In continuation of their assessment of the processes leading up to Liberia’s October 10 presidential and legislative elections, ECOWAS Observers had the opportunity of watching the second and final round of the country’s Presidential Debate organised Media rights group, Deepening Democracy Coalition (DDC), in Monrovia on Tuesday 26 September.
Seven of the 20 registered presidential candidates were billed to participate in the debate at the Paynesville City Hall, outside the nation’s capital. But only three of them turned up, and were grilled on wide ranging issues including their policies on the economy and national budget, youth unemployment, education, infrastructure, land reform and climate change.
Other questions put to the candidates were on socio-economic challenges such as the menace of street urchins, locally known as “Zogoes,” gender balance and affirmative action, child rights and rape, poverty alleviation, anti-corruption measures and whether they would seek legal redress in the event of an electoral dispute.
The three presidential candidates, who used the platform to sell their party manifestoes, were Alexander Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC), Joseph Mill Jones, Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE), and MacDella Cooper, of the Liberian Liberty Party (LLP), the only female candidate in the presidential race.
Organisers of the debate, which was supported by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), confirmed that only four of the six candidates invited for the first round of the debate on 17thAugust showed up. These were candidate Joseph Boakai, incumbent Vice President and flag bearer of the ruling United Party (UP), Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party (LP), Benoni Urey, All Liberian Party (ALP), and Cummings, ANC.
The other candidates in the presidential race are George Weah, of the opposition Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC); Wendell MacIntosh, Change Democratic Action (CDA); Isaac Wiles, Democratic Justice Party (DJP); Kennedy Sandy, Liberia Transformation Party (LTP);Henry B. Fahnbulleh Jr., Liberia People Party (LPP); Prince Yormie Johnson,Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR); Simeon Freeman, Movement for Progressive Change (MPC); William W. Tuider, New Liberia Party (NLP); George S. Dweh Sr., Redemption Democratic Congress (RDC); Macdonald A. Wento, United People’s Party (UPP): Jeremiah Z. Weapoe, Vision for Liberia Transformation (VOLT). The independent candidates are Oscar Cooper; Aloysius Kpadeh; and Yarkpajuwur Mator.
The organisers explained that the selection of candidates for the presidential debate was based on the opinion polls they conducted.
Apart from the 20 presidential contenders and their running mates, some 960 candidates are vying for the 73 parliamentary seats at stake on October 10.
The ECOWAS Observers also met with officials of the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), the ECOWAS partner, coordinating Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) on peace and security issues.
Liberia has an estimated population of 4.5 million and the National Electoral Commission (NEC), registered some 2.18 million voters (51% male and 49% female), and 26 political parties for the October 10 elections. Balloting will take place in 2,080 Polling Precincts (Centres) and 5,390 Polling Places (Stations) across the country’s 15 Counties.
It would be the first time in over 70 years that an elected government would be handing over power to another elected government in Liberia, which has a chequered political history including a devastating civil war that broke in 1989.
ECOWAS-led international intervention ended the war in 2003, but the UN Mission, UNMIL, has been maintaining peace in Liberia for the past 14 years. Given the fragile socio-economic and political situation in the country, the outcome of the October 10 vote could have ramifications for peace, security and democracy across the ECOWAS region.