The police used their big Guinea whips yesterday (see my previous entry). On November 7, CDC organised a “peaceful” party march intended to show their continued discontent urging people to boycott the election today. It appears to have turned ugly quite quick. The police tried to prevent the protestors to leave the party compound in Tubman Boulevard and started using teargas on the CDCians. The CDC supporters threw rocks and looted private property. The police fired live bullets into the crowd leaving at least one person dead and several wounded (there are a few clips uploaded on youtube). At some stage peacekeeping forces got involved. There are a few issues important to highlight here:
First, as stated in previous entries, CDC has taken the role as the voice of the grassroots. Ordinary Liberians are still very poor, still lead fragile lives and have not seen any real economic improvements since the end of the war and the election of the Unity Party. People see UP, not as a party for Liberians, but as a party catering for a small national elite. As dissatisfaction is rife it does not take much before people start to riot, but it takes good judgement to quell it.
Secondly, the national security apparatus is still too linked to the political party. They typically see their role as protecting the government, those in power, rather than servicing the citizens. The ordinary police officer knows that if a new government takes over, there is a risk that his or her job will be given to somebody with political ties in the new government. Big Man politics plays a prominent role in the government sector. Thus to many police officers (although not all) employed at a opposition demonstration, the opposition is perceived as a threat to his/her income. As in the events yesterday indicates, some police officers took their job a little too personal.
Thirdly, the CDC leadership should have a fair share of critique. They have not acted maturely, but to the contrary been fuelling the frustrations of their supporters. Their so called proofs of election fraud in the first round have not been substantiated. Their critique of the NEC chairman was successful and eventually led to his resignation – they should have celebrated that victory and stopped right there. The CDC is aware that they will lose today’s election and ought thus in a democratic way accept this. Instead they keep manipulating their supporters, maybe with a glimpse of hope that they will scare away opposition voters, delay voting, but more likely as a way of not loosing face. CDC is a weak organisation with a lot of disparate voices and it will be interesting to see their development at the next presidential election. At this point it is hard to see that they would rule Liberia in a better way than Johnson Sirleaf and her UP.
Fourthly, as most political parties have employed former commanders as election campaigners and mobilizers as well as operators of party security, it is quite clear that they are both aware of the capacity of these old war elements and that there could potentially be a need for their violent skills. Glimpses of that were shown yesterday, but the potential is much larger. Let us hope that the logic of democratic violence is not taken any further.