By Gideon Nma Scott, Jr.
On yesterday, November 14, 2023, thousands of Liberians converged at all 5,080 polling places to make a determination as to who rules them for the next six years. That decision was the outcome of the October 10 election where none of the presidential candidates obtained the universal suffrage of 50 percent plus one vote; that is, according to Article 83 (b) which says, “All elections of public officers shall be determined by an absolute majority of the votes cast.
If no candidate obtains an absolute majority in the first ballot, a second ballot shall be conducted on the second Tuesday following. The two candidates who received the greatest numbers of votes on the first ballot shall be designated to participate in the runoff election.”
Though, with a very low turnout at some polling precincts, Liberians still came out under the scorching sun to exercise their constitutional duties, as provided for in the law.
According to Grey’s Anatomy, “At some point, you have to make a decision. Boundaries don’t keep other people out; they fence you in. Life is messy. That’s how we’re made. So, you can waste your lives drawing lines, or you can live your life crossing them.”
This anatomy speaks to the fact we, as a people, came out of our different fences to take that decision that would change our destiny for better or for worse.
In these elections time, we will all generally agree that when we make a decision that defines our destiny, our expected reaction to the results of our decision has important systemic consequences.
As Ginsberg and Weissberg point out, ‘Every election represents a test, and potentially, a threat to support for the political regime. Electoral conflicts may strain public acceptance of legal and institutional processes.’ The basic idea is that regime support among citizens in the aftermath of an election depends on the widespread belief that the electoral contest has been resolved in a legitimate fashion.
Our convergence yesterday was in respect to paragraph 2 the in preamble of our Constitution, “Exercising our natural, inherent and inalienable rights to establish a framework of government for the purpose of promoting unity, liberty, peace, stability, equality, justice and human rights under the rule of law, with opportunities for political, social, moral, spiritual and cultural advancement of our society, for ourselves and for our posterity.”
Also, Article 1 of said legal instrument says, “All power is inherent in the people. All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness so require.”
It is said that in order to ensure democratic government which responds to the wishes of the governed, the people shall have the right at such period, and in such manner as provided for under this Constitution, to cause their public servants to leave office and to fill vacancies by regular elections and appointments.
With the support of these standards, the people have exercised their rights to institute a government as their safety and happiness have required.
I want to extend many thanks, once again, to all of us who came out to vote on yesterday, especially the huge turnout of women at various polling precincts.
Before I go any further, I like to mention here that the women of Liberia have been at the forefront, advocating for the country’s democracy and braving the many bullets to protect their male counterparts during the war. It is no secret that they have always spoken strong on many socio-economic, political, and human rights issues, even though we, the men, still look down on them disdainfully.
I believe that it is in the quest to continue their advocacy to protect our democracy that they turned out yesterday in their numbers and voted their choice. Don’t get me wrong; few men, including me, also voted for our choice during the October 10 and November 14 elections, but the women turnout is something worth noticing.
But in this article, I have two concerns for whoever wins this election: the first on my plate is whether or not the losing candidate, after considering these constructional provisions, will accept the results and concede defeat, or resist the will of the Liberian people.
Before we go further, let us look deeply at the word ‘ACCEPT’. In my Merriam Webster Dictionary, to accept is to consent; to agree to a decision; to concord; to receive willingly; to give admittance or give approval to; to endure without protest.
Acceptance is a VIRTUE, which is a positive character trait that is considered a foundation for living well, and a key ingredient to greatness.
Virtue is also a personal asset, a shield to protect us from difficulty, trouble, and suffering. Each virtue is a special sort of “power” that enables us to experience a level of well-being that we wouldn’t be able to access otherwise. Indeed, “virtue “comes from the Latin word ‘virtus’ (force, worth, power).
It is this virtue that Liberians want their leaders to exercise after the final election results are announced.
Article 15 (a) of our constitution says, “Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof. This right shall not be curtailed, restricted, or enjoined by government, save during an emergency declared in accordance with this Constitution.”
We gathered at the ballot box for the second round to choose a government we think is about to improve our lives and do away with restrictions that have kept us at bay as a nation. We put in the ballot box our voice, security, economy, happiness, and moreover, our lives and that of our children and generation unborn, and we expect that, as we have spoken, our voice will be heard and choice respected.
It is obvious that losing a presidential race is a difficult thing to accept, especially in our volatile democracy. Most often, losers of presidential contestations have, time and again, set aside partisan differences, and sometimes deep personal animosity toward the victors, to accept the results of a contentious election. Some also-rans struggled with a sense of disbelief about the outcome or pursued limited recounts, but all, nevertheless, seemed to come around and acknowledge reality.
During a process that was filled with threats and counter-threats from both sides of the race, the 2023 run-off election also presented challenges such as the low turnouts, alleged attempted vote riggings, militancy of the process, allegedly, by the ruling establishment, as well as accepting the result of the election.
The people have decided on many issues and believe that whoever they have chosen over the other is the best dude for the job, and expect that their choice will be respected by the losing candidate.
It was a tough decision to make and I must extend my thanks to those who made it to the ballot box to decide for the over 5 million people.
I encourage the loser of the just ended November 14 polls to vest themselves with the virtue of acceptance for the onward march of our country.
My second issue is the unification of this country by whomever is elected by the people. It is glaring that Liberia is divided on several lines, including tribal, regional, political, and even social lines; and this was manifested in comments made by some politicians, the way the country voted, and the open attacks on people who do not have the same political ideology with others.
“The statement of Madam Jewel Howard Taylor, that it was time that Bong County voted their own the way the Southeast did, was divisive and should be condemned,” Madam Winnie Saywah Jimmy of the Inquirer Newspaper told me during a conversation.
She said one major function of a leader is to unite, build vibrant communities, encourage social inclusion, and not divide his or her people. It is this division that is permeating in the core of our society and our body politics.
Also, a top official in the Weah-led government said on a local radio that if Weah and his Coalition for Democratic Change win the election, people from other political parties, especially their main opposition, the Unity Party, will not be called to serve in the government, even if they are qualified beyond measure.
These statements and other anti-social and ethnic comments may be responsible for the way Liberians, mostly those in rural Liberia, voted for their own. The Southeast voted for their son, George Weah, even though there are no direct benefits to the region from him and the many Southeasterners, including the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Deputy Speaker, president Pro-Temp, and a host of other Southeasterners serving in his government.
Nimba voted their son, Jeremiah Kpan Koung, Vice Standard Bearer to Amb. Joseph Boakai. Though Sen. Koung is not the principal candidate on the ballot, Nimbaians believe that this is the closest they can get to the presidency since they were allegedly robbed of the post in 1985 by the late President Samuel Kanyon Doe.
Lofa also voted her own, Joseph Boakai, who is vying to unseat President Weah. Though the presence of Thomas Fallah and other key officials hailing from the county may have impacted his votes in certain areas, most parts of Lofa stood behind their son.
This is the divisive posture the country is taking, and if Mr. President will not be able to address it in his first hundred days in office, the veil may even tear wider.
The president and his officials should see the reunification of this country as a priority, and as a means to socially and economically heal the land.
He needs to build for himself a character of trust and confidence; someone who will look beyond our nativity and engage all tribes, regions, political and nonpolitical institutions, on the basis of merits and not favoritism, love for country, and not sectionalism; and moreover, he must be a people-centered person.