Print options

January 27, 2010

Liberian President's Re-election Bid Draws Mixed Reactions

by Scott Stearns

In Liberia, there are mixed reactions to this week's announcement by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf that she will run for re-election next year.  A draft report by the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission said President Sirleaf should be barred from seeking further political office for 30 years.

President Sirleaf ended the speculation this week by announcing that she intends to be a "formidable" candidate in Liberia's 2011 election.

Junior Minister Issac Jackson says Liberians trust her leadership.

"The vast majority of people in this country are saying that Madame Sirleaf is conducting the affairs of the state properly, that today you speak of reconstruction of roads," he said

Jackson says supporters petitioned President Sirleaf to run again because she is best qualified to continue Liberia's reconciliation and reconstruction.

"Are you saying that the president should turn down that petition because of some personal agenda that she is not going to run?  I think no," he added.

A draft report from Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission last year said President Sirleaf should be banned from public office for 30 years because of her early support for former rebel leader Charles Taylor.

She admits to giving him money, but testified that she was misled into supporting Mr. Taylor and ended that support when she learned of the human-rights abuses in his campaign against then-president Samuel Doe.

While the ban on President Sirleaf was not included in the commission's final report, it is still before parliament.

Human-rights activist Adama Demster says her decision to run again undercuts the commission's work.

"By-passing the document to make a declaration, we feel that it is not in support of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the work they have done.  It should not just be overlooked and the people try to present themselves in another form," said Mr. Demster.

University student William Selmah says it is inappropriate for the president to announce her re-election campaign before the commission's work is complete.

"She is slapped with a 30-year ban through the TRC recommendation. While this recommendation is yet to be endorsed or rejected, the president has already said that she is seeking another term of office," he noted.

Selmah is also disappointed by the president breaking her promise to serve only one term.

"As a leader, you have to be someone of your word.  She said she would not seek a second term," he added.  "After getting a first term, she would turn over the mantle of leadership to a younger generation which she would have groomed by then. That was a broken promise, and those are statements that make people not take you serious the next time."

Opposition politician Darius Dillion has no problem with the president running again, and says it is time for her opponents to stand up to the challenge.

"It is her right to contest again," said Dillion.  "Her being in the race has brought even more added value and flavor.  It should be taken seriously so that those who call ourselves the opposition who want state power, we should meet the challenge."

In announcing her plans for re-election President Sirleaf did not mention the commission's proposed ban.  She did say not everyone agrees with its findings, but the body has made important recommendations.  The president says there must be a "conscious national determination to move ahead cautiously and strategically" in acting on its recommendations.