President-Elect, George Weah and his Vice, Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor (left and right).

While the world is celebrating the victory of George Opong Weah as he becomes the 25thPresident of Liberia, it is imperative to take a look at the factors that played out to enhance his victory at the poll.

When critically examined, it would be glaring to note that only George Weah’s popularity was not enough to swing victory his way. At the first round of the elections on October  10th  2017, he failed to clinch the mandatory 50% of the total votes cast to make him president as required by the relevant electoral laws of Liberia. Hence, I need to outline some of the potent factors that aided his victory.

Liberia’s President-elect, George Weah, no doubt has his running mate, Jewel Howard-Taylor, the ex wife of the Liberian warlord, Charles Taylor to thank for his victory. This 56 year-old lady began life in politics as First Lady to former Liberian leader, Charles Taylor, but has since established herself as a formidable political force in her own right.

Going by the popularity she enjoys following her exploits at the Liberian Senate over the years, it became clear that her choice for Vice-President on the ticket of the footballer turned politician was a deft move, though many had expected her to run for the top job herself.

Her National Patriotic Party was formed in 1997 by members of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia — Charles Taylor’s rebel fighters — to allow him run for president in hopes of ending a civil war that began in 1989.

She married Liberia’s most powerful warlord just before he was elected in 1997 by a population weary of conflict, and was granted a divorce in 2006, while Taylor was living in exile in Nigeria with another woman.

Her political career began in earnest when she was elected in 2005 as a senator in Bong County, the nation’s third most populous county, and has since built an image as a resilient hard worker in Liberia’s male-dominated politics.

She was once quoted as saying “The first thing I’ve done is to believe that I am able to make the changes I talk about.  I have made promises I have fulfilled in education, healthcare and infrastructure development, and so I hope over the past 12 years Jewel Howard has become her own person working for peace, working for prosperity and working for development.

And this “become her own person working for peace, working for prosperity and working for development’ has been seen as a major boost in her alliance with George Weah. Her NPP party agreed to form a coalition with his Congress for Democratic Change during the build-up to the election earlier in 2017, on the condition Howard-Taylor could run as Vice-President.

She enjoys so much popularity, especially in Bong County, the third largest voting population in the country.

However, the ghost of Charles Taylor’s nefarious war crimes in Sierra Leone had continued to hang around no matter what she does to distance herself. Her proximity to the ex warlord remains a talking point, and in a nation where the ex-President is still revered by many, her presence was largely an asset for Weah.

For example, the former AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain football star won just 10.7 percent of the vote in Howard-Taylor’s Bong County when he stood for President in 2005, but in the first round of voting in 2017, his share of the vote shot up to about 40.6 percent, a significant improvement, which many saw as the Howard-Taylor factor.

All Weah needed was the support of the Grand Gedeh County, a traditional stronghold for supporters of Samuel Doe, that President Taylor overthrew in a coup. His 74.9 percent in the first rounds of the elections from Grand Gedeh County remained a major boost for him, as he was a clear favourite in the area despite running with Howard-Taylor at his side.

Interestingly, when it became clear that a runoff was imminent after the October10th first rounds, some executives of the Liberty Party, had pledged their support to Weah. In fact, they were more powerful executives for that matter—Chairman Benjamin Sanvee, Vice Presidential candidate Harrison Karnwea and Chief Campaigner Musa Bility.  Surprisingly, it was the Unity Party that stood alongside the same LP to file a prohibition to the Supreme Court against the National Elections Commission (NEC) for a rerun of the October elections. But the volte-face of these top executives was seen part of the pivot on which Weah would coast home to victory.

The desire to have a clean sweep form the old order also played a prominent role in Weah’s victory. Seen as an anti-establishment, Weah became more trusted as one that can bring a change in governance, particularly as the Johnson Sirlief’s administration has been accused of corruption and doing a little to attract infrastructure development to the economy, which has been battling with falling prices in iron ore in the intentional market.
Major opposition political parties opted to form a unity opposition in September 2016 in Ganta, Nimba County to end 12 years of rule by the Unity Party. This became even more glaring when Weah coined his infamous “Change for Hope” phrase. To Weah and his supporters, now was time to change leadership for a new beginning.

Both Weah and Boakai are native Liberians and enjoy the support of the majority native voters although it is Weah who enjoys more of their demography. Weah enjoys quite a huge following among the youths, who form about 70% of the voting population, and with 52% of registered voters being between 18 and 32 years.

Weah has a huge following in poor communities that comprises 54 percent of the population, according to the World Bank. That explains his popularity in Montserrado that has many slum communities. They identify with Weah who grew up in Clara Town but conquered the world with his football skills. They see him as an embodiment of what late President Tolbert would have said, “from mat to mattress”. In him they see that their own dreams and aspirations can come true.

The CDC merger with the blood-stained National Patriotic Party (NPP) worked very well. Weah decided to look for interest rather than seek humanity’s potential. The NPP evokes the dark days of former President Charles Taylor, 250,000 killed in the civil war and the despair of a once hopeful people.

Weah preferred to turn a blind eye to that and opted to gain the popularity of the NPP in its traditional strongholds, including the rural communities.

Weah’s supporters have always looked for signs to prove that their man is ordained by God. They have summed up numerological clues to prove their point. In each of the elections he has run for President, they have tried to look for numbers and their links to him.

In 2005, Weah was placed on #14 on the ballot. They say that represented the number he wore on his Lone Star kit while playing for the national team. Because #14 could be reversed to be #9 when counting from the bottom to the top of the ballot, they saw it to be a spiritual reference to his number on his A.C. Milan kit.

They also saw the five in 2005 to have evoked 1995, the year Weah scooped African, European and World best player awards. And they are up to it again. They don’t see Weah being #17 on the ballot as a mere coincidence with 2017. It is a sign that this is Weah’s year.   
Democracy in Liberia has come a long way since the failure of the political system, amplified by the civil war.

Twelve years of uninterrupted peace and a significant improvement of the rule of law, freedom of speech and social liberties under Ellen has buried the despotic, dark days of Taylor.

I personally wish Weah and all Liberians well in their new march to consolidate a democracy that is 12 years old and counting.

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