The NPP, an offshoot of former rebel leader Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) has not been able to reinvent itself; nor has the NDPL of the late President Samuel Doe despite of recent attempts to enter a coalition arrangement with other newly-formed opposition parties.
Both parties working in close collaboration with 8 other political parties, including the New Deal Movement, various factions of the Liberian People’s Party (LPP) and the United People’s Party (UPP) of the late Gabriel Baccus Matthews, and a number of other parties, came together over a year ago, to organize themselves into a political forum called the Democratic Alliance (DA).
This forum provided a basis for parties to exchange ideas and develop a common set of principles and purpose, leading to the formation of a national entity. The effort eventually gave birth to the National Democratic Coalition (NDC), one of Liberia’s newest parties participating in this year’s elections.
The idea of parties collaborating and developing a common front to challenge the incumbent or ruling party is not new to Liberia or African countries. The Liberian experience is especially rife with many ventures of this type.
For example, in 1985, several opposition parties came together under an arrangement called the “Grand Coalition” to challenge Doe’s ruling National Democratic Party of Liberia. But the Grand Coalition soon crumbled even before Liberians could go to the polls as some of its members switched support to the ruling NDPL — fearing political retribution from the Doe dictatorship.
Others traded support for self-interest and opportunism while others took the path of least resistance by going independent and fielding their own candidates.
The National Elections Commission (NEC) then under the Chairmanship of Ambassador Emmett Harmon declared incumbent Samuel Doe the winner.
However, the international observers differed with the announced results, noting that the elections were rigged and that Mr. Jackson Fiah Doe, the leading challenger and standard-bearer of the Liberia Action Party (LAP) was the winner.
Then came 1997 when rebel leader Charles Taylor agreed to try the ballot box. Opposition parties once again experimented with the idea of a coalition, this time under the banner of what was dubbed “Grand Alliance” (GA). Comprising of almost the same parties and their leaders, the Grand Alliance suffered the same fate, as was the case in the 1985 general elections; for at its first convention, the alliance miserably failed to agree or settle on one presidential candidate. Although Mr. Cletus Wotorson of the Liberia Action Party (LAP) reportedly won the nomination, his candidacy was mired in controversy - leading to the disintegration of the Grand Alliance. And off course, Charles Taylor of the National Patriotic Party (NPP) was declared the winner.
Perhaps, drawing from the experiences of ’85 and ’97, and with the country emerging from war and pursuing the path of peace, the phenomenon of an alliance appeared to have subsided in 2005. In that year, the process was considerably controlled. Liberians did not have to deal with the entrenched dictatorship and tyranny of previous ruling parties; and the opportunity for balanced political competition existed. Even though there were attempts at collaboration, they were on a much smaller scale in contrast with the “Grand” approach of previous election cycles.
Jewel Taylor & husband at the height of power
For example, there was an electoral alliance that was formed between the Liberian People’s Party (LPP) and the United People’s Party (UPP), called the Alliance for Peace and Democracy (APD). Both LPP and UPP were forerunners of “grassroots” parties and shared similar history and philosophy.
With much that has changed, including the emergence of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) of Ambassador George Manneh Weah, whose storied rise from “poverty to fame “resonates with the average, ordinary Liberian, the APD’s relevance appeared to have rapidly diminished.
But the potential of a coalition has reemerged and persists in 2011. The formation of the National Democratic Coalition (NDC) of Ambassador Dew Tuan-Wleh Mayson, comprising more than 8 political parties, including the NPP and NDPL of Taylor and Doe respectively.
Unlike previous periods, where parties came together for political convenience, the NDC’s approach has allowed it to develop a new political culture of forming ‘authentic’ collaboration based on common objectives, mission, and principles.
All the same, such political collaboration has not been immune to problems and differences. In point of fact, holding together a coalition of 10 political parties is a daunting task. No wonder, differences within the coalition flared up. According to press reports, the NPP and the NDPL pulled out from the coalition at the 11-hour when the NDC was headed to its first National Convention to elect its Standard bearer and other national officials.
The reasons given for withdrawing from the coalition appeared frivolous and unprincipled. Among others, some key members of the NPP have been quoted as saying that the NDC Standard Bearer did not provide monies and materials promised to guarantee their continuity in the coalition.
Leading figures of the NPP, including Representative George Mulbah of Bong County, Mr. John Whitfield, past NPP party Chair, and Mr. Cyril Allen, Current Party Chair, have all been unison in their position that the party is “broke’, and lacks the financial and logistical capacity, to engage in any serious political campaign.
“We cannot field a presidential candidate because we don’t have money”, said Mr. Whitfield, adding: “NPP is broke…we were promised a pickup truck by [Ambassador Mayson] but that was not provided…”
Dictator Doe founded the NDPL
As for the NDPL, one prominent member of its national leadership, Dr. Moses C.T. Jarbo, undermining the party’s position, declared his support for President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s new Unity Party. It has been widely reported that the political influence of money was involved.
While this U-Turn may surprise many observers of Liberia’s politics, this conduct is clearly a manifestation of the core values of both the NPP and the NDPL. Should we be surprised that both parties that governed Liberia for nearly 20 years - NDPL (1980-1990) and NPP (1997-2003)- once again feel entitled to state power? What positive legacy can they point to for their near 20-year rule of Liberia, a rule that was characterized by death and destruction? What new ideas can they now offer the Liberian people?
Yet, Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor, the new symbol and embodiment of the NPP, claims her party has values. In a passionate defense of the NPP she unabashedly said:
“NPP has values and it is the soul of those who lost their lives in the struggle”. Is this for real!
Mrs. Taylor further asserts: “What the party wants is change for Liberia to live in peace and be given equal opportunities like other Liberians”.
What a biting irony! The National Patriotic Party, a party that oversaw terror in Liberia for six years, is now laying out a vision for nation-building. Where was this vision in 1997 when the war-weary Liberian people, in the spirit of reconciliation, handed power to the NPP? It is fair to say that this party has absolutely nothing to show for the six long years it held state power.
Senator Howard-Taylor may mean well as she appears to endear herself to the Liberian people, working hard to shed the image of her notorious husband and party, and building her own record as a distinguished Liberian Senator. But if Madam Taylor has any higher political ambition, she should totally relinquish any political affiliation with this dying horse they called NPP.
The National Democratic Coalition (NDC) may have been handed a blessing in disguise when both parties walked out of the coalition. If there was an opportunity that would have allowed the NPP and NDPL to reinvent themselves and become part of a promising new formation called the NDC, it has been lost. The NDC must now move on and continue to build relationships with other well-meaning opposition parties.
The principle of uniting Liberian political parties around a common purpose, and reducing the more than 22 parties that now exist is what a small country like Liberia needs at this time.
The NPP and NDPL are drowning and are only left with the empty shells of their political past. The only “soul” now left is money as they move from one political party to another. The two parties can no longer be considered relevant political institutions. They should be left to die a natural death! The game of using political parties to hustle for money should stop. For the health of our fledgling democracy, let us put a stop to this RIGHT NOW!