The political clouds are gathering by the day and signs are that Elections 2011 would be a dog-eat-dog affair not merely because aspirants are called to genuine service of the people but principally because elected positions in Government, at executive and legislative levels, are unusually lucrative and money-spinning.
This enticement is defining the modus operandi of ambitious people not merely in the swarms of citizens wanting to be elected but also in the loose of resources to get the targeted job at all cost. Thus, while political blocs, including the ruling party are putting up adequate cash to woo allies and voters, potential voters exploiting the situation to fend a living.
The Analyst takes a look how the pending elections are submerged into bribery and extortions and how they impact on the nation’s fledgling democracy.
Jerry Bioh (his real name omitted based on his request), 17, has made an unusual break since the start of voters’ registration. He has raised US$75, the highest personal treasury he has ever earned. His tricks worked, and the preys were three legislative candidates from Sinoe, Margibi and Bomi Counties.
“I first joined a few friends who said one big man was looking for voters and he was giving them US$20 each to register in his constituency. I put my name down and got my first mile [money],” the boy said in victorious tune.
“We were to leave for Bomi the next day so I changed my location from New Georgia to my mother on the Capitol Bypass. Luckily for me, some gentlemen were putting names down for the Southeast. From here I collected another US$20 and we were promised that we would get additional money before leaving. When our last mile as not coming, I heard from my old classmate that one of his instructors was giving them US$30 each to go Gardnerville to register and all he wanted me do was to put my name down and collect the mile [money] and share with him. We went and I got it and gave him nickel [US$5] and I left the area.”
The anonymous boy bragged that he will collect more money than he has already collected before the end of the ongoing voters’ registration. And he is not alone.
There has been a mass movement or massive ferrying of potential voter registrants from one place to another and the beneficiaries, at least for now, are the potential registrants also called by a columnist as “repatriated registrants”.
Aspirants for various elective offices have been fielding “foot soldiers” collecting names of people whom they provide transportation and food allowances to ferry to constituencies of their choice.
This is reportedly taking place across the country, and the apparently hungry, unemployed masses are going for the bait, which some call their right, perhaps not feeling abused.
It seems political nervousness has taking hold of elective job seekers, making them highly vulnerable to potential voters. In pursuit of more votes, both legislative and presidential candidates are currently competing in moving citizens from community to another and from one county to another and the act, even though condemned but acquiesced by the National Elections Commission, has reached competitive proportions.
The vulnerability of the job seekers is expressed in the dishing out of huge sums of monies even to potential voters they barely know.
Young people with the ability to move about, and fast, are combing communities finding conveyers of registrants, who are potential voters, to suck. Some have organized themselves into “Friends of X”, Friends of Z” in their overt extortion spree disguised in their willingness to be battle cry groups, foot soldiers and “repatriated voter registrants”.
But from one petition ceremony to another, and from one group of “repatriated voter registrants” to another, the faces of the “electoral vultures” are almost the same people.
“This is our time to eat,” James Tarsu [name changed on request] said. “Politicians are cruel. Now, all of them have scrapped the tainted glasses of their vans and are seen clearly the masses of the people. After this time, when they shall have gotten elected, the tainted glasses will get back and they will no longer see the masses of the people. So, you journalists can call it extortion, but we are saying it is our just compensation for our time and perhaps our votes.”
When feud and counter-allegations flared up between Congress for Democratic Change strongman Mulbah Morlu and Unity Party stalwart Willie Russell over alleged bribery controversy, the news item quickly faded away from the public domain either because the ruling Party was involved or because of Morlu’s history of false claims and alarms.
But, according to political pundits, Mulbah Morlu has found vindication in his last bribery alarms against the ruling party and its adherents; and the vindication has come from the admittance of the ruling Party’s stalwart, Senator Adolphus Dolo, that he presented a cash of L$1m to Senator Prince Johnson to dissuade or lure him and his party, the National Union for Democracy and Progress (NUDP) from contesting the Presidency.
