Monrovia, Liberia – Liberians to vote in the main midterm elections on Tuesday, in which half of the 30 Senate seats will be contested, along with a split constitutional referendum.
The Senate elections will serve as an important gauge of the current level of support for President George Weah and his Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) as he nears halfway through his first six-year term.
But they will also be just as important for the opposition, which recently united under the aegis of the Coalition of Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), indicating its level of preparedness to provide a credible alternative to the CDC in the presidential election of 2023.
The highest seat in Tuesday’s polls is Montserrado County, which includes the capital, Monrovia, and contains around a third of Liberia’s registered voters.
The CDC seat was taken in a by-election in July 2019 by CPP’s Abraham Darius Dillon, who has become one of the Weah administration’s most vocal critics.
Thousands of citizens, many carrying torches and lamps, took to the streets of Monrovia on Sunday to show their support for Dillon.
The RPC candidate has been dubbed “the light” by his supporters for his drive for transparency and accountability, at a time when Weah’s administration has been embroiled in scandals ranging from the loss of gasoline supplies to storage facilities run by the state with the questionable $ 25 brew. m in the economy to “mop up” the excess local currency.
“Dillon revealed everything that was going on in the Senate,” said beverage saleswoman Cecelia Pittman, 30. “The salaries they get, he revealed. We didn’t know how much lawmakers were making.
The CDC candidate vying for the Dillon seat is veteran parliamentarian Thomas Fallah.
“The CDC wants Montserrado at all costs and has deployed so many resources,” said Ibrahim Nyei, policy analyst and doctoral student at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, referring to videos circulating on social media which appear to show Fallah handing out money to potential voters.
Monrovia’s arteries are adorned with billboards depicting Fallah and Weah, while Dillon’s face is conspicuously absent.
Much of the funding for the CPP candidate’s smaller campaign came from donations to a “Dollar for Dillon” crowdfunding initiative – an unprecedented move for a legislative candidate, according to Nyei.
The CDC’s campaign launch event held in Monrovia two weeks ago also drew a large crowd of supporters.
“I’m going to vote for Thomas Fallah because I want George Weah’s agenda to pass,” said Augustine Gaye, 40, who makes a living driving a rickshaw, known locally as a kekeh.
“We want to pass bills to develop the country and build roads, which is the government’s goal.”
Street vendor Emmanuel Weah, 30, highlighted Fallah’s record as a representative: “We have seen a lot of development in his neighborhood like roads and colleges that he can bring to the whole of Montserrado.”
However, some Weah supporters consider it important to have a strong opposition voice in the Senate.
“I’m CDC-ian but I don’t vote CDC for everyone,” said Lorpu Sesay, 35, unemployed. “I’m going to vote for Dillon because he tells us what we need to know.
Another Weah supporter who is considering supporting the CPP is second-hand clothing salesman Rashin Wesseh: “I’m voting opposition because I need strong opposition in the House to tell me if my party is saying truth or lies ”. Said a 30-year-old man as he peddled jeans on a busy street corner in downtown Monrovia.
The constitutional referendum will take place in parallel with the senatorial elections. Initiated during the time of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, it features eight proposed changes to the constitution, including legalizing dual citizenship in an effort to encourage investment from members of the Liberian diaspora.
Other changes include the shortening of presidential terms, an amendment that some government critics fear Weah will exploit to extend his tenure.
While the president encourages citizens to vote in favor of all the clauses, the opposition disputes the lack of information on the proposed changes and therefore calls on Liberians to reject them.
“I will all vote ‘No’ in the referendum,” said Jenneh Jallah, 29, who works in the administrative department of the Ministry of Health.
“There was no education given to citizens. We who can read and write don’t even understand it, so how will the people inside see it?
The main parties have urged their supporters to guarantee peaceful elections. However, on Saturday two vehicles belonging to a campaigning PPC candidate were set on fire in Grand Cape Mount County, along with the home of an opposition representative.
The incident prompted Weah to quickly condemn the acts of political violence.
“Things are on hold,” Nyei said.
“There could be clashes in the streets if overzealous supporters declare a quick victory. But if leaders call on their constituents to stay at home and obey the law, it will go a long way in ensuring a peaceful outcome.