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Incumbent Candidates Struggle in Liberia’s Senate Elections

  • James Butty

FILE - A woman votes in Liberia's Special Senatorial election.

FILE - A woman votes in Liberia's Special Senatorial election.

The chairman of Liberia’s Elections Commission has said the commission will begin announcing provisional results of Saturday’s special senatorial election late Monday or Tuesday.

Unofficial results released by news organizations show a rough day at the polls for incumbents, particularly those of the ruling Unity Party supported by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Rodney Sieh, publisher and managing editor of FrontPage Africa, said that if the unofficial provisional results hold, opposition parties could win as many as seven or eight new seats in the Senate. Football legend George Oppong Weah may be among the opposition candidates to win a seat.

“We had people at the polling centers all night Saturday trying [to] gauge and analyze what the provisional poll workers were posting on their bulletin boards. Judging what they were posting, [Weah is] on the verge of become senator of Montserrado County,” he said.

Local media reports said Weah, founder of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and two-time presidential candidate, was leading by a wide margin over his nearest rival Robert Sirleaf, the president’s son, in a very crowded Montserrado County race.

Sieh said also among the incumbents that were losing was Gbehzongar Findley of Grand Bassa County, the president pro tempore of the Senate.

“The most shocking of all is the fact that the president pro tempore of the Senate, Gbehzongar Findley, who was heavily supported by Sirleaf, is on the verge of losing his seat to a relatively unknown, Jonathan Kaiplay, from the opposition Liberty Party,” Sieh said.

He said former rebel leader Prince Y. Johnson, who has been a senator since 2005 for Nimba County, and the wife of former President Charles Taylor, Jewel Howard Taylor of Bong County, were both doing well.

“Jewel appears to be on the verge of winning her seat. She’s currently in the lead. Also, it looks impressive for Prince Y. Johnson, the former INPFL (Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia) leader. He’s facing a stiff challenge from the opposition Liberty Party candidate, Edith Gongloe-Weh, the sister of former Solicitor General Tiawon Gongloe,” Sieh said.

Sieh said the trend of the unofficial provisional results so far suggests a protest vote against Sirleaf.

“I think the immediate concern right now is that the results so far point to what many are considering to be a protest vote against the presidency because all of the candidates the president supported are on the verge of losing their seats,” Sieh said.

He said Sirleaf could also find it difficult working with some of the newly elected senators, including Varney Sherman, chairman of the ruling Unity Party with whom she has had rocky relationship.

Elections Commission Chairman Jerome Korkoya said many factors contributed to low voter turnout on Saturday, including new measures to prevent the further spread of the Ebola virus.

“First, there was the suspension of the vote from the October date to December 16. Then, of course, we had all the legal problems, and two weeks of campaign time were taken away. The most popular reason is that voters in most places, not just Liberia, get dissatisfied with the performance of their elected officials and sometimes they believe that not going to the polls is one way to penalize them. That is the voter apathy,” he said.

Korkoya said another factor contributing to the low voter turnout is the fact that the election took place roughly four days before Christmas, and voters could have been focused on celebrating Christmas.

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