07/14/2010 – Rodney D. Sieh
TWISTED IRONY: The irony of it all remains that the Congress for Democratic Change on its own may be incapable of winning majority votes come 2011. In 2005, Weah placed first in the presidential poll, but only managed 28.3% of the vote. He was defeated by Sirleaf in the November 8 run-off election, winning 40.6% of the vote compared to Johnson-Sirleaf’s 59.4%. The party though did win three seats in the Senate and 15 in the House of Representatives. Even with that, critics say the party’s representatives in both houses have done very little to impact the lives of its core supporters in the Monrovia districts of West Point and New Kru Town, pointing to Professor Wilson Tarpeh’s Montserrado County by-elections victory in the CDC stronghold as a sign of things likely to come in 2011, if a viable opposition alternative arises or if the party fails to put its act together.
Since the second round defeat in the 2005 Presidential elections, George Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change has been struggling to keep its head above water. The aftermath of the defeat, three years later, in 2008, was followed by the resignation of the party’s first constitutional National Chairman, Mr. Cole Bangalu, who went on to renounce his his membership with the CDC after what he described at the time as a thorough study of all of the circumstances. Bangalu would later say he had chosen to disengage from the CDC without any regret in his mind.
The departure of Bangalu was followed by notable departures of the likes of James Kollie and the high-profile resignation of Samuel D.Tweh, who stepped down as head of CDC-USA. Samuel A. Stevquoah, the former Head of CDC’s Media and Propaganda machinery also broke ranks and is now Chief of Staff in the Office of the Vice President, Dr. Joseph Boakai.
Bangalu leads exodus, CDC yet to recover
Cole Bangalu, Founding Member, former Chairman, Congress for Democratic Change
Prior to his resignation, Bangalu had been suspended by the Party’s Executive Committee because, according to them, he had decided as the Party’s National Chairman to singularly attend the programme officially announcing the 2005 election results by the then National Elections Commission (NEC). The CDC had contested the second round election results won by the Unity Party’s candidate, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. But Bangalu reiterated at the time that though he was the National Chairmanthat led the Party to the second round, there were other Executives in the Party who wanted to play dual roles. “However, I was very tough and strong and did not allow that.”
While many were baffled at that exodus of key CDC stalwarts and the party did not do enough to keep Bangalu in the fold, many viewed Bangalu’s departure as a defining moment in the rapid decline of the party in recent years.
On Tuesday, Bangalu, whose prophecy of what is rapidly becoming CDC’s political demise, appears to be coming through, said, he saw the writings on the wall long before the party’s current predicament.
Said Bangalu : “My basic reason of resigning at the time was due to the lack of respect for functional specification. I think when this is present in every institution, it is a bad sign because it does not afford any opportunity for those who assume leadership and those who are occupying positions are not opportune to function properly. I believe that was the major reason within the movement that we formed. We thought people were not opportune to perform the functions they were supposed. For example, when I was Chairman, I don’t think I was opportune to exercise my responsibilities as Chairman of the party but instead others thought the process needed to be controlled by a few people.”
Tarpeh’s New Kru Town win points to decline
Those few people, critics say are Weah and the party’s secretary general Lenn Eugene Nagbe, who have single-handedly masterminded the party to its current predicament.
Critics of the party point to Weah’s lack of education and persistent stay away from the country and the realities on the ground as a sign that the party is losing grip on its predominantly strongholds.
Eventhough the party won the 2009 run-off by-elections for the vacant Montserrado County Senatorial seat to fill the void left by the late Hannah Brent, the party’s poor showing in its’s once stronghold, New Kru Town raised eyebrows. The borough was won by Wilson Tarpeh, a former Finance Minister now Vice President for Fiscal Affairs at the University of Liberia.
Supporters of Tarpeh say the key to his victory in the area was due to the fact that unlike Weah and the CDC, Tarpeh has actually been working with the borough’s youths, helping them to find jobs and giving scholarships to many in the area. While he came up short in the by-elections, his victory over CDC in New Kru Town did no go unnoticed.
