On Liberia's Elections and Africa's First Elected President - Victory for Democracy


Mobolaji E. Aluko, PhD
Mobolaji E. Aluko is a professor of Chemical Engineering at Howard University in Washington, DC, USA. He is "adopting" Liberia (in addition to his native Nigeria) for his future political "watch-dogging". He maintains a website: http://www.nigerianmuse.com .


I am an election buff, and like watching selected elections not only in my country Nigeria but also around the world. This is because elections are the grund norm of modern democracy - free, fair and regular ones that is - because they enable the retention of good and performing leaders and representatives, the kicking out of bad or non-adequately-performing ones, and the entrance of potentially good ones. However, I am interested not only in the personalities that contest but also in the process itself, as well as in the election results that are announced, mining them to provide or dispel even from afar any air of authenticity (with respect to free-ness and fair-ness) of the elections.
The just-concluded Liberian elections [first round October 11; presidential run-off (second round) November 8, 2005 ] had international star-power associated with them, what with 39-year-old former Chelsea/AC Milan/PSG etc. soccer player and political novice George Weah in keen contest against former World Bank official, long-time politician and 67-year-old grandmother Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. This was in a field of 20 other presidency contestants, all standing on behalf of a total of 21 registered parties or as an independent [See Table 1]. Also featured were elections into 15 seats in the Senate and 64 seats into the House of Representatives from 15 provinces and 64 districts respectively in a total electorate of about 1.35 million registered voters required to do their civic duties at 3070 polling places.
From this distance in the United States, I declare the Liberian elections just concluded - both the presidential and the parliamentary (house and senate) - to be eminently free and fair for reasons to be provided below. However, unless there is some explanation for the manner in which ALL of the total number of voters for each county of the Senate elections exceed the number of registered voters, then the Senate elections appear to have some irregularities in them - unless I am missing something. Such an observation does not apply either in the House or presidential elections. [See Table 2]


There will be a temptation, with the emergence of Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as the first democratically-elected African woman president, to emphasize that fact as being the only significant news in these elections. I must confess that I had secretly hoped - and hence I am happy - that the more experienced "Iron Lady" would win this first post-conflict presidential election, and then work with George Weah to fire up George's more youthful supporters, in preparation for a Weah succession possibly sometime down the road. Now that she has won, I hope and trust that for the sake of Liberia, West Africa and Africa that cooperation between herself and George Weah will happen in the coming days and years.
But Ellen's historical emergence is not the only significant news here. The very PROCESS of her emergence is worth considering. In the first round, George Weah's ticket (of the CDC party) got 28.3% to Johnson-Sirleaf's UP party candidacy getting19.8%, with the third and fourth candidates getting 13.9% and 9.2% respectively, in a contest involving about 1 million total votes. The fact that we had to get to the third candidate to climb over the 50% voter number - with no one candidate getting as much as 30% of the votes - indicates to any watcher a very keen first-round contest indeed.
In the gender arena, in these elections women had a good outing. It was pleasing to note that in addition to the victorious female presidential candidate Ellen, there were also one other female presidential candidate (Margaret Thar-Thompson of the FAPL party), and a female as vice-presidential candidate (Amelia Angeline Ward of the LP party) in a ticket that came third overall. 3 out of the 15 victorious senatorial candidates are women, while 8 out of 64 will be members of the House of Representatives, having all won seats. More importantly, apart from those who won their seats, 14 women came in 2nd or 3rd in the 64 House races and 2 in the 15 Senate races.

Furthermore, in the heavily populated county of Montserrado (which had 35% of all the registered voters), women placed 1st and 2nd in those Senate races, with the woman senator-elect [Joyce Musu Freeman] scoring the single-highest vote in those elections [86,008], followed by Hannah G. Brent [80,331]. Yormi Johnson [the former warlord, who hid in my native Nigeria for quite a while] won a senate seat in his own Nimba County with a vote of 81,820 - the next highest to Freeman's.
The final set of observations has to do with the spread of the parties within the Senate and House and what it means to governance by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (UP candidate). In the 15-seat Senate, 8 parties won at least 1 seat, with the highest number of seats (3) won by COTOL, and Independents winning 2 seats. Johnson-Sirleaf's party won only 2 senate seats while George Weah's CDC won only 1 seat. On the other hand, in the 64-seat House, 11 parties won at least 1 seat, with the highest number being won by Weah's CDC (14 seats), followed by Johnson-Sirleaf's UP (9 seats), then LP (9 seats), COTOL (8 seats) and finally 8 Independents.
In the House, COTOL cleared all 3 seats in the Grand Cape Mount County, even though that county will be represented in the Senate by an NPP Senator, while in Grand Bassa County, LP cleared all 4 seats, even though it will be represented by an Independent Senator. George Weah's CDC won 10 of the 14 House seats in the heavily-populated Montserrado County, which will also be represented in the Senate by a CDC candidate. In that county, Johnson-Sirleaf's UP won only 1 seat.
The above numbers show that without the domination of any one party either in the House or Senate; with a strong showing by Independent and female candidates, and with a woman President belonging to a party that is not particularly strong in either the House or the Senate, representative democracy in Liberia promises to be a vibrant one in the months and years ahead. Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf will have to rule through serious negotiations and consensus-building with legislators from opposing parties. Thus a Government of National Unity as she had promised BEFORE these results came in is now seriously mandated by these results themselves.


Finally, one must congratulate Liberia's National Electoral Commission (NEC) headed by - yes, a woman Councillor Frances Johnson-Morris - for what I believe is a wonderful effort, including a wonderful election website http://www.necliberia.org . In fact, her NEC trumps even the United States in one respect - displaying ALL of the financial disclosure forms of ALL of the candidates in ALL of the elections on the website ! We discover, for example, that while George Weah's approximate net worth is US$1.95 million, that of president-elect Johnson-Sirleaf is only approximately US$ 142,000: that is, the poorer candidate won - and in Africa for that matter!

I am a Nigerian that has studied all my own country's most recent elections in 1999 and 2003, and came away with bleeding head-scratches and shaking of head while looking at many of the associated "funny" results. Furthermore, noting the lack of public disclosures of the finances of ANY of our Nigerian candidates (despite those disclosures being supposedly lodged at our Code of Conduct Bureau), not to talk of ANY of the "victorious" ones, I find all of these Liberian developments breath-takingly refreshing, and an eye-opener as we prepare for our own 2007 elections.
Some readers, including most certainly many Nigerians, may question whether a "national" election involving only about a total of no more than 1.7 million people and just about 3,000 polling stations is anything to crow about. [Nigeria's electorate is about 60 million with use of over 120,000 polling booths.] The retort is "Yes" - for if local government and state elections in Nigeria (for example), some of which have about 1-2 million voters, can become as well-run as the Liberian elections, like Ghana's 10-million-voter elections on December 7, 2004 were - then every one will be happy with electoral democracy in Africa.

'Nuff said, as I once again congratulate the people of Liberia as they set forth on an exciting democratic journey. One really wishes our sister country Liberia a lot of good luck and success in its future endeavors. May for example Ellen-Sirleaf and George Weah (among others) find the wisdom to work together. [Amen.]