News / Africa

In Liberia, Sen. Johnson Could Play Kingmaker

Staff organize ballot boxes from polling stations in Monrovia, Liberia, Oct. 12, 2011.
Staff organize ballot boxes from polling stations in Monrovia, Liberia, Oct. 12, 2011.

Preliminary results from Liberia's presidential election indicate a possible second-round runoff between incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former justice minister Winston Tubman.

Second-round runoffs often focus on third-place finishers whose endorsement of either leading candidate could be enough to tilt the electoral majority in their favor. Earlier this year in Ivory Coast, for example, Henri Konan Bedie supported an ultimately triumphant Alassane Ouattara.

In Liberia, that third place finisher is shaping up to be former rebel leader, Senator Prince Y. Johnson.

"We will be the kingmaker, and we will consult our leaders in Nimba, our partisans in Nimba, our people in Nimba and also our stakeholders in other parts of Liberia," Johnson says. "Our partisans, our officials of the party we will meet and consult with them and come up with a decision as to which area we should put our vote because we cannot do it just randomly."

Johnson explains that he will be seeking a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) from the Sirleaf and Tubman camps about his prospective role in the new government.

"It requires coming up with an MOU that will show clearly a government of inclusion," he says. "What will be our role in a new political order? So when those are discussed and concluded, we will know where to put our vote."

Caroy Sonpon, a Johnson supporter, believes Johnson should endorse Sirleaf because she is popular in the senator's home county of Nimba.

“It is just a political game," says Sonpon. "Somebody can change their mind at anytime, so I don't think Prince will want to destroy Ellen."

Melvin Nathans, who cast his vote for Tubman, believes Johnson will back his candidate.

"When it comes to the friendship between Prince Johnson and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, it is not too close," he says. "The two of them are not friendly to the extent that he will be ready to give his vote to her. In my belief, Prince Johnson is eligible to give his vote to Winston Tubman. Yes."

Tubman supporter Paul Lone, however, says Congress for Democratic Change, or the CDC party, offers Johnson greater opportunities in a new government because the ruling Unity Party is already full of former adversaries who are owed political patronage.

"Some political leaders have been helping the ruling party, and I don't think Prince Johnson could really give his vote to the ruling Unity Party," says Lone. "He most likely will give it to CDC because that will be a government of inclusion right there. So I prefer that."

But a different Tubman supporter, Jerry Kerkulah, believes Johnson will end up throwing in with Sirleaf.

"I am really sure that Prince Johnson will give his vote to Ellen, [and] it will not be a good thing but I know him too well," he says.

Neither Sirleaf nor Tubman have publicly discussed strategies for a potential second-round runoff. Both campaigns say their respective candidates are focused on winning outright once final results from the initial vote are released by Oct. 26th.

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