Monrovia – No political pundit, critic or observer can doubt George Weah’s nearness to the Liberia’s presidency. It is the closest the soccer legend has come to the leadership helm of Africa’s oldest republic since he entered politics in 2004.
The National Elections Commission (NEC), on Wednesday December 28 announced preliminary results of the runoff with the numbers favoring the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) against Unity Party’s Joseph Boakai.
NEC Chairman Jerome Kokorya, at very packed press conference on Wednesday, announced that Weah was in the lead after accumulating 720,023 votes, which amounts to 61.5% while Boakai earned 451,088 representing 38.5%.
This is 98.1% of the total number of total polling places from across the entire country.
With just 104 (1.9%) polling places remaining as ballots from almost all vote-rich counties already tallied, it is now most likely that Mr. Weah has sealed a massive victory as the successor of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
However, there are factors that have influenced the dynamics of the country’s body politics leading to the election of the former FIFA player of the year.
The Hunger for Change of Government
Weah’s major opponent, Vice President Boakai, was riding on a ticket with excess baggage. In the eyes of many, nepotism, corruption, waste, and a messy educational system, amongst others, have dogged the government’s legacy, and its by-product is now a shrinking economy.
Some economists are now asserting that the economy is in recession. And it is the ruling party that must bear the brunt. Boakai is seen as a culprit, so the vote against his UP showed emphatically in the two rounds.
During the height of the campaign, Boakai had to defend the party’s ideology and his political vision, while separating himself from the decisions of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf during the 12-year rule. It was a daunting task that earned him a rocky relationship with his boss and cost him the needed support.
Observers assert that Johnson-Sirleaf supported Weah over Boakai since she was never seen with her VP on the campaign trail. The speculation heightened at the latter stage of the campaign when Weah appeared alongside Johnson-Sirleaf at a groundbreaking ceremony in Bong County.
The President attempted to refute assertions that she did not support Weah, but the damaged had already been done.
While Boakai struggled to distance himself from the shortfalls of the government, Weah and his band of supporters argued against the weaknesses of a government that has led for more than a decade - enjoying massive international support but the country remains one of the poorest in the world.
The Unity Party is considered a major culprit of the enormous challenges Liberians are enduring and no one seem prepare to maintain an administration that has failed to manage the expectation of Liberians since 2005.
This helped Weah gathered grassroots support from across the country and at the same time used his populism ideology to attract some of the most influential politicians in the country.
Time for Change
Weah’s major argument was, “It’s time for change” as he pitched a platform that appeared to be a remedy for resuscitating the broken system.
He told his supporters what they wanted to hear: fixing the long-term problem of bad roads, health care, education, jobs and every other thing Liberians are craving.
And many responded that, “they just like him” for the patriotism he has exhibited since his days with the national football team.
In Weah, who is dubbed by many as an unorthodox politician, Liberians opted for a leader outside the old order. The love for him seems unconditionally unflinching. His supporters would argue that he’s the politician they love - the one that would offer the change Liberia so desire.
Despite being senator for Montserrado County since 2014, they still saw him as an outsider of government with the pedigree to ignite a new political dispensation.
‘The Country’s Giant’
Weah’s supporters and critics alike have hailed his leadership in heading the country’s most consistent opposition party since the end of civil war in 2003. They consider him ‘the country’s giant’ - a person whose formidability to compete against his opponents has gained him popularity every election year in the last decade.
Even propaganda against the current Montserrado County senator could not drained his support based. In fact, his supporters compare him with slain former Liberian leader Samuel K. Doe and claim he would effectuate similar robust policies that Doe initiated.
It was a time for someone that hailed from the slum or ghetto to ascend to the highest office in the land. Someone, they insist, who understands the conditions of going to bed without food in a shanty town.
The ‘Book’ Argument
While, several of Weah’s opponents focused on proffering their vision for the country through traditional media home and abroad, he stocked with his same old script. He had shunned town hall debates and radio talk shows and his indisposition further sparked debates over his intellectual inaptitude.
But that would do him just little harm in a country with an illiteracy rate of over 75 percent.
When his critics weigh in on his ability to speak English fluently, his supporters responded that it was the ‘educated class’ of the country’s leadership that have failed to remedy the socio-economic challenges in the country. In fact, they blamed the ‘educated class’ for the country’s challenges.
Again, Weah, despite earning a Master Degree, was pitted against the rest of the other politicians. His popularity grew along the campaign trail and for his supporters; it was time to try an unorthodox politician.
Politicians Failed to Amalgamate
Senator Weah garnered massive support in the second round, but it was the failure of the so-called established politicians to form an alliance before the October 10 poll that handed him the most advantage.
The failure of the Ganta Declaration significantly destabilized any potential opposition amalgamation, leaving many candidates vulnerable ahead of the first round.
Weah maintained his momentum and when cracks appeared visible in several opposition political parties after the first round vote, he opened his arms to many breakaway politicians. Amassing support from parties and popular politicians with favorable geopolitical advantages handed him the upper hand.
Senator Prince Johnson, an undisputed Kingmaker in vote rich Nimba County, handed his support to the CDC after he finished fourth in the first round.
Johnson’s support for Weah hurt Boakai enormously in a county with the second highest registered voters in the country.
With Johnson already in and several Liberty Party stalwarts including Harrison Karnwea switching to the CDC, sweeping the most votes in Nimba County was even more predictable.
Additionally, popular vice candidate of Alternative National Congress, Jeremiah Sulunteh, rendered his support to the CDC after his party could only settled for fifth placed in the first round. And that was an added advantage to the CDC in Bong County where Weah’s running mate, Jewel Howrad-Taylor had already won two successive senatorial elections since 2005. Howrad-Taylor was savoring an undisputed support in her hometown.
In Grand Bassa County, Liberty Party was losing grip on its stronghold. Party leader Charles Brumskine had a disorganized party after losing the legal argument of irregularities and fraud against the NEC at the Supreme Court.
As the LP, which has enjoyed success in the Bassa speaking counties struggled to organize its house, other prominent politicians in the county declared their support for Weah. It was a hard hit injury to Boakai and his last rally in the port city of Buchanan before the runoff did him little good.
For Boakai, it was an unsuccessful task to cement his popularity in four of the five vote-rich counties – Montserrado, Nimba, Bong, Margibi and Lofa Counties, ahead of the runoff.
In sharp contrast, it was Weah’s ability in maximizing his fame to attract major opposition figures to his party at the same time assuring youths a massive hope that has dealt Joseph Boakai a political blow and ends the third term bid of the ruling party.
This story has been updated.