke new a barrier: she became the first sitting president of the republic to announce her bid for reelection before the joint chambers of the Liberian Assembly.

In the hall: foreign diplomats and dignitaries, the bench of the supreme court, the military brass, student groups, the prelate, business leaders and the very politicians who are at her throat. Her statement did the trick, because it still has us talking. It also shows she is no apprentice at the wheels of politics and will fight to the finish line. 

Her supporters call her the ‘Iron Lady’ and the ultimate survivor who’s been in the political trenches for well over four decades, the one who will pick a well deserving fight and win, and a woman surly not to underestimate. A bold statement as such says analysts, was a taunt: Come get my job if you can!
There is much debate within the country that she misused her powers and abused ‘the sanctity of the presidency.’ These charges are coming largely from the opposition. They are furious, because they say she is reneging on her previous pledge to seek just one term. “Which is not a binding contract by the way,” says one of her supporters.

Opposition leaders think the president had no business declaring her bid that evening when in fact she was at the capitol to deliver the well being of the nation and the affairs of state. But some of her followers have taken exception. They say, there was no violation of the constitution and she was well within her legal rights. Even some leaders in the political opposition have given her a pass on the issue.

Former President Pro Temp of the Senate, Isaac Nyenabo of Grand Gedeh County, and also of the opposition National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) whose party recently merged with the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and the Liberty Party (LP) to defeat the Unity Party (UP) in the recently hotly contested senatorial fight that took place in Montserrado County agrees, the president violated no rules or laws, concurred Darius Dillon of the opposition Liberty party (LP), who himself was a candidate.

Sirleaf’s message was “purely political and a thumb in the eye, if you want to speak to those who think she not relevant politically, especially in the wake of the TRC report and her fight against corruption which has seen less corrupt officials being tried,” says a pundit. “Now she is telling all these men who have controlled Liberian politics for 150 or more years that I am one of you, I know the game and I await you on the (political) battle field. Draw your swords and bring your game because I am ready too.”
Liberian Capitol
The Capitol Building: home to the Liberian Congress

Sirleaf did not only say she was running she said “I will be a candidate, a formidable candidate, in the 2011 elections…” it is interesting to note she emphasized the word formidable to let the opposition know she was taking the battle to them. Joining the chorus and praises was United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a fighter herself, calling the Sirleaf’s decision “…a delight to hear…” a testament that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf still is a darling in the international community, especially within the circles of western governments and a highly respected member in such sphere by world leaders.

The looming fight ahead for Africa’s first Executive Mansion will be interesting and mean because battle lines have been drawn and Sirleaf is confident she is going to win. Successfully, she has managed to group together the coalition that defeated Samuel Doe during the 1985 general and presidential elections in which she herself was a senatorial candidate, a coveted post she won, but refuse to accept because of protest from the opposition that the general turned president rigged the polls.

Sirleaf, say analysts has some of the bright and best minds of the Liberian progressive movement behind her. Liberian progressives for the record since the 70s, provided the ideas and canon that continue to shaped Liberian politics today. Their dogged determination and fight that multipartyism take root in the country at a time when Liberian was a virtual one party state saw a lot of them going to jail while others lost their lives. When she leaves office, says political pundits, the party suddenly becomes theirs, if they don’t fight over the spoils, as have always been the case with them. It depends, if they can quickly recognized a reputable leader amongst them to provide leadership.

With the appointment of county superintendents under her gavel she has an asset to the rural part of the country, wherein through this representation she can also reach the local chiefs who run the townships, clans and villages that make up Liberia’s body politic. Local officials, who for the most part are being paid on time and have seen peace solidified under her leadership, and therefore might support her incumbency and be willing to campaign for her.

Complaints from the opposition that Ellen is misusing her position of power seems childish to a point, these are the advantages that incumbents enjoy, since as president, she commands the bully pulpit. The president of the United States will use Air Force One to campaign from state to state, while secret service agents provide protection and the White House his official or unofficial campaign headquarters. For example, when the former foreign minister and close ally of Charles Taylor, Lewis Browne says Sirleaf has desecrated the presidency, abused her powers and is squandering state resources in her bid for reelection, he goes the mile chastising the Liberian legislature for letting the president get away with ‘mischief.’