Complicating matters, the party needed the support of several other opposition parties including Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Party, Charles Brumskine’s Liberty Party and Winston Tubman’s Liberian National Union to break through and see its candidate Geraldine Doe-Sheriff defeat the ruling party’s Clemenceau Urey.
Many observers took notice that despite a strong campaign mobilizaton by Weah only 105,800 Voters turned out to vote in the By-Election Run-Off which amounted to 22.36%of the 473, 193 voting populace of Montserrado County. The turn out was higher than the recorded turnout in.the first. Round on November 10. While the increment was invariably an expression of voter interest in the process, the number was still low for the most populous county in Liberia. The CDC candidate Doe-Sheriff won 58,384 — 56.0% to the ruling party’s Urey, 45,864 – 44.O%.
Fast-forward to recent years, critics of the party remain uncertain whether it is capable of holding on its own and winning in 2011. More importantly, whether its candidate, Weah is capable of running on his own as the head of a ticket against a formidable incumbent.
Bestman saga rocks party
Weah has not hidden his position and has made it quite clear that he will not run second to any other politician.
But that was before June 4, 2010 and the John Bestman incident which has rocked the CDC in more ways than one.
FrontPageAfrica reported that Weah was on the property of his childhood friend, James Bestman when U.S. federal investigators arrived at Bestman’s home valued at US$450,000 in Howard County, Laurel, Maryland and arrested Bestman. Weah, who was on the scene was also questioned by the arresting officers and let go. However, details of what actually transpired remains a mystery amid multiple versions of the event and numerous denials by Weah and his close associates.
Today, the stains of arrest still haunts Weah as his friend, Bestman lingers in the custody of the FBI and as U.S. prosecutors prepare its case against Bestman. One of the key reasons for the delay of the case going to trial, sources say, is the fact that Bestman has cases pending in a number of different states including the states of Virginia, North Carolina, New York and Maryland. Thus, prosecutors are looking to throw additional charges on in a bid to supersede the indictment to add more counts. As a result Bestman remains in FBI custody in the Howard County jail. No bond hearing has been set and Bestman has not yet been arraigned until prosecutors have consolidated the case for multiple jurisdictions.
While Weah insists that he did not sleep on the property the night leading to the morning arrest of Bestman as has been reported and speculated in many circles, many remain unsure especially after Weah, in admitting that he was on the property at the time of the arrest said he was only questioned for 45 seconds. “When I pulled into the driveway, Mr. James came down the stairs and I saw two officers that served him a warrant that he needed to come with them,” Weah said.
Weah says he was questioned by officers on the scene who asked him for his identification and even thanked him afterwards. Weah’s aide and CDC’s Secretary General Lenn Eugene Nagbe had earlier denied that Weah was anywhere on Bestman’s property at the time of Bestman’s arrest.
Just as the CDC were looking to put the Bestman incident behind, one of its prominent lawmakers, Tokbah Mulbah’s actions appear to have once again drawn the party in the line of political fire.
It all came crashing down last weekend, when a truck belonging to the Deputy Speaker, filled with cement, was arrested by a police officer Lexington Beh around the Bonjal area along the Robertsfield Highway. Eyewitnesses say following his intervention via phone for the police officer to release his truck which failed, the Deputy Speaker reportedly went on the scene and a scuffle ensued, thereby leading to Beh being brutally maltreated. Beh remains in critical condition at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Monrovia but the aftermath of the incident continues to dog the CDC amid conflicting response from the party.
Conflicting Accounts : Gray, Nagbe at Loggerheads
Just like the Bestman case in which Nagbe initially denied that Weah was ever around the scene of the arrest, the party has put out at least two different version of responses in the beating of officer Beh.
