MONROVIA – With less than six months to Liberia’s highly anticipated Presidential and Legislative Elections, one of the leading contenders, former Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai is yet to name his running mate.
In the early days of the Collaborating Political Parties’ divorce over a disagreement in selecting its standard bearer, it was obvious that two of the CPP’s political leaders, businessman-cum politician Benoni Urey of the All Liberian Party (ALP) and Grand Bassa County Senator Nyonblee Karngar-Lawrence of the Liberty Party (LP) preferred former VP Boakai as CPP’s standard bearer to Alexander Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC).
So, when the UP, in July 2022 nominated Amb. Boakai on white ballot as its standard bearer to launch a reinvigorated campaign for the presidency, Senator Nyonblee Karngar-Lawrence was touted as the favorite running mate to the ex-VP. Her experiences in the Senate and being a female and a political leader give her the nudge over others.
But nearly ten months later, many are of the opinion that the embattled LP political leader’s chances to be chosen have diminished, thanks to an acrimonious internal wrangling that has disintegrated the LP. And the recent defeat to Chairman Musa Bility at the Supreme Court has made matter worse.
The LP Internal Wrangling and its consequences
Following the death of the LP’s founding father and political leader-emeritus, Cllr. Charles W. Brumskine, Senator Karngar-Lawrence bowed to pressure from the party’s faithful to amend the party’s constitution which they said gave more power to the political leader.
With a new constitution, a new convention was called, and Mr. Bility, backed by Senator Karngar-Lawrence and her colleague Senator Darius Dillon, was elected Chairman amid disenchantments from some partisans including former LP Chairman, Lofa County Senator Steve Zargo.
The camaraderie between the political leader and new party chairman looked great. All seemed well. Senator Karngar-Lawrence, with her party behind her, meticulously chaired the once united CPP.
But the good days were short-lived. The political leader accused chairman Bility of not only breaching the party’s new constitution by submitting it to the National Elections Commission (NEC) without her signature and consent, she also said the Chairman and the party’s new secretary-general Martin Kollah altered the document by devolving some of the political leader’s responsibilities to the party’s national executive committee.
She complained to NEC, and following back-and-forth investigations by NEC and the court, Senator-Lawrence and partisan Emmanuel Azango sought redress at the Supreme Court, asking the court to compel the hearing officer to ensure the alleged changes made by Bility and Kollah are included and the constitution is resubmitted with the signature and acquiescence of the party’s political leader.
However, in its April 12, 2023 ruling, the Supreme Court said the New Elections Law and the Constitution of the Liberty Party are silent on the proper official who is to file the party’s amended constitution, meaning these laws do not specify a particular person to submit the document. The Court also added that since there was no appeal announced in the NEC’s Board of Commissioners’ final ruling, the decision of the NEC should stand.
Who’s in charge of LP?
Mr. Bility’s continued victories at the NEC and now the Supreme Court continue to weaken the party’s political leader. It should be noted that in the midst of the legal battle, Chairman Bility, with majority of the party’s national executive committee behind him, suspended the membership of the party’s political leader and other hierarchies including Senator Dillon for what the party said, was due to their failure to pay their due.
This ‘unexpected’ move further deepened the crisis. With the internal wrangling, compounded with disagreements over the CPP status, the LP split with two headquarters – the Bility’s side aligning with the remnant of the CPP and supporting Mr. Cummings, while the other faction led by the LP political leader is supporting ex-VP Boakai in his quest for president.
While the two sides have been claiming to be in charge, Mr. Bility is exerting more power over Senator Karngar-Lawrence giving the NEC recognizes him as the chairman and the LP’s alignment with the CPP. At the Farmington Declaration, Mr. Cummings was duly recognized as Chair of the CPP and signed on behalf of the ANC and LP. Senator Lawrence and Dillon did not attend the ceremony either.
‘A big mistake’
It is no secret that Senators Karngar-Lawrence and Dillon who supported Bility over long-term party chairman and fellow colleague Senator Zargo for the party’s chairmanship are now regretting their action.
Speaking shortly following the Supreme Court’s ruling, the LP Political leader said their decision to support Bility was a “big mistake.”
“Today, we are here because that has not been the case with partisan Musa Bility. He has proven that all partisans do not come with the same motives,” she said to a group of supporters including the widow of the later Cllr. Charles Brumskine, Mrs. Estelle Brumskine in Buchanan, the LP strong based.
“His election to the position as a party chairman is now considered one of the biggest mistakes that we ever made. We submit that indeed, a mistake that makes you humble is better than an achievement that makes you arrogant,” she added.
She admitted that they have been through so much unwarranted misunderstanding, confusion and chaos, including sleepless nights as a team strategizing, blaming one another at some point, and even shutting down for days to reflect.
Still upbeat as the favorite
Despite these setbacks, the LP political leader remains optimistic of being selected, according to sources close to her.
It is said that she is unhappy about the fact that she is being among a shortlist of possible running mates to Boakai. She believes there should have been no alternative to her selection.
In January, she told FrontPage Africa that she would not hesitate to accept an offer if the UP political leaders came calling.
“We are ready to serve our country, so if I am asked to be running mate, I will accept. I am confident in what I have done in the Senate, what I have done in Grand Bassa and how I have represented women well in and out of our country…”
Continuing, she said: Yes, we are confident because over the last decade and a half, our party has positioned itself as an institution that was established to contribute significantly to the democratization of our country and to institutionalize the rule of law. Being so, we have continued to maintain a visible party structure, playing the role of loyal and constructive opposition, even in the face of questionable electoral outcomes. This is why our respect will always stand tall for the founding father of the party, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine and the patriotic men and women who stood with him.”
‘Still in doubt’
Despite the political infighting in the LP, FPA has gathered that Boakia’s VP pick is still 50-50 between Senators Karngar-Lawrence and Jeremiah Kpan Koung of Nimba County who now serves as the political leader of the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR).
A prodigy of Senator Prince Y. Johnson, the self-proclaimed Godfather of vote-rich Nimba County, Koung is seen as the best alternative to the LP political leader. Political observers believe a Boakai-Koung ticket will amassed huge support from Nimba that could be a game changer for the former Vice President just as it was for President George Weah during the 2017 presidential runoff election.
However, others are skeptical that Senator Koung’s tide with Senator Johnson, who is in bad books with Uncle Sam, may be a stumbling block to his selection. Insiders say the ex-VP is currently in a state of ambivalence over his VP pick.
But as he continues to lean to the embattled LP political leader, evidence of his recent visit to Buchanan, he is being cautioned to consider picking the young Nimba County Senator due to the LP’s political leader’s inability to exert full control over her party. And the Supreme Court’s recent decision has furthered deepened her chances and given more reasons to her doubters to favor Senator Koung.