In a recent press conference he held in Monrovia Browne says “It is left to be seen what courage members of the Legislature will summon not simply to halt the cascading public impression with which their reputations have unfortunately come to be associated but also whether they can even muster the will to retain a modicum of self and institutional respect about what used to be popularly referred to as the First branch of government.” Browne is simply being disingenuous say observers.

Which prompts this question though, under whose leadership was the Liberian Legislature ever "popularly referred to as the First Branch of Government," Tubman, Tolbert, Doe, or Taylor? Browne who served Taylor and made a fortune when the Liberian Legislature won’t even debate the national budget or when his current political partner Charles Brumskine had to run out of the country under the cover of darkness because he opposed Taylor as President of the Liberian Senate is now preaching from the pulpit.

Joins in Edwin Snowe, a former Taylor son in law and close ally who is also drenched rich like Browne, both of them shared the distinction as former managing directors of the Liberian owned oil company. “The President address is a big shame to this country…” he said. Snowe statement,” an observer says “draws laughs, and this was this calculating fierceness in the first place that prompted Sirleaf to announce her candidacy before these very men who she knows very well and who she also knows have no record to stand on.”

“The opposition is riddled with checkered characters that are today reinventing themselves at the speed of a bullet,” says a student leader at the University of Liberia. inserts political commentator Joseph Fallah in an article recently published on the Liberian Forum that politicians of yesterday who were once lords and benefited from the suffering of the people must be brought to book adding “the fact that some of these politicians were leaders in past governments and actively participated in plundering our natural resources, mortgaging our economy to foreign cronies, and institutionalizing public corruption must not be ignored.”

Mr. Fallah went on to admonished those officials seeking prudence in Sirleaf’s fight against public corruption howbeit flaw to be fair, and admit that she has made a difference and stood firm against this endemic since she came to office. To date, no one can make the claim that Ellen has stolen any penny from our coffers, others say. From a foreign reserves of 5 million when she came to office four years ago, the country today has more than 200 plus million in reserves and investment is pouring in, while the country image has enjoyed a tripled digits jump. International and domestic debts are being paid, she reminded the Liberian people during her address. These are feats to be proud of, she said

Those who watch Liberian politics know the coming election will be unprecedented in its course for debates, substance and campaigning. In the aftermath of the recent senatorial fight between the Unity party and CDC and its coalition of political parties, its winner Geraldine Doe Sheriff had a prediction and here was her pivot: 2011, she said was a ‘tsunami’ coming that the ruling UP was not willing and ready to embrace especially in the wake of her victory. She told newsmen and women in Monrovia.
Sirleaf Address the Joint assembly in sitting
President Sirleaf speaks to the joint chambers

The political opposition was beaming at her victory and forecasting that this was a precursor of things to come, and quickly, the Secretary General of the CDC Mr. Acarus Gray, issued a statement in which he foresaw that come 2011, there would be a peaceful political transition in Liberia, tipping his party and its coalition to wrestled the gavel of the presidency from its current occupant. But pundits have warned the opposition to yet, not feel too comfortable, “Monrovia,” they said “is not Liberia, that while it is populated, the country stretches from Cape Mount to Cape Palmas.”

Every Liberian should be proud that the Liberian political opposition is finally coming together and expressing its intent for competitive political engagement. “Peaceful political transition” as Mr. Gray correctly opined is the way to go. In our dealing to institutionalized democratic ideals and participatory governance, tolerance and peaceful transitions must be the heart and art of our politicking. But Sirleaf thinks she’s a big player, and has welcomed the challenge to lead again, telling the nation, “I know from whence we came yesterday. I know where we are today and where we need to be tomorrow.”

Unless the Liberian opposition comes forward and put up a strong foot, Sirleaf pundits say will win again, and for that the Iron Lady will have herself to thank, having mastered the game and having given the boys a whooping a second go ‘round.'

This article was first published by the Liberian Forum in Feb 2010.

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