About six years ago, they came knocking at voters' doors for their votes. Less than two months from now, they, joined by other new faces-will resume their quests, sometimes coming on their kneels in pursuit of votes that will eventually land them at the highest political office in the post-war Liberia.
But like previous election circles, concerns are growing among antsy voters looking to decipher what have these vote-seeking politicians done for them over the past six years to warrant the voting populace giving their votes to them?
Whether it is the incumbent who is seeking a second term or those who missed out on the 2005 presidential election as well as those just joining the laundry list of Liberians wanting to be Liberia's 25th president, voters would be concerned about what desperate-power-seeking politicians have contributed to in their lives since they (voters) last queued in sunny and rainy lines to cast ballots for them.
Until it can be shifted depending on the outcome of the National Referendum in three months, the date for Liberians to return to the polls for their second consecutive democratic elections is October, 2011. For an election that will either make or break Liberia's young democracy in its fragile post-war era, voters may not only be casting ballots out of favoritism but may also be looking over their shoulders to see who have identified with their plights for the past six years when they last went to the polls.
In this analytical special report, FrontPageAfrica divulges into presidential hopefuls' contributions or failures to the country's struggling population which has a staggering 64% living below the poverty line.
Ahead of the electoral body's publication of the listing of all of those candidates who would have cleared all their constitutional and legal requirements to participate in the 2011 General and Presidential elections, the fact remains that the major contenders have already begun gearing up to take up the top post.
The tiny nation and its entire population will begin to shake-up and rolled into what is expected to be a tension-packed electoral process that will parade a total of 23 political parties and coalitions or alliances so far registered by National Elections Commission (NEC).
Presidential aspirants' luxurious slogans and promising-campaign speeches will be revealed as the NEC officially declares from July 5 to October 2011 as the period for campaigning by independent candidates and political parties following the period for candidates' nomination by the NEC from July 20-August 15, 2011.
INCUMBENT'S CHANCES AND SOMERSAULTED DECISION
Making a come-back from second place during the first round in 2005, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's long-sought dream became a reality after beating football legend George Manneh Weah to the Executive Mansion with an overturned 19.8% to 28.3% votes to 54.6% to Weah's 40.6%-courtesy of what many considered as sympathetic votes won by her in a 'lesser of two evils' scenario.
Sirleaf's about-face decision to re-run in October has created some enemies for the 'Iron Lady' with the disappointment that Liberia's Nelson Mandela is yet in sight.
A little over five years since she took up the presidency, there have been mixed reactions and feelings toward Sirleaf's contribution in curbing the country's poverty rate. While many believe that she has done well in the international circle in restoring Liberia's image lost during its 14 years of cannibalism, Sirleaf has been criticized for doing very little domestically in translating her much-publicized Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) which her Unity Party government claims has achieved over 75% of its laid-down achievements.
With huge support from friendly governments and multinational organizations, Sirleaf has directed a bulk of the funds toward rebuilding the country's damaged and already limited infrastructure, especially replacing the potholes, repairing damaged one and constructing new ones.
Yet, some economic experts believe that the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDG's) modeled PRS would not realize its objectives before her term comes to an end in few months. This adds to the world body's own projection that Liberia is not among the countries that will be meeting the MDG's when the global poverty-reducing project would have expired in the next four years.
Despite the impressive donor since the ascendency of the UP government in 2006 that saw the country's gross domestic product (GDP) initially climbing to 10.8% in 2009, ordinary Liberians think the impacts are not being felt on them.
Though the impressive 2009 GDP was adjusted down to 4.1% because of delays in getting the key mining and timber industries up to full speed, Sirleaf's government's continuous trumpeting of attracting total foreign investment of over US$16 billion remains paused and overshadows any economical explanation that it is enough to get the country's ruined economy back on track.
Some economic reports like the African Economic Outlook projects positive economic outlooks for the country in 2010 and 2011 as the global credit crunch and recession ease. The economic report projected the country's GDP growth would have grown to about 6.9% last year and a positive projection of 7.7% by this year.
An arguable high unemployment rate of 85% hangs over the population, constraining President Sirleaf to challenge any current statistics that will prove that. The President, during her last Annual Message to the National Legislature in January, spoke of how an early 1990 data by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is being continually used which does not "actually reflect Liberia's unemployment rate".
Feeble Corruption Fight: Sirleaf's refusal to re-nominate former Auditor-General John Morlu to continue with a job many perceive as vital in battling the country's 'endemic' corruption fight may throw some taints on her re-election bid. Over and again, she continues to admit to facing a serious challenge in her anti-corruption fight; yet, some alleged corrupt officials have not been touched. She and her campaign team will have to battle with explaining to the electorates why almost all of the over 40 audit reports of public institutions conducted by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) remain untouched.
Tubman's Takeover: Weah's Surrendered Dream
Though it took almost two years for Ambassador Winston Tubman to finally be relieved of his 'government bone' tag after taking over Weah's Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), the diplomat turned politician has a double task if he must get the votes of the people to make him repeat his uncle's dream.
