By Edwin Genoway
MONROVIA—A few months ago, the ruling Unity Party was at crossroads with senior partisans defecting from the party with many claiming lack of consultations and other in-house wrangling for their decisions to leave the party. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, political leader of the party and standard bearer for two successive elections-2005 and 2011 and Unity Party Chairman, Cllr. Varney Sherman were at odds and Vice President Joseph Boakai told FrontPageAfrica in an exclusive interview that he worked overtime to get the sour relationship between the two party officials resolved.
House Speaker Alex Tyler left the party, same as Representative Moses Kollie and others and lately Augustine Ngafuan resigned his position as Foreign Minister, saying he will not be inactive in 2017, although he is yet to officially resign from the Unity Party. During the 2014 special senatorial election which was considered a test of what is expected in 2017, the ruling party failed to put forward a candidate in the most populous Montserrado County due to behind the scene events that led to the withdrawal of Ali Sylla who won the party primary in Montserrado County.
The candidacy of Robert Sirleaf, son of the president, divided some partisans of the Unity Party as some opted to support Robert Sirleaf over Sylla. Ali Sylla later claimed he was unwell and travelled to the United States, leaving the ruling party without a candidate for the crucial senatorial election.
The happenings in the Unity Party further changed dynamics when Vice President Boakai was petitioned in his native Lofa County to contest the presidency, a petition he accepted with some Unity Party partisans saying he should have kept cool and consulted the party before accepting the petition. Even though Vice President Boakai accepted the petition, President Sirleaf for long period has been quiet on naming her successor, saying it is too soon to talk politics.
Vice President Boakai himself perhaps appears unsure of his boss support and when questioned in a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Focus on Africa interview recently whether he is sure of the support of President Sirleaf he responded in an ambivalent tone saying ‘I think so’, a response that raised further speculations that President Sirleaf and the Unity Party might not be in full support of Boakai’s presidency.
The developments within the Unity Party took what appears to be a twist at the weekend, when the party organized a jamboree known as the homecoming Jamboree where several partisans were in attendance. As many political parties prepare for 2017 where conventions should decide who becomes the standard-bearer for a particular political party, Vice President Boakai looks poised to get the Unity Party slot without stiff competition as Party Chairman, Grand Cape Mount County Senator Varney Sherman has publicly expressed that the party will support Vice President Boakai in 2017.
Since the ruling party went to the convention that elected Cllr. Sherman as chairman, President Sirleaf as standard bearer of the party, the UP has not gone for another convention to elect new officials. Speaking at the homecoming jamboree of the Unity Party held at the party’s headquarters in Congo Town, Chairman Sherman described Ambassador Joseph Boakai as the next Unity Party candidate for 2017.
“Our candidate in the upcoming elections will be Vice President Boakai, the Unity Party will work to ensure that VP Boakai wins the election on a first round basis. We will take the campaign across the length and breadth of the country and will make sure that our candidate will become victorious,” he noted.
Since Vice President Boakai accepted a petition to contest the coming presidential elections in 2017, there has been mixed reactions among politicians, civil society groupings and the greater public on VP Boakai’s presidential bid. The people of Lofa County early this year petitioned their kinsman Ambassador Boakai to contest the coming presidential election to replace President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Representative Worlea Dunah (UP- District #7, Nimba County) and an Executive member of the ruling Unity Party (UP) at the time said he wholeheartedly welcomes the decision by Vice President Boakai to succeed President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Representative Dunah said the recent political activities in Lofa County where the Vice Standard Bearer of the UP was petitioned by some citizens to vie for the presidency in 2017 presidential elections is a development that will help the party but, however, said that is not the most urgent and dire need of the party.
Said Representative Dunah: “I am convinced that the only way for such ambition to succeed is through a formidable organization. We are using this medium to call on the Standard Bearer, President Sirleaf and the Chairman, Senator Sherman to call a National Conference of the ruling Party or a Mini-Convention which will serve to address the persistent burning issues confronting our party since 2011, to reflect on the 2014 Senatorial Elections and on the merit of these issues and formulate a new way forward.”
Former Auditor General John Morlu also said during a speech in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County that by accepting the petition to contest, political activities have been declared opened in Liberia with 2017 still far away. “I thought her Vice President has already declared he was running for President? Usually sitting Vice Presidents are the last to enter the race because of the benefit of incumbency. Election politics started on the day the Vice President entered the race for President. I wondered the President is aware that her Vice President has announced that he is running for President”, stated Morlu
Boakai’s quest to succeed Sirleaf and his ability to lead a regime that will bring about the much anticipated economic reforms and developments here continues to be questioned. The opposition People’s Unification Party or PUP declared that Boakai will make no difference when he ascends to the highest office. Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine of the Liberty Party also told FPA in an interview recently that Vice President Boakai will not be able to speak on issues such as corruption when he is serving a regime that did not fight corruption.
It has been reported in some quarters recently that president Sirleaf has reportedly welcomed the VP interest to replace her in the 2017 elections. According Vice President Boakai; President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is supporting his candidacy to contest the 2017 presidential election. Ambassador Boakai said the Liberian leader is in full support of his ambition. He claimed that on several occasions, President Johnson-Sirleaf has told him that “Joe, it is you I’m looking at to succeed me.”
Since all the pronouncements, the ruling Unity Party has been silent on the matter, but with the recent announcement by the Unity Party Chairman Sherman, it suggests that the UP has already come up with a decision to support VP Boakai to contest on the Unity Party ticket in 2017, thus paving the way for VP to not face competition during the party next convention. source FPA