In the aftermath of the incident, Acarous Gray, the party’s deputy secretary general declared that the statement issued by the police against the Deputy Speaker was concocted and falsified as their overdriven action is well-calculated and politically motivated. The guys are blatant liars and petit criminals,” Gray said.
Days after the incident, Gray’s boss, Lenn Eugene Nagbe issued a much calmer response in which the party commended the Justice Minister Christiana Tah, House Speaker Alex Tyler and other Officials of Government for cooperating with the Party’s Leadership to ensure that the situation at the residence of House Deputy Speaker Tokpah Mulbah on Sunday, July 11, did not deteriorate.
Said Nagbe : The CDC as a mass based Party which supports the rule of law, condemns the brutal assault on Policeman Lexington Beah, and calls for those who allegedly committed this act to be made to face the consequence of their action in keeping with law. The CDC encourages Deputy Speaker Tokpah Mulbah to continue to cooperate with the police as they carry out investigation into the incident.
The CDC hereby warns all detractors to abandon their futile efforts of seeking to use this unfortunate incident to besmear the image of the Party and allow the Police to conduct a fair and impartial investigation. Meanwhile, officials of the party have contacted the family of officer Beah and expressed concerns for the well-being of their relative. The CDC again assures citizens, residents, and our international counterparts, alike, of its commitment to the sustenance of peace security, and the rule of law in Liberia. The party therefore urges all of its partisans and sympathizers to observe its core values of peace, stability and justice for all.
Gray on the way out? Speculations arising
As the party struggles to find its way out of its latest turmoil, FrontPageAfrica has gathered that the recent string of bad occurrences and incidents have divided the party and the latest one in particular, the handling of the beating of officer Beh could very well lead to the departure of Gray from the party. Multiple sources within the party have suggested that the relationship between Gray and several higher-ups in the party is on the rocks, pointing to the recent conflicting statement and position over the handling of officer Beh’s beating.
As the 2011 elections nears, the party led by Weah which came closed to winning in 2005 finds itself having to answer questions about whether it is ready for the big time.
The irony of it all remains that the party, on its own may be incapable of winning majority votes come 2011. In 2005, Weah placed first in the presidential poll, winning 28.3% of the vote. He was defeated by Sirleaf in the November 8 run-off election, winning 40.6% of the vote compared to Johnson-Sirleaf’s 59.4%. The party though did win three seats in the Senate and 15 in the House of Representatives. Even with that, critics say the party’s representatives in both houses have done little to impact the lives of its core supporters in the Monrovia districts of West Point and New Kru Town, pointing to Tarpeh’s victory in a CDC stronghold as a sign of things likely to come in 2011, if a viable alternative arises.
Like the Bestman saga, the beating of officer Beh, also has the party on the defensive looking for answers as a slew of criticisms pile up. On Tuesday, Vice President Joseph N. Boakai condemned the violent assault on officer Beh, while performing his regular police duties. Veep Boakai said the Unity Party-led Government subscribes to respect for human rights and would not condone such acts on the part of any private citizen or official of government. Boakai, who placed a call to the injured officer Monday, assured the officer (in his hospital bed), that justice will be served and that those responsible will meet the full weight of the law. Briefing the Vice President from his hospital bed, Policeman Beh said he was simply performing his duties required of him by the law when he was brutalized. He told the Vice President that his assailants rained verbal insults on him and his family before physically assaulting.
The U.S. through its ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield also criticized officer Beh’s beating. “I would like to use this opportunity to emphasize that no private citizen or official is above the law and entitled to act with impunity against law enforcement officials who are trying to promote public safety and respect for the rule of law”, Ambassador Greenfield said in a press release issued Monday
‘Disorganized from within’, Sam Jackson says
“The case of the United States of America versus James Bestman could provide a glimpse into the personal lifestyle of the suspected money launderer. Some legal experts are concerned that if monies from any of Mr. Bestman’s alleged criminal enterprise were used to fund Weah or CDC activities, it could mean major problems for the former international football star.”