To compensate for his pledge of support for Weah during the second round of the 2005 and an initial joint communiqué he signed with the former world best footballer in Accra four years later, Tubman's much heralded dream came true on May 1, 2011 when he won Weah on the popular ticket.
Nephew to Liberia's longest serving president, William V.S Tubman who ruled for 27 years, Ambassador Tubman will come under the radar of what he has done since he lost the election in 2005 as well as work over time to gain the full support of the bulk of his new party's youthful partisans who are feeling aggrieved for Weah's surrendering of the ambition to him.
The 70 years-old who formed part of long list of defeated candidates by finishing fourth with 9.2% of the vote has huge experience with the United Nations (served as the Secretary General's representative and head of the United Nations Political Office for Somalia from 2002 to 2005.
Removing 'Government-Bone' Tag Time Consuming
The former Justice Minister under former President Samuel Doe has been criticized for being one of the many politicians who have contributed nothing to the country's human development since losing the 2005 election; not even with the mammoth of diplomatic experience with not much to contribute during the country's troubled war days. Not being able to translate that either to his ambition as far as having an edge is concerned, the veteran diplomat has rather busied himself with trying to settle politically since he lost the elections about six years ago.
WEAKNESSES: Tubman's most apparent weakness that may cost him the election for the second successive time despite heading the largest opposition party would be providing a logical explanation that made him the most-travelled politician. While others perceive it as an act done out of desperation, Tubman has headed three political parties in six years-an average of two years a party. The most instable politician who couldn't hide his frustration initially as Weah seemed to have headed Councilor Charles Brumskine's way has found himself first leading Doe's National Democratic Party of Liberia (NPDL) to the 2005 elections before taking over the former President's late Vice President's Liberia National Union (LINU).
It remains unknown how much rescue can Weah provide him to winning back the swayed-away supports of the youth-driven CDC most of who perceive the diplomat as being too 'que' for the youths' liking.
GAINS/STRENGTHS: His ability to have led NDPL, LINU and most of all the much-sought-after CDC could be seen as a persistence that could rescue some votes for him. But of major advantage is the fact that he and his running mate who both hail from the southeastern region would seal up the votes, though the voting population in the region is less than 20% of the total voting population. Both swept the region's votes in their respective 2005 bids. He had won 52% of the votes in vote-rich Bong County though not any impact he has had in the county still boosting large number of voters.
Probably a bit relieved from the Weah dumping following Senator Franklin Siakor's alignment with him, Brumskine of the Bassa dominated-Liberty Party has a lot to overturn if he is move from third to first in the race (based on 2005 results).
No Bassa Payback: Though the former Pro-Tempore under former President Charles Taylor remains one of the most populated politicians, he is heavily criticized for not giving back to the county that surrendered its entire vote to him. Despite sweeping 58% of the total Bassa votes during the first round of the 2005 which propelled him to a high-third, Brumskine has no impact on the county's human development. For the lone county he won overwhelmingly, critics say the LP political leader has not a single student on scholarship at the county's newly opened community college, according to an FPA revelation.
Brumskine and his LP, on the other hand, have kept themselves busy with taking up legal issues with the NEC, making it the single political party that has taken the electoral body to task for the highest number of times. Brumskine has also taken hits over what some say is his lack of national appeal beyond Grand Bassa where his popularity has declined due to his no-mark posture in the county.
STRENGTH: A possible advantage for Brumskine could be his shifted attention to strengthening his party's presence in other parts of the country. This he continues to do in the populated capital's numerous communities, the recent opening of the West Point sub-branch being an instance.
Similarly, going beyond his 'Christian-don' which he used to a large extent to appeal to the voting population in 2005 could be one of Brumskine's strengths in October. In the aftermath of the 2005 defeat, he has since stretched forth his hand to the Islamic community.
'REVENGEFUL' DEW MAYSON
For the man many credited in 2005 for engineering the financial backing that took Sirleaf over the top in the second round, many political observers say it is time to revenge the President's decision to seek a second term. Some have suggested that Mayson is out on a vengeance mission, angry that Sirleaf did not repay him for his assistance in 2005 with the Foreign Minister Post. Now six years later, Mayson is looking to do the same with his own candidacy though much remains to be seen of him as far as contributing to the voting population's human development is concerned.
Many had hoped that Mayon would have invested in several projects that would gradually attract a significant portion of the voting populace to him if he truly intends to beat a well-grounded incumbent.
Claiming wealth, the Ambassador whose professorship has been questioned by Unity Party's Varney Sherman, some say, needs to blend his wealth with not doing much for the population since 2005. In an FPA interview, he dismissed wanting to use the presidency for wealth he already has: "I am seeking the presidency not because I am looking for a job. I am not a professional politician. Indeed, as President, I will not accept a salary. My salary will be donated to various charities: orphanages, widows, the handicapped, etc. Moreover, I believe the President is already paid too much.
We pay all the president's expenses, so what does the president want with a salary again?"
Allegations that he was behind the sale of Liberian embassies in France, Belgium and Nigeria will be issues he has to answer during the period of campaigning although a justice ministry investigation found that Mayson was not part of the sale.
