Liberia’s Fraught Election

Posted on | oktober 21, 2011 | No Comments

Former Rebel Leader Prince Johnson. Credit: Reuters

Liberia has finished the first phase of what is turning out to be a fascinating presidential election that also reveals just how fragile the country’s recovery from the depths of internecene warfare is. Incumbent president and recent Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf leads all candidates but appears set to fall short of the majority result needed to avoid a runoff. Her chief rival for re-election, former diplomat Winston Tubman, has claimed fraud and may not contest any runoff. Accounts indicate that the first round went peacefully despite Tubman’s charges.

But many eyes have not been on Tubman, but rather on Prince Johnson, a notorious former warlord who, despite receiving a  rather modest percentage of first-round votes to place a distant third stood to become kingmaker when Johnson Sirleaf failed to achieve outright majority in the first round.

Johnson did not allow the suspense to build. Although the runoff election will not take place until November 8 he has put his weight behind Johnson Sirleaf which may well be enough to provide the tipping point to propel the incumbent to reelection. Although by most accounts Johnson Sirleaf has been a marvelous leader for Liberia, not all agree, and oddly her Nobel Peace Prize, awarded a couple of weeks back (she shared the prize with another African woman, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee, as well as with Tawakul Karman, a Yemeni pro-democracy advocate) may have hurt her in some circles where she is perceived as being too pro-western, at the expense of her local leadership.

I happen to believe that Johnson Sirleaf has been a fine president in nearly unimaginable circumstances and a worthy Nobel laureate.  Given the country’s recent history her reelection was bound to be a difficult one and the country’s divisions should not serve to undermine her accomplishments. Indeed, that Liberians are contesting their politics at the polls and not with guns represents a visible step forward. And while some may assert that the Nobel award was politicized, well, the Nobel Peace Prize in particular has never been free of politicization, for good or for ill.

Still, it is ironic that Prince Johnson will be able to claim some small share in Johnson Sirleaf”s victory. And it may well help to validate some of the criticisms against her in a small way. It would benefit her for the runoff not to be particularly close on November 8. The signs of progress in her country are modest but real. But much remains to be done. Liberians, whoever they supported in the first round, should hope she continues to be the right person to do so.

AUTHOR: Derek Charles Catsam
E-MAIL: derekcatsam [at]


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