Opposition Leaders’ Dilemma

Source: AllAfrica.com

Free Democratic Party of Liberia (FDPL’s)
2011 presidential hopeful,
T. Q. Harris, Jr.

   Liberia’s political leaders appear excited about the 2011 presidential and general elections. Depending on which side of the political isle they fall, theyvariously dub the elections “the referendum on the Sirleaf Administration” or “the watershed elections to test Liberia’s democratic culture”.

But it is now clear that the elections may become something other than a referendum or democratic watershed unless the opposition makes the ultimate sacrifice to avert minority rule in Liberia.

Opposition leader T. Q. Harris thinks that is a fair assessment of the issue and he is rallying opposition leaders to a judgment call for patriotism. The Analyst, reports.

Free Democratic Party of Liberia (FDPL’s) 2011 presidential hopeful, T. Q. Harris, Jr., believes the amendment of the absolute majority clause threatens democracy in Liberia, and he is making a judgment call to the opposition.

At the instance of the need of the international community to save cost through the reduction or eradication of legislative runoffs, the National Elections Commission (NEC) plans to conduct a national referendum in the middle of next year. NEC had earlier ruled out the holding of the referendum for want of logistics and cash.

The referendum will seek, amongst four key amendments, to put the citizens’ stamp of approval on the swapping of the absolute majority requirement for legislative victory with the simple majority requirement.

If the plans go ahead as envisioned, and there are no questions they will, the absolute majority requirement for legislative victory in Liberia would be replaced by a simple majority requirement.

Mr. Harris is amongst Liberian opposition politicians who believe that swapping the absolute majority requirement with the simple majority requirement in order to avert runoffs and save cost poses more danger to the nation’s democratic experiment than the unsuspecting mind can grasp.

The sudden decision of the international community to save cost by endorsing the amendment of the absolute majority requirement, which Mr. Harris said is a safety net to minority rule and communal tension in Liberia, suggested that it has decided to force Liberians, indirectly, to ‘behave more responsibly’.

Behaving more responsibly then, according to the presidential hopeful, must begin with the realization that the amendment solution is myopic in the first place and then make the conscious decision to make the necessary sacrifices and take the required actions to avert the whirlwind of minority rule from sweeping across the nation and knocking down the nation’s landmarks of achievement.

The 1997 vice presidential candidate said the question might not be whether Liberian political leaders, incumbent and opposition alike, realized the danger facing the nation as it is how far they were prepared to dialogue in order to change the situation.

There was no question also, he said, that averting runoffs would reduce the weight of the financial caseload of the elections by 65% in a short-term.

“How however, it is a myopic solution to a delicate issue that is bound to produce adverse consequences for the nation in the future,” he said.

The FDPL leader, who would prefer the tabling of the referendum in view of the fact that the government – guided by an international intervention force – was yet to take its full constitutional responsibility mainly in the area of security, however said there was need to think through the critical decisions more carefully.

“Considering the importance of the 2011 elections, I trust opposition leaders will see the wisdom in putting forth one candidate to contest each elected office. At this critical stage, the need for CHANGE must supersede personal ambition,” Mr. Harris, who is also the Chairman of Liberian Contempt UPS, said.

He recalled the amalgamation proposition contained in the October 12, 2010 editorial of this paper, which suggested that the opposition field one candidate for each elective office, and noted that the proposal was “noteworthy” and deserved serious consideration.

At the moment, he said, Liberia, was at the crossroads of its survival, facing the dilemma of ambition and nationalism, and that the brunt of that dilemma must be borne by the opposition if the nation must be spared of another catastrophe.

The international partners’ unwillingness to fund run-off contests in the 2011 elections, in his view, signaled the start of early disengagement from Liberia, which he said no thinking Liberian would endorse.

Moreover, he said, it was scarier when the apparent signal for early disengagement and the amendment of the absolute majority requirement, which would stealthily introduce minority, hegemonic rule into Liberia’s electioneering and governance politics, were juxtaposed. “I, therefore, would like to urge leaders of opposition parties to let us work together to limit the number of candidates in the upcoming elections. We can no longer continue to operate as lone rangers while the people suffer and the country falls apart. Turning Liberia around will require compromise and more compromise; only then will stagnation end so progress can begin!” The presidential hopeful pled.

The FDPL executive member is the perhaps the fourth political leader in the country to espouse the idea of opposition leaders forgoing personal ambitions in order to defeat the Sirleaf Administration at the 2011 polls.

But he is the second to believe that overturning the absolute majority requirement at a referendum next year poses a greater danger to Liberia’s postwar political dispensation than the Sirleaf Administration’s winning of
second term.

Former foreign minister Lewis Brown noted in response to NEC’s announcement late last month that legitimizing the amendment of the absolute majority clause in a referendum was tantamount to introducing ” creeping minority rule with dangerous ethnic flavor” into Liberian politics.

NEC said it has resolved to put the four constitutional amendments the National Legislature passed earlier in June this year to a referendum ahead of the 2011 elections, having held consultations with partners and freed up some funds.

Like Mr. Harris, Mr. Brown called for national dialogue amongst Liberia’s political leaders to find a way forward around the threat.

Others, who see the consolidation of opposition forces, but for not too-closely-related reasons, were the political leader of Liberty Party, Cllr. Charles Brumskine, and the standard-bearer emeritus of the opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), Amb. George Manneh Weah.

Recent reports say the two men have concluded initial agreements to form a single-candidate slate for the ensuing 2011 general and presidential elections.

They reportedly have considered it a grand idea to form a coalition umbrella, which would accommodate Liberia’s 13-plus member opposition.

For that to happen, observers say, Brumskine and Weah would have to show leadership capacity by subordinating their presidential ambitions and leaving the presidential and vice presidential slots open for competition through a series of opposition primaries amongst interested parties.

But there are no indication that both men are capable of such feat as it is even now unclear which of them would subordinate himself on a possible Weah-Brumskine ticket.

So far, neither Brumskine nor Weah have commented on the coalition idea in relation to the pending referendum, which Harris and Brown fear may take away the safety net to minority rule.

Meantime, it is not clear whether Messrs Harris and Brown have reached out to other party leaders who are interested in merger as a way of circumventing the need to bring the absolute majority amendment to referendum or met to harmonize their individual crusades for amalgamation.

Observers say whether the opposition is serious about shrinking the political playing field both with the hope of winning the 2011 presidential polls and averting the stealthy introduction of minority rule into Liberian politics will depend on what each of them will do in coming months.

“But the time,” they warn, “is not on their side”.


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