Samuel P. Jackson, Political Commentator
In the quest for viable alternative, political analysts say the recent string of bad occurrences in the CDC does not augur well for the party in 2011. Unless the party change its approach from the way it handled things in 2005, critics say, history will be bound to repeat. But even if the party join forces with other political opposition, it remains to be seen what impact the Bestman episode and the assault and handling of officer Beh will have on the party and its new alliances. But change critics say have come swiftly and timely. As Bangalu said Tuesday, the party the left behind still has its work cut out for it : “When I look at my alternative, I sometimes find solace in my alternative because it is better not to be somewhere where there are these kinds of activities than to remain there thinking that you will change things when you actually will not”.
With barely 15 months before general and presidential elections scheduled for October 2011, political analyst Samuel Jackson sees a downward trend for the party.
Says Jackson : The party, disorganized from within, unwilling to make solid alliances and headed by a football star without any experience in the political arena is teetering on the brink of disaster. Political pundits are shaking their heads in disbelief.
Jackson points to the brewing disaster within the party: the interrogation of Mr. George Weah during the arrest of his best friend James Bestman and the alleged merciless beating of Officer Beh by people close to Deputy Speaker, Mr. Togba Mulbah a stalwart of the CDC during a routine traffic stop.
For Jackson, the party that won the most votes (28 percent) in the first round of the 2005 presidential sweepstakes has not demonstrated the level of maturity or the political astuteness required of a strong opposition. Jackson says the two recent events seem to demonstrate the level of disintegration within the party. George Weah’s flirtation with a known serial criminal, Mr. James Bestman, a man with a rap sheet several pages long within the American justice system has himself to blame. Anyone who has spent any time with Mr. Bestman should know that his life style and associates are indicative of a man with a criminal past and should be avoided at all costs by any aspiring politician. Mr. Weah’s proverbial 45 seconds of interrogation by FBI agents in the driveway of James Bestman’s luxury home in the suburbs of Washington DC is symptomatic of a party hierarchy seemingly unprepared for national leadership.
Some CDC partisans have privately stated they have been uncomfortable with the relationship between Bestman and Weah. But as in most political structures in Liberia, Jackson says hushed tones and behind- the-back bickering are substituted for facing leading politicians with the facts of life.
The case of the United States of America versus James Bestman could provide a glimpse into the personal lifestyle of the suspected money launderer. Some legal experts are concerned that if monies from any of Mr. Bestman’s alleged criminal enterprise were used to fund Weah or CDC activities, it could mean major problems for the former international football star.
In the case of Officer Beh, who lies in the hospital with concerns for his life, the matter is unlikely to rest easy, especially coming after some very disingenuous remarks by members and officials of the CDC. The CDC in an official statement, now denied by some within the party claims that Officer Beh was drunk. Assuming that the officer was in a drunker stupor, does normal restraint mean beating him senseless to the point of death?
The statement by US Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield means international attention has been brought to the case of Officer Beh, which indicates the normal Liberian way of sweeping things under the rug may be difficult to accomplish. It means the case will stay within the front pages of the media for a considerable length of time and could erode a substantial degree of popular support from the CDC as more facts are revealed in what will become a closely watched investigation. The CDC is not falling from the weight of outsiders, but it is being destroyed from within, which seems to signal the tragicomedy of the Liberian existence.
In the coming months, the Congress for Democratic will have its hands full as it looks to rediscover its identity in hopes of convincing voters that it has improved its credentials and agenda. To date, it is not clear whether Weah himself will complete his studies before campaign season rolls around or whether that would be enough to convince voters that he has upgraded his education lapses which handicapped his candidacy in 2011. Whichever way it plays out political analysts say the party riding on Weah’s shoulders has taken a hit and it may take a lot of work for Weah’s political voice to convince voters that it remains the viable alternative to the incumbent government.