Mayson has repeatedly denied knowledge of the sale. "If I had in any way been involved in the sale of government properties, would not the Government have prosecuted me by now? The truth is that I resigned as Ambassador to France in l985 with the distinction of being one of the few Liberian government officials who have had the courage to resign on principles. I understand that the embassies were not sold until about 1996, almost eleven years after I had left the post of Ambassador. How could a mere citizen sell Government property?"
Internal Crisis & Health Battled Prince Johnson
For the man who is either battling health issues or internal party confusions and resignations of high profile officials, Senator Prince Johnson's choice of contesting the presidency in October has been seen in most circles as playing the role of the 'spoiler'.
Seemingly contrary to this, the 52 years-old, since his return from exile in March of 2004, has proven to be more successful in his newly-found political field. Besides winning the highest number of votes among all legislative and presidential aspirants of 2005, Johnson's presidential bid appears stronger than initially imagined with huge support from his Nimba kinsman.
Like all other aspirants, whether the former warlord has contributed anything substantive in the lives of some of his anticipated voters is a factor he too will have to answer to. Fighting national appeal, Johnson decides to get out of Nimba-though on a rather minute level-and is currently building a school in the Paynesville area. Whether this could be enough to secure him the presidency that eluded his former boss, the late General Thomas Quinwonkpa remains very sketchy (Johnson served as an aide-de-camp to the late Quinwonkpa).
Can Persistence Rescue Togba Nah Tipoteh's Dream?
Considered as a conserved politician, the economist-politician in the person of Togba Nah Tipoteh has the record of contesting all the most recent elections in succession and still intends to hold onto it in October despite is party's division of supporting Incumbent Sirleaf.
A factor that continues to hurt his ambition is tied with his contribution to the voting populace, most of who perceive him as being too stingy (not sharing). Despite running his Suusuku organization that gained prominence during the disarmament and reintegration processes of the country's thousands of ex-cons, Tipoteh is knowledge in economics which could be enough for a developing country like Liberia. Yet, he has not been seen as someone who can deliver the good in addition to the fact that his current involvements remain under cover.
Diplomatic Mission: Nat Barnes
Following his recall from his US diplomatic mission when allegations of pushing self-political agenda surfaced, Nathaniel Barnes' chances of ascending to the presidency looks slimmer than his 2005 humiliating defeat. Out of 22 candidates, Barnes finished 14th place after gathering just 1% of the total votes.
With few months to the election, Barnes' impact among the voting populace remains known only to him.
Too Little For Jewel Taylor?
Hoping to become the country's second female president, Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor heads her detained husband's National Patriotic Party (NPP). Relative to contributing to the people whose votes she depends on, she has spread her tangles in her educational support both in her Bong
and Monrovia areas.
Currently heading the gender bill that seeks more female (high percentage) representation in the National Legislature, many doubt the gestures will impact a potential quest for the presidency. The Senator looks poised to become Mayson's running mate in their anticipated union in their National Democratic Congress (NDC) although she faces some threat from former Education Minister Dr. Joseph Korto.
Can Entrepreneurship Help Simeon Freeman?
While he is looking to turn his entrepreneurship into a successful political bid, Simeon Freeman has faced criticisms for not living up to many promises he continues to make heading into the campaign period. Among a growing list of complaints and allegations against him is the Clara Town Clinic's cry to receive a promised microscope including other smaller promises made at intellectual forums and other academic programs.
On the other hand, Freeman's business establishments including the nationwide DSTV and new juice factory in one of Monrovia's suburbs have been seen as helpful to the voting populace whose votes he is looking to secure in a few months. With what appears to be a good presidential platform of using entrepreneurship for the country's growth which he has already begun propagating, Freeman's critics say he may have jumped the gun too early.
The 'Tourist-Presidential Aspirants': T Q Harris, Cecelia Ndebe, Rev Kennedy Sandy, Others
T Q Harris leads a group of exiled politicians who have been duped 'tourist' aspirants who come only occasional when elections are just a few months away. Harris' direct contribution to the voting populace, like a bulk of the other politicians, remains under cover if such exists. Dr. Cecelia Ndebe makes her debut presidential ambition with very little known about her. Though her short appearance on the political scene has helped in making her a bit known, the exiled Liberian said to be a medical doctor and 'humanitarian' has not much on the grounds to commensurate with her profession.
Her claim of conducting studies on the country's health system that established many Liberians not having access to health, according to an interview with a local daily, speaks more to what she could offer years prior to 2011' rather, she sees this as a major factor that has 'touched' her heart to contest the presidency.
Reverend Kennedy Sandy's hope to become the country's second religious person to ascend to the presidency may be too soon for now. Though making inroads with his much-acclaimed scholarships reportedly to several students, Sandy's 'wealth' is questioned given his elaborate petitioning in the US and subsequent entry into Liberia.
He too claims he doesn't want the presidency for wealth. Many see him as one of the many not quite nurtured for the big stage although he and his supporters claim he has been making impact and could make some noise.