The politics of confusion has been ruling Liberia over the last week. Where we in ordinary terms would expect to see a fury of activities with election rallies, heated debates and people in party hats and t-shirts parading the city, there has been little of that. Instead over the last few days CDC supporters with capacity to influence the electorate have openly given their support to the UP in what looks like jumping off a sinking ship in an election that has for outside observers turned into a political charade by the CDC. Meanwhile UP people have been going around in CDC strongholds of Monrovia and beyond with ample promises of local development projects.
Finally yesterday the CDC standard bearer Winston Tubman, at a news conference, called on all CDCians to stay away from the polls on November 8. The reason for the boycott is according to Tubman that the NEC has been unable to address the allegations of fraud in the first round and the committee has not been structurally improved in order to guarantee that the alleged fraud will not repeat itself in the second round. Infighting within the CDC, in combination with that many within the party realise that their chance winning the election is too slim is more likely to be the real reason. One has to remember that the party is dependent on private resources for campaigning and very few economic strongmen would be interested in spending money that will not render any benefits. After all money spent in the Liberian election is seen as an investment in the political economy and with the anticipated outcome that it will multiply. CDC is currently not a worthwhile investment.
Maybe this development is also showing us something more about political life in Liberia. One could suggest that real political power is measured behind the scenes with parties flexing muscles of numbers in rallies and by showing financial strength. In the second round it is especially about adding support from the smaller parties of the first round. Due to strong ties of loyalty between Big Men and their followers politicians are rather certain that a majority will vote the way the leader of their first round party chooses. UP has won that competition by far. Maybe it shows us that the real result is in the game between first and second round played out off stage far from the electorate and the election itself is only there to rubber stamp it especially for the international community. I am also not very keen on having two rounds of voting in situation like this. Unless the parties are financially on par it severely benefits the rich party who can buy over the smaller parties on their side – it is not in the best interest of democracy.
In the few days remaining to the poll date we only have to wait and see how frustrated CDC supporters will react. Will there be CDC organised protest marches in the following days? Will CDCians try to prevent people from voting and will this situation lead to flares of violence and looting of property? This is in many ways dependent on the political maturity of people at the higher level of CDC, but one should remember that they only have nominal control of their electorate which to a considerable extent consists of poor people, in part guided by former commanders from the civil war. Does military command and control still work and if so, how will it be directed? I was hanging out in a Monrovian ghetto today. There people’s thoughts were already well beyond the elections. A police officer smoking his joint told me that the police have bought big whips from Guinea which they will use on unruly people in case of riots. Let’s hope they will not have to.