By Kimani Njenga and Ian Juma
On October 10, 2023, Liberians will go to the polls for their fourth election since emerging from the aftermath of a destructive civil war in 2003. With the upcoming voting day approaching, there is a sense of anticipation and unease in the political environment. The two leading contenders for the presidency are incumbent President George Weah and Joseph Boakai of the Unity Party (UP), with Nimba County Senator Jeremiah Koung as his running mate. This election promises to be a pivotal moment in Liberia’s young democratic history.
Since taking office, President George Weah’s administration has faced scrutiny and criticism from various quarters. Many Liberians believe that the time for change has come. The nation has grappled with issues such as corruption, economic challenges, and political instability. This has fueled discontent among the inhabitants, leading to widespread calls for a new leadership that can steer Liberia towards a more prosperous and stable future. President Weah’s initial alliance with former warlord Prince Johnson, a key figure in the First Liberian Civil War, helped secure his victory in the 2017 elections. However, this alliance proved fragile as Weah distanced himself from Johnson after the latter faced U.S. sanctions for alleged corruption. Johnson’s endorsement of Jeremiah Koung, Boakai’s running mate, adds a layer of complexity to the political landscape, further fragmenting the opposition.
As Liberia approaches the upcoming election, controversies loom large, and many citizens lack faith in the electoral system. The National Elections Commission (NEC), the Liberia National Police (LNP), and the courts have been marred by mistrust and accusations of bias. The Afrobarometer survey dropped a bombshell: a substantial chunk of the population lacks faith in these establishments. Adding fuel to the fire of mistrust are the murky waters of disinformation and misinformation, painting a picture of the NEC and LNP as pawns in the ruling government’s game. And if that weren’t enough, Mother Nature herself seems to have a bone to pick with Liberian elections, unleashing torrential rains that threaten to throw the whole process into disarray. The challenge of reaching remote areas, coupled with logistical nightmares, only adds to the electoral headache. To make matters worse, the NEC is playing a budgetary game of catch-up, causing voter registration efforts to sputter and raising questions about the integrity of the voter roll.
Despite the hurdles and controversies, Liberians maintain hope for a better future. The desire to combat corruption and achieve prosperity unites the citizens. Liberia’s political scope reflects both the complexity of its past and the potential for a more stable and democratic future. The upcoming election represents an opportunity for the nation to chart a new course. In the face of systemic capacity gaps, Liberia must navigate a path toward peaceful and transparent elections. International support, including assistance from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), is crucial in ensuring a successful electoral process. Efforts to combat disinformation and misinformation must be intensified, and confidence in state institutions must be restored.
As Liberia approaches the October 2023 elections, it finds itself at a pivotal moment in its democratic evolution. The decision between maintaining the status quo and embracing change, between stability and uncertainty, lies within the hands of the Liberian populace. Despite ongoing challenges and controversies, there is a shared optimism that Liberia can surmount these hurdles and emerge as a resilient symbol of democracy in West Africa, a region historically marked by coups. The watchfulness and backing of the international community will wield considerable influence in determining the course of this significant election.