Observers strongly believe Prince Johnson poses the most formidable challenge to President Sirleaf’s capture of Nimba County in the 2011 polls, and Nimba which is the second largest votes-rich province next to Montserrado.
Johnson hails from Nimba County and his hailed by his tribesmen for his “heroic” role in the Liberian civil conflict. He won the highest legislative votes in the county, making him Senior Senator while he was still fresh with the scent of war-lordism.
There are reports that the people of Nimba, whose bid for the presidency was thwarted in the 1985 elections by the Samuel Doe-led military junta, see the return of the missed opportunity in the candidature of Prince Y. Johnson.
The presentation of L$1,000,000, now confessed by the Unity Party, not only confirms that President Sirleaf and the Unity Party acknowledge the formidability of Prince Johnson in Nimba, and perhaps elsewhere in Liberia, but also speaks volumes on how the Unity Party has been, and will be, using cash and resources to capture state power at all cost.
The National Elections Commission, which has in the last few days been warning candidates and political parties against bribery and extortion, some pundits assert, is challenged by what analysts call the first clearest case of bribery.
Others say the manner and form the NEC will deal with the Unity Party L$1m deal, as some political commentators describe it, will largely help to enhance or bury the warning against other bribery and extortion cases in the future.
“If it will be considered bribery when a candidate or party gives items of value in exchange for vote, then it must also be considered bribery when a political party or candidate gives items of value a another candidate to tender support in his/her favor,” University of Liberia student Josiah A. Quillah said.
“The 2011 elections are witnessing too much of extortion and bribery involving big names and big parties and we are watching how the NEC will dispense justice in these clear cases emerging before our eyes in the last few weeks.”
From the Morlu-Russell saga to the UP-NUDP case, Quillah said, it is becoming clearer by the day that so much bribery and extortion has been taking place, predicting that this year’s elections will be saddled by gross electoral malpractices that the NEC will not be able to handle.
Quillah said he recalled rumors of similar bribery deals involving the Congress for Democratic Change, particularly its leader George Weah, and other political blocs.
Weah has gone into proposed electoral alliances with a number of political camps and coalitions and, during these interactions, it is wildly deduced that money changed hands.
Weah and veteran United Nations staffer Winston Tubman nearly tied the political knot before the CDC strongman put a monkey wrench into the deal, leaving Cllr. Tubman what a media outlet called “Government Bone”.
The CDC and Weah reportedly also forged collaborations and alliance talks with a group of parties, including those now conglomerating under the banner of National Democratic Coalition but the CDC, particularly Weah, backed off under erratic circumstances.
Most recent of the CDC’s pre-electoral vacillation is the foiled merger deal with the Liberty Party of Cllr. Charles W. Brumskine.
The deal erupted uproarious public attention and irking palpitation of hearts amongst other political camps, particularly within the Unity Party, until George Weah’s pre-voters’ registration orations painted a gloomy picture that now eventually sent the entire deal in tatters.
Rumormongers have traded gossips that in most of the deals struck by George Weah, the underlying force was cash which the other negotiating parties had offered the CDC standard-bearer in exchange for his well-acknowledged popularity.
Though the CDC and Liberty Party have concurrently rejected claims that money changed hands during the consummation of the deal, there are still mounting public doubts over the denials.
While some suggest that the deal with Tubman was hatched on a US$150,000 compromise, it is also suggested that Weah’s deal with Brumskine netted in some US$180,000.
Still others are suggesting that President Sirleaf and her UP are chasing Weah with a huge sum of money to withdraw from the presidential race.
Those who repudiate the rumormongers’ loosed tongues contend that Weah, apparently obsessed with the zeal to lead, would neither taint his character in money-prone deals nor would he subordinate his ambition to any other Liberian.
Despite these denials, there are clear signs of cash for support/vote and cash to dismantle opponents’ ambition as the L$1m UP-NUDP deal and the offering of transportation allowances to register can tell