Monrovia, Liberia – On Tuesday, over 2.4 million Liberians head to the polls to elect a president and members of their legislature. Currently, there are 19 candidates hoping to replace incumbent President George Weah of the Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC), who is seeking a second six-year term.
The two main challengers are former vice president Joseph Nyuma Boakai and businessman Alexander Cummings. Both men were previously in a four-party opposition alliance, the Coalition of Political Parties (CPP). However, despite initial success, the coalition has since broken up after reported disagreements over who gets the presidential ticket in this election cycle.
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Also in the running is Liberian People’s Party’s Tiawan Gongloe, a renowned human rights lawyer and professor of law who served as the country’s solicitor general during the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf administration.
The former president became Africa’s first elected female leader in 2006, but inclusivity in politics is still a mirage in many parts of the continent, including her native Liberia. Only two of the 20 contenders in Tuesday’s presidential vote are women, one of whom is Sara Nyanti, a former deputy special representative in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.
Weah, who is running for a second term, has boasted that he will secure outright victory in the first round of elections. He has been in office since 2017.
CDC’s Weah has kept current vice president, Jewel Howard-Taylor, as his running mate. Howard-Taylor is the ex-wife of former president Charles Taylor who is serving a 50-year sentence for crimes against humanity committed in neighbouring Sierra Leone, in a British prison.
Weah, 57, has said his performance will be enough to secure re-election. He counts as achievement a free tuition scheme for undergraduates of public universities that was instituted in 2018. Weah’s government also pays the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) fees for 9th and 12th graders in public schools.
Furthermore, the government has increased electricity access and reduced costs from 38 cents per kilowatt to an average of 15 cents per kilowatt. The administration has also embarked on several road construction projects around the country.
Despite these, critics say corruption has been widespread under Weah. They also point to the state of the economy and rising food prices which led to protests in December last year and in June of 2019 as as indicative of government failure.
In his manifesto, Weah has promised to reduce out-of-pocket payment for medical expenses through a compulsory social health insurance scheme and has also promised to provide off-the-grid solar energy for public hospitals and secondary schools.
He has also promised to create sustainable jobs by formalising artisanal and small-scale mining activities and providing public prosecutors with sexual and gender-based violence training.
With decades of experience in Liberia’s public sector, Boakai has widespread name recognition and is now aiming for the presidency, under the Unity Party (UP). The 78-year-old was previously minister of agriculture from 1983 to 1985. He was also vice president from 2006 to 2018, to Johnson-Sirleaf.
This year, Boakai is in an alliance with the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR), founded by former warlord-turned-senator Prince Johnson. Consequently, Boakai has selected MDR senator Jeremiah Koung as his running mate.
Johnson and Koung hail from and wield significant influence in Nimba, the second most populous county in the country. MDR previously entered into an alliance with CDC in 2017, supporting it in the second round of elections that Weah eventually won. The alliance dissolved in 2022 amidst Johnson’s complaints of a lack of job opportunities for “his people”.
For many, Boakai’s second attempt at the presidency is a rematch with Weah after both men faced each other in 2017. Both men proceeded to the second round after none attained the required absolute majority to claim victory in the first round, Weah eventually won.
Building on his experience, Boakai has made agriculture a key campaign issue, vowing to increase domestic rice production and to set up three agricultural machinery hubs in the country.
He has also promised to pave the highways connecting county capitals and those connecting Liberia to other countries, in order to improve cross-border trading.
The former vice president has also promised to work with the legislature to establish a specialised court to fast-track cases of corruption and economic crimes and to support the private sector in developing programs for recycling solid waste into producing renewable energy.
However, critics have said that at 78 years old, Boakai is too old to govern. Boakai has also been accused of facing health challenges, which he has denied.
Alexander Cummings first became known on the Liberian political scene when he contested for the presidency in 2017 and placed fifth. This year, he is running on the platform of the Collaborating Political Party (CPP), a coalition between Cumming’s Alternative National Congress and the Liberty Party.
Cummings, 57, served as the head of Coca-Cola’s African subsidiary between 2001 and 2008 and as its global chief administrative officer from 2008 till he retired in 2016.
In his role at Coca-Cola, he oversaw the creation of its Africa Foundation which helped in the continental response to the spread of HIV/AIDS. In 2011, he was awarded Liberia’s highest national honour – the Humane Order of African Redemption – by Johnson-Sirleaf for his humanitarian work.
Cummings has centred his campaign on diversifying Liberia’s economy. To this end, he has promised to establish a $20m empowerment fund to support women and youth-owned businesses as well as farmers within his first 100 days in office if he wins, while freezing all current tax and regulations to review in order to create a business-friendly environment. He has also spoken of a “buy Liberian” policy that will prioritise buying locally-made products to boost indigenous businesses.
Lastly, he has expressed support for the establishment of a war crimes court to prosecute key characters in the country’s civil wars of 1989-1997 and 1999-2003.