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What Distinguishes Liberia’s Political Parties – Just Faces?

I am encouraged by the tremendous responses to my inquiry about Liberia’s 2012 presidential contenders. I sensed that we may not have any presidential hopefuls showing early signs of contesting the 2012 elections because that may force them through an early vetting process. But we can smoke them out early or be convinced that they are not up to the task and find something else to do. Those who run for the presidency must no longer be left to whoever had worked outside the country long enough to save up some money to put together a little crowd that will start referring to them as “His/Her Excellency” even before campaigns are officially open. The need to beef up our electoral campaign process is essential more than ever before. After closely following a successful US presidential run, we cannot help but to get involved to improve our processes.

Right now, we cannot distinguish our political parties based on any ideological differences. Does the New Deal have a different way she thinks government should run that is fundamentally different from what ADP believes? What is CDC’s stand on dual citizenship or the tax system, having a new national flag, creating wealth or caring for the elderly? Do people consider these positions before joining a political party or is such decision based on whoever the standard bearer is? Does anyone know or we’re not there yet? Anytime I look back, I can’t pinpoint any major difference between, for example, LPP and UPP besides the different human faces of Tipoteh/Saywer and Baccus representing those parties. I cannot put a finger on what the NPP believes as opposed to the beliefs of LAP, NDPL or COTOL. All that is identifiable are the images of NPP = Taylor or NDPL = Doe/Krahn people. And that’s it?

In Liberia, we clearly see political parties that are tied around individuals, either their founders or presidential candidates. Instead of having political parties producing candidates, we have presidential hopefuls producing political parties. As a result of this back to front arrangement, we have individuals coming to power (and not teams) who spend the rest of their terms recruiting and figuring out who they can work with. Imagine our current president ran and won on a party she was never part of because by the time she declared her intentions, her party already had a presidential candidate. When she became president, she started with people she remembered working in government some 30 years prior, some whose whereabouts she might have not known. Slowly she became disenchanted with some and then turned to total strangers and some young people who would only see a grand mother figure that they may be embarrassed to question. Prince Johnson, after losing in the primary election of his party, took flight and won on an independent ticket. Although this is not out of the ordinary but it leaves one to wonder if those political parties mean anything except for formality.

I believe if we start to discuss elections 2012 in that line now, we may force political parties to take more concrete positions on issues that the electorates care about. We can expect to have a more substantive debate about issues rather than individual differences as we have seen in past elections. In so doing, we will also stop the mushrooming of political parties formed by individuals in desperate search of vehicles to transport them to the presidency. Take it from me, if a presidential hopeful does not have a position different from that of an existing party, he or she will be forced to join one party and compete for the presidency in the primary, go independent or form a new party and risk being irrelevant in the eyes of voters. It is time we put a higher price tag on presidential candidacy by bringing these issues to the forefront so as to frustrate any overly ambitious, unprepared and unprincipled flyby hustler wasting our time or eventually passing through the cracks to become our president or compromised cabinet minister in a so-called government of inclusion.

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