By D Kaihenneh Sengbeh

Though the country’s second post war elections linger 30 months away with already a dark cloud hanging over the prospect, political parties and politicians have begun active preparations and are dreaming big of winning the looming challenging democratic duel.

Secret meetings and phone calls, active negotiations and crossing of carpets have intensified in recent months with the ruling Unity Party (UP), Liberia Action Party (LAP) and the Liberia Unification Party (LUP) – all old political allies 30 years ago – signing the first meager.

The UP-LAP-LUP has now cut down the number of political parties in the country from 18 to 15 after the National Election Commission had earlier on March 6, 2009 deregistered 10 other political parties for constitutional violations.

With a further expected reduction in the number of political parties, the Secretary General of LUP (one of the recent merging parties), Cletus Sieh, has hinted that the 2011 elections will be competitive, but may not have a second round as witnessed in the 2005’s.

Mr. Sieh, Deputy Information Minister for Administration, told me in an exclusive interview Tuesday at his Capitol Hill office that the Merger would do ‘everything democratically possible’ to defeat all other parties and oppositions at the 2011 polls.

“The question is not going to be who wins the election in 2011, the question will be whether the election stops at first round. And, that is all we are thinking about right now: to ensure that we just do it all in one round, but as to who wins the election with these three forces coming together, it is already clear,” the Acting Information Minister opined.

Mr. Sieh said UP-LAP-LUP was a formidable force in the making and has already begun scaring opposition politicians who are claiming that it is intended to create a one party state system.

“How can they say that? Do they mean by reducing the number of political parties just by three is leading to one party system? No, it cannot short-circuit the political system. What it will do is that it will enhance the political and democratic processes and makes the election competitive. These people are getting afraid because the fact of the matter here is that we are going to win the [2011] elections.”

Dissatisfactions Among Partisans

Even though several members of the ruling UP and LUP have expressed some level of reservation over the merger on grounds that they were not consulted in the process, the LUP SG said the situation will become calm, and it poