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Observers Say Tubman Has Resume, but Little Chance of Winning Liberia's Presidential Elections

In an ongoing series on some of Liberia's presidential candidates, there are more than 20, our West Africa Bureau today turns its attention to one candidate who stands out because of an impressive resume and notorious lineage. General consensus seems to indicate the candidate in question, Winston Tubman, has little chance of winning the scheduled October 11 poll.

In a phone interview with VOA, Mr. Tubman says his extensive international experience, including having served as the United Nations special representative in war-torn Somalia, will serve him well to patch up war-ruined Liberia.

"I think the most pressing requirement is that Liberians should choose and elect a leader who will be able to heal the wounds of war and unite the people," he said. "That's the key that must happen because we have peace in the country today because we have international troops here. But as soon as they go, unless we have the leadership that I've just described in place, then we will back again on the track that will lead us to where we've been."

The 64-year-old highly educated lawyer has served as foreign minister of Liberia as well as ambassador in Latin America. He has also held numerous other posts within the United Nations, including in Croatia and monitoring Iraq and Kuwait.

During frequent campaign radio appearances, Mr. Tubman has said he would use his international contacts to attract investment.

He is also calling on better food production to promote self-sufficiency.

One Liberian, Rufus Berry, told VOA he has been impressed.

"Winston Tubman is a sound man, Winston Tubman has served Africa in so many different ways. So he has the credentials, and the temperament to be a good leader and he has the credibility and the international respect," noted Mr. Berry. "So he would make a very good leader for the new Liberia. He will make an excellent leader."

Many voters will recognize his name. Mr. Tubman is the nephew of William Tubman, the 18th president of Liberia, who ruled as an Americo-Liberian for 27 years until his death in 1971.

But a Liberian cyber-activist based in the United States, George Fahnbulleh says he believes most Liberians would prefer moving away from that history.

"Mr. Tubman was no democrat. He was the leader who put into motion the problems we are having now," Mr. Fahnbulleh said. "This man ruled Liberia for 27 years. The policies and the way he ruled Liberia did some serious damage to the capacity of the country to grow into a democracy, so we are now at the point, where we are just now emerging and finding our voice."

Mr. Tubman, the candidate, disputes this, and says he is proud to run on his uncle's legacy, which he says was of unifying Liberians.

"This man was born in Harper, a small village by international standards," he recalled. "He didn't go to Oxford or Harvard or Cambridge such as I was able to do but he had a vision. He was a leader, much greater in scope than the country that he ruled. And to this day, 30 years more than that after his death, the people of Liberia still venerate him, so I don't feel any embarrassment or shame."

Politically, Winston Tubman, has placed himself in the lineage of another controversial president, Samuel Doe, by running for his former party, the National Democratic Party of Liberia.

Mr. Doe came to power in a violent coup in the name of native Liberians, before being killed ten years later in 1990.

West Africa analyst, Chris Melville from the London-based group Global Insight, says he does not believe this association will help Mr. Tubman, either.

"That kind of association between Tubman and Doe's party shows one of the ways that Liberian politicians enter into alliances of convenience for various reasons. Although, of course, Tubman joins Doe's party in 1990 so this is hardly like a recent development but we don't believe Tubman poses much of a threat to the big three candidates, who continue to be George Weah, Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, and Charles Brumskine," said Mr. Melville.

One editorial on the website of The Liberian Dialogue newspaper says a victory for Mr. Tubman would remind Liberians of the combined 37 years of "painful memories" of the presidencies of his uncle and Mr. Doe.

So far, Mr. Tubman's rallies have been few and lightly attended. Despite his name, his credentials and his party, he is little known outside his home region, Maryland County. He has not been part of Liberian politics in recent years, being busy with his work at the United Nations.

During a campaign debate, some of his opponents joked he could pull more votes in elections in Somalia than in Liberia.

But with more than 20 candidates, anything can happen on election day, maybe even a surprise result for a candidate with international experience and double lineage to Liberia's presidencies of the past.