Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Democracy is happening in Liberia

The African nation of Liberia goes to the polls today to elect a new president, a successor to termed out incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who brought some measure of peace and honesty to a country trashed by civil war. Liberian-American journalist Helene Cooper's Madame President recounts the improbable history of the woman whose departure from office may -- or may not -- mark this conflicted society's improbable peaceful democratic transition of power.

The election process has not been completely smooth. By law, the new president has to win over 50 percent, so an October voting round cut a large field of candidates down to the two with the most votes. (If this seems strange, this is exactly how California's top-two primary and general election system works; we just don't tend to think about it this way.) One of the eliminated candidates claimed there had been fraud, so Liberia's courts postponed the final vote, originally scheduled for November. But today the election is finally on.

The two candidates are George Weah, a former soccer star who lost twice against Sirleaf and Sirleaf's vice-president Joseph Boakai, who she has not endorsed. It's difficult for remote observers to know what a victory by either candidate would mean.

According to Global News Network Liberia, the U.S. State Department is warning our nationals of possible violence. These days it is hard to judge whether the State Department knows anything much about local conditions, what with the mass attrition among experienced foreign service workers under our current regime. They may be just spewing quasi-racist hot air -- or publicizing an accurate concern. Time will tell.

Last spring the Gallup polling company asked Liberians whether their country could achieve a peaceful election. Liberians where absolutely clear about their expectations: 86% were confident the contest would be peaceful.

The drawdown of the U.N. force and the lack of a tradition of peaceful, democratic transition in the country could have explained uncertainty over the country's elections. However, 86% of Liberians said the elections would be peaceful, and 68% said it would be "somewhat" or "very" unlikely that the vote would plunge the country back into violence. Liberians' optimism proved true for the first round of elections, with only isolated incidents of violence reported.

Let's hope Liberians can pull off the peaceful transition they clearly hope for. I'll update this post when the dust settles in the next few days or weeks.

UPDATE December 30: George Weah won 61.5 of the vote, his opponent conceded, and the country seems likely to achieve a peaceful transition of power.

No comments: