“We encourage Minister Konneh and all well-meaning Liberians to join the Liberty Party so that we can extend the transformation of Liberia come 2017. We continue to talk to all political actors, including Minister Konneh, along these lines. It would be presumptuous of us, as a party seeking state power and trying to build a coalition not to do so. We have reached out to all political parties and stakeholders. No one can expect me to be Chairman of a party I believe in and not make every effort to recruit my friends and family.” – Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, Chairman, Opposition Liberty Party
Monrovia - The countdown to the 2017 presidential elections in Liberia is already gathering steam amid lingering split within the ranks of the ruling Unity Party and uncertainty over the future of Vice President, Joseph Boakai.
In the past few days, numerous reports have surfaced suggesting movements in the direction of the opposition Liberty Party pressing for a potential pairing of the party’s political leader Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine and Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh. The idea, according to sources speaking on condition of anonymity to FrontPageAfrica is to test the waters for a possible unity ticket fielding Brumskine, a devout Christian and Konneh, a Muslim in a bid to ease brewing tension between Christians and Muslims in the country.
In recent days, Liberia has been dividedly rocked by a proposal to amend the constitution in order to reinstate Christianity as the state religion, drawing ire from Muslims protesting the move and describing the proposal as an unfair marginalization of minority religious groups. The proposed amendment is en route to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s desk and is likely to be put to a national referendum next year.
Some participants at last week’s constitutional conference responsible for reviewing the 1986 constitution backed the amendment to the dismay of Muslims who have been lobbying against the proposal and protesting the event in Gbarnga, where the conference was taking place, demanding that the current secular status remain unchanged.
Liberia’s four million population is dominated by 85 percent Christians and 12 percent Muslims, according to the 2008 census, although some scholars now put that number to around 20 percent. Liberty Party Chairman Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa did not confirm or deny the reports when FrontPageAfrica contacted him Monday, but appeared calculated in his explanation.
Konneh ‘Encouraged’, Says LP Chair
Said Cllr. Koffa: “We do not have a secret membership roll. Minister Konneh is not a member and has not recently joined the Liberty Party.” The Party Chairman, however, acknowledged that his personal friendship with Minister Konneh may be a contributing factor to the fueling speculations. Cllr. Koffa did not, however, shut the window to the possibility. “We encourage Minister Konneh and all well-meaning Liberians to join the Liberty Party so that we can extend the transformation of Liberia come 2017. We continue to talk to all political actors, including Minister Konneh, along these lines.”
Cllr. Koffa added that it would be presumptuous for a party seeking state power and trying to build a coalition not to explore all avenues to increase its chances of winning. “We have reached out to all political parties and stakeholders. No one can expect me to be Chairman of a party I believe in and not make every effort to recruit my friends and family.”
‘Coalition best option’ for 2017
The party chairman also clarified that the position of standard bearer and vice standard bearer will be determined by the Convention of delegates seated at the 2017 nominating convention and not before. He further stated that the party special convention slated for June this year is simply to put the party leadership and structure in place in preparation for 2017.
Cllr. Koffa added that it is the party’s position that a coalition will be the best winner option, but declined to say who the coalition partners will be. Ahead of 2017 political speculation will continue to dominate the airways. Cllr. Brumskine who has twice contested the presidency in 2005 and 2011 recently declared that he would reconsider his decision to quit politics if asked to contest the upcoming presidential elections.
Brumskine became politically prominent in the 1990s as an ally of Charles Taylor. Following Taylor’s election in 1997, Brumskine won a senate seat and became President Pro Temp of the Senate, but his ties with Taylor severed in 1999. Brumskine fled the country after being threatened by Taylor's supporters. He returned to Liberia in 2003 and contested the 2005 presidential election under the banner of the Liberty Party with a pledge to foster reconciliation after years of civil war and political turmoil, as well as improve the economy and infrastructure.
Brumskine received nearly 14% of the vote, 6% less than the second-place candidate, Sirleaf and was not eligible to contest the second round. Many political observers pointed to Brumskine’s decision not to endorse a candidate in the 2005 elections, particularly George Weah as a key reason for strained ties between himself and Weah.
One Liberty insider said Monday that both Weah and Brumskine have reached out to each other in recent days. "The relationship with Weah is no longer strained, the two talk about every other day when Weah is in the country, although a pairing is not likely," the source said. Ahead of the 2011 presidential elections, an attempt to field a ticket of Brumskine and Weah failed to materialize amid reports that some CDCians still hold Brumskine for not supporting Weah in the 2005 second round, which some believe could have put Weah over the top.
Weah who had won the first round of voting, garnering 28.3% of the vote lost the second round the Sirleaf, garnering only 40.6% to 59.4% for Sirleaf. While it is still a bit early to decipher how much of an impact a potential Brumskine-Konneh ticket would make what is expected to be another wide presidential field, some political observers say the pairing could complicate the Liberty Party’s quest for the post which has eluded the party’s political leader. “It concerns us that the pairing could be a hard sell because it ties us to the Unity Party, when we are promising and embarking on a message of change,” said Liberty Party insider who spoke to FrontPageAfrica Monday.
What remains certain for now is that the brewing religious tension may very well be burning campaign issue for the 2017 presidential play, a point some political observers say could make a Christian-Muslim ticket an appetizing proposition for voters. But whether it is a risk Brumskine and his party is willing to take at his third quest for the post he has coveted for years, remains to be seen.