Liberia 2011

Presidential and congressional elections were held in Liberia on October 11, 2011 with a runoff for President to be held on November 8. The President is elected for a six-year term, renewable once. The Congress is made up of the House of Representatives with 64 members elected in single-member districts through FPTP, with each county having a number of seats based on population with a minimum of 2 seats; the Senate has 30 members elected for staggered nine-year terms and renewed by halves. Each county elects two members in totals, but not at the same time.

Liberia has been ruled since 2005 by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, recent Nobel laureate. Johnson Sirleaf’s election marked the return of political stability after a civil war which had been on-and-off since 1989 and civil strife which had begun in 1980. Up till 1980, Liberia was a single-party state ruled by the True Whig Party since independence in 1847. The True Whig Party, which dominated Liberian politics with an iron hand, represented the interests of the Americo-Liberian minority – those descendants of the former slaves brought over to Liberia from the United States in the early nineteenth century. The Americo-Liberians had been socialized to western norms and saw the adoption of western culture and traditions as necessary for the country’s economic development. In practice, this meant allying closely with the Americans who reaped the profits of Liberia’s rubber and mining industries and repression of the country’s indigenous tribal majority. In 1980, the hegemony of the True Whigs and Americo-Liberians came to an end when President Tolbert was overthrown in a violent coup led by army officer Samuel Doe, of Krahn ethnicity. Doe set up a corrupt pro-American authoritarian regime which rigged elections and violently cracked down on other tribes, most significantly the Gio and Mano in northern Nimba County (where most of the country’s diamonds are mined). Civil war broke out in 1989 between the rebel NPFL led by Charles Taylor and supported by the Gio and Mano and the Krahn government. Doe was killed in 1990, but the war did not end there: the NPFL split, with the Gio and Dan largely backing Prince Yormie Johnson’s INPFL, while the remnants of the Krahn armed forces formed ULIMO and later LURD. Taylor was elected President in 1997. The conflict did not end until Taylor’s departure in 2003. The war had killed thousands, displaced thousands, left the country’s institutions, economy and infrastructure in ruins with some 80% living below the poverty line with 90% or so unemployed.

Since 2005, things have gotten a bit better under former IMF economist Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has improved the state of the country’s infrastructure and public services, made headway on the country’s debt issue and solid economic growth (6.9% growth in 2011). But she is not as popular at home as she is abroad, because she is criticized for her role in the civil war (she originally backed Taylor) and for the slow progress made in reducing poverty and corruption.

In the 2005 election, Johnson Sirleaf had defeated popular former football star George Weah. Weah was originally set to run again, but then dropped his bid in favour of a short-lived alliance with former Taylor ally and 2005 candidate Charles Brumskine. When that fell apart, Weah’s party, the CDC, endorsed Winston Tubman, a former diplomat and nephew of former True Whig President William Tubman (who served 1944-1971). Finally, warlord and Nimba County Senator Prince Johnson also ran this year at the helm of his party, the NUDP. Tubman and Johnson Sirleaf’s policies were pretty much similar, but Tubman claims that he has better credentials than her and criticized her for her unclear role in the civil war.

The results were:

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (UP) 43.9%
Winston A. Tubman (CDC) 32.7%
Prince Yormie Johnson (NUDP) 11.6%
Charles W. Brumskine (LP) 5.4%
All others below 1.1%

Tubman had at first cried foul over the preliminary results, but the UN and western observers forced him to back off his original call to boycott the runoff when they judged the vote to be free and fair. He will participate in the runoff after all, but it is pretty clear that Johnson Sirleaf will be reelected. She has won the endorsement of Prince Johnson, who probably hates Tubman because Tubman is tougher on war crimes and wants Johnson to be prosecuted for war crimes. It is likely that Prince Johnson’s voters will follow their candidate’s endorsement.

Johnson Sirleaf did best in northwestern Liberia, which is ethnically Gola (she is part Gola herself), but also in the Kpelle areas in central Liberia and Grebo areas in southeastern Liberia (besides Maryland County). Tubman won Montserrado County and Monrovia, perhaps because of his Americo-Liberian ancestry, and also won the heavily Krahn Grand Gedeh County. Johnson won his native Nimba County – which is heavily Gio and Mano – with nearly 70% of the vote. Brumskine won Grand Bassa County, which, shockingly, is largely Bassa.

I won’t break down congressional results because there are a billion parties. Johnson Sirleaf’s UP seems to be the biggest party in the Senate with 10 members (down 1).

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Posted on October 25, 2011, in Liberia. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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