Liberians head to the polls today, October 10, to vote in their presidential and parliamentary elections. Incumbent President George Weah, who is seeking a second six-year term, is up against 19 other candidates. There are 15 seats in the Senate and 73 seats in the House of Representatives that the country’s main political party and opposition are vying for.
President Weah, who is 57 years old, was elected for the first time in 2017 as a member of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC). His two main challengers are former Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai and businessman Alexander Cummings. Both Boakai and Cummings were part of the four-party opposition alliance known as the Collation of Political Parties (CPP). However, the group has since disbanded due to disagreements regarding the selection of their primary presidential candidate for the upcoming election.
Professor and human rights lawyer Tiawan Gongloe of the Liberian People’s Party is also running for office. Prior to this, he served as the country’s solicitor general. In addition, there are two women participating in the race, one of whom is Sara Nyanti. She has previously served as the deputy special representative for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.
Despite the close competition, President Weah maintains confidence in his chances of being reelected, citing his performance and achievements during his time in office. In 2018, a free tuition scheme for undergraduates at public universities was implemented. The country has made significant progress in improving electricity access and reducing costs. The average cost per kilowatt has decreased from 38 cents to 15 cents. Additionally, several road construction projects have been undertaken throughout the country.
During the campaign period, candidates addressed a range of pressing issues that affect the population, including the growing problem of drug use in the country.
According to the UN Population Fund, it is projected that in 2022, approximately 20% of young people in Liberia will engage in the use of narcotic substances. In October 2022, security forces successfully confiscated 520kg of cocaine, which is estimated to have a value of approximately $100 million (62 billion FCFA). The illegal substance had been imported into the country.
In a radio interview earlier this year, Boakai expressed his belief that the handling of drug scandals in the country highlighted a failure in national leadership, a weak and ineffective criminal justice system, and raised suspicions about the possible involvement of higher-ranking individuals in the drug affair.
During President Weah’s first term, there have been several corruption scandals. In 2018, there were news reports about a container holding 18 billion Liberian dollars (equivalent to 62 billion FCFA) that went missing, along with allegations of mishandling $25 million (equivalent to 16 billion FCFA). These incidents led to widespread protests.
In 2022, the United States imposed sanctions on Weah’s chief of staff, the solicitor general, and the head of the country’s port authority. These individuals were found to be engaged in “pay-for-play funding with government ministries and organizations for personal enrichment” and were also involved in “selling votes in multiple Liberian elections in exchange for money.”
Weah believes that the new law, effective from July 2022, which empowers the anticorruption commission to charge and try individuals, serves as a testament to his administration’s dedication to combating corruption. However, opponents have criticized it, pointing out that two officials who were sanctioned under his leadership are now running for parliamentary seats.
Another important issue that needs to be addressed is the establishment of a war and economic crimes court to deal with the lasting consequences of Liberia’s civil war. In August, we commemorated the 20th anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Civil War.
This devastating conflict resulted in the loss of up to 250,000 lives and the displacement of at least half of the nation’s population. In 2009, Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued a report suggesting that certain individuals, including then-President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, should face charges and be disqualified from holding public office.
However, these recommendations were never put into action.