Did Ellen Johnson Sirleaf do enough for Liberia?

Africa’s first female president discusses corruption, nepotism and her handling of war-crime prosecutions.

In this week’s UpFront, we talk to Liberia‘s former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf about her 12 years in power and challenge her on accusations of nepotism and corruption.

And in the arena, we debate the controversial decision to rerun Istanbul’s mayoral election with senior AK Party member Harun Armagan and Cato Institute fellow Mustafa Akyol.

Sirleaf responds to allegations of nepotism

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf came to power in Liberia in January 2006 following decades of war, violence and coups, and became the first elected woman head of the state in Africa.

She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 alongside fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni rights activist Tawakkol Karman for her contribution to peace in Liberia and her work on women’s rights.

She has been hailed for her work both at home and abroad, but her legacy in Liberia is overshadowed by accusations of nepotism and corruption.

When asked to explain why, after pledging in 2005 to tackle corruption, her government failed to take any action against some 20 ministers accused of corruption by an independent watchdog, Sirleaf said it was “because our system is like that”.

“If you want to really understand Liberia, you need to dig a little bit deeper. You need to understand our culture, our values, our systems and the way to tackle it. It’s not always to just make a whole lot of noise about it,” she added.

When asked why she appointed family members, including one of her sons, to top government positions, she said it was because she needed a “specialised skill”.

She denied accusations her son Robert Sirleaf was in any way implicated in the collapse of Liberia’s National Oil Company, and said her other son, Charles Sirleaf who was arrested in March, was “illegally charged” over allegations he unlawfully printed local currency worth tens of millions of dollars.

The former president also defended her record on war-crime prosecutions in Liberia. She has been criticised for ignoring recommendations put forward by Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“Truth and reconciliation has gone to the courts, it’s left the courts. It has transformed into the Palava Hut. That process has started … and so I don’t care what you say,” she told UpFront.

This week’s Headliner, former President of Liberia and Nobel laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Istanbul’s election rerun: A blow to democracy?

On June 23, people will head to the polls in Istanbul to vote for their mayor. But this is no ordinary vote. This is a rerun, one steeped in controversy, and widely characterised as a power grab by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The first election on March 31 was won by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) but with a razor-thin majority.

Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) complained of “irregularities” and won the right to a rerun, a decision which the opposition says is undemocratic, and which even former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has criticised.

But Senior AK Party member Harun Armagan defended the move, describing it as the right decision.

“[There] were unauthorised people appointed as ballot box officers … there were irregularities in vote counting sheets, which in the law clearly says that in these sorts of cases, if it’s impacting the final result of the election, it goes to a rerun.”

Mustafa Akyol, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Centre for Global Liberty and Prosperity described the rerun as a stain on Turkey‘s democracy.

He said the fact that some people at the ballot box were not government officials doesn’t prove any misdeed.

“There are independent scholars who don’t see any reason, any legitimate reason for the cancellation of the elections … it’s just a technicality, and that technicality is not used to cancel other elections across Turkey,” Akyol said.

In this week’s Arena, we debate democracy in Turkey.

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