The Liberian elections have been one of the hotly contested elections this year ending in a runoff between Senator George Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and Vice President Joseph Boakai, of the ruling Unity Party, (UP). Winning an election is not always a rosy affair as seen by the recent happenings in Liberia. In the previous poll, George Weah led by a small margin but unfortunately failed to hit the 50% of votes cast mark. This scenario automatically triggered off a runoff. The runoff was almost a foregone certainty as it is difficult to win 50% of the first ballots cast when there are over twenty candidates in the first round of elections.
There has been no peaceful transfer of power from a sign president to the next in Liberian since 1944. However, 2017 will most likely see this happen as the outgoing president, Sirleaf will peacefully hand over power to either Boakai or Weah.
We contest that this will be Weah.
Weah enjoys broad support among people from divergent social, political and ethnic groups in Liberia. Winning an election requires a contestant to consolidate his or her support from all sections of the society. In Liberia, the support of the youth is most important. George Weah attributes a large number of his supporters from youth to the endorsement and support he received from Doe at the star of his football career. Weah is no doubt considered a football legend and god in Liberia. This fact and the huge number of youths in the country will most likely propel him towards the election win. He will, however, need a cross-party support and validation in order to fulfil the coveted 50% plus one vote requirement.
This is shown not only by the massive number of new votes the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) has won in the first round of the election but the number of new counties that the CDC was unable to penetrate in 2011 or 2014 which it has won (and in some cases convincingly) but also since the runoff, the number of losing parties that have endorsed the CDC for the December 26 runoff election.
A review of the current happenings in Liberian indicates that CDC has all of these winning qualities. For instance, CDC enjoys support from the largest county, Montserrado. George Weah himself is a senior Senator from the largest county. Secondly, CDC has a large youth support and is very active in youth mobilization. Between the ballot rounds, Weah has secured the endorsements of many youth wings of different political parties that did not make it to the second round. This kind of political mobilization if intensified will most likely see George Weah win the election.
A review of the Liberian election landscape reveals that a total of 15 counties are present. The largest of these counties in terms of population is Montserrado. A party with the largest number of voters from the largest county as well as support from a significant number of the smaller ones is most likely to win the elections. Additionally, the country has 60% of its registered voters as youths. This shows that the party that is more oriented and that will manage to mobilize the youth vote will most likely carry the day. Cross-party support will also be important since a runoff is a unique voting experience requiring vote consolidation from across the board.
The fact that Liberians are yearning for change from the status quo implies that a majority will not vote in the current Vice President who is viewed by many as a poster child of Liberian’s arrogant elitism. Instead, they would vote in George Weah, an anti-elitist campaigner hoping to devolve power back to the people. Perhaps one of the recent legal boost to Weah’s camp was the dismissal of Charles Brumskine’s appeal against Weah’s first-round win. The political implication of the dismissal is great since it confirms to the entire world that the appeal, which was supported by the ruling party, was defective and hence politically vindicated Weah and CDC from any wrongdoing,
One of the most important implications of George Weah’s win is that incumbency can indeed be lodged in present-day Africa. It’s quite surprising that a candidate who lacks proper formal education like Weah enjoys a huge national following and thwarts the popularity of highly educated contenders. This would mean that the level of democratization in Liberia has grown and liberalism is highly practiced in the nation. Perhaps the negative political implications of George Weah’s win would be the return to the national politics of Charles Taylor’s family through his wife, Jewel Taylor. Jewel Taylor’s party National Patriotic Party (NPP) formed a coalition agreement with the George Weah’s CDC to the dismay of the international community.
George Weah will no doubt win the upcoming runoff elections due to his political machinations and posturing. The ability of his CDC party to lure in likeminded parties to face the incumbency will no doubt play a significant role in creating a huge voting bloc that is capable of dislodging the incumbent authority.
However, the biggest challenge for the CDC in our view is not just winning, but governing. We have seen recent examples in Europe where new parties (eg. En Marche) where they have won elections on massive margins then seen popular swings against them as they prove that they are unable to make the lofty promises and imagery of campaigning turn into the content of actual governing.
This has seen in those countries massive falls in popularity of the new government, in a quick period of time (in France its been a record). The CDC needs to learn from this and get control of the apparatus of government quickly in order to survive.
The governing element of a country like Liberia is something that the Sirleaf/Boakai administration has failed to accomplish. The country will need to build a budget, with new revenue sources going into a Treasury that allows the Weah agenda of economic development to come to fruition. The revenue will also need a new economic compliance and regulatory system and the development of a whole new set of public service agencies in order to implement it all.
Our targets for them would be a multinational diverted profits tax or a ‘google tax’ in the same way that the UK and Australia have cracked down on multinational profit shifting. There have been many reports from entities such as the Tax Justice Network about Liberia “ a little-known offshore business registry that has created tens of thousands of anonymous companies and registered them to a non-existent address in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city.
Although these companies are technically a creation of Liberian law, management of the registry is based in the United States and appears to have the support of the US government.
The companies, which can be purchased online, offer near-total anonymity to their clients, allowing them to hide assets without fear of being caught by law enforcement or revenue authorities.”
Furthermore, the use of non-resident corporations in Liberia allows billions of dollars be hid in Liberia by foreign corporations, without the Liberian Treasury seeing a cent of it in taxation.
Finally, there is the revenue from shipping flags. During the Ebola crisis, the US$20 Million in revenue was all the Treasury was getting from these registrations which made up 6% of the total revenue intake for the government. This is despite that these companies only take the Liberian flag (and Panama flag) in order to dodge international regulations in relation to a host of things, such as the environment, labour law and the state of the ships themselves.
In a new administration, there is no reason why the government can see this as a potential new stable revenue source for the budget.
Overseeing this, the government will also need to deliver a new, tough corruption enforcement agency. This needs to not just be for multinational companies dealing in the country but for public officials as well. New people dealing in the country need to be reassured of their legal standing in dealings and the public needs to learn as economic evolution comes to the country; that this is not being done with public officials being enriched along the way.
Liberia will also need personal income tax reform along the way as incomes rise. For the economy to grow in the short to medium term, the emphasis should be on corporate tax revenue and allow personal and consumption taxes to be as low as possible. This can then change as economic growth comes in and incomes start to rise.
The development of the middle class should be priority one economic policy.
The country needs new foreign direct investment badly. Whether it be in the commercial space, major infrastructure or in new residential sector investment. Currently, many investors are put off by the concept as many have faced legal uncertainty, the need for ‘commissions’ or ‘bribes’ to make business happen or other unscrupulous business practices by either private sector entities or public-sector figures.
This needs to change for Liberia to change. The challenge for the new CDC government won’t be winning this Boxing Day, it will be understanding the size of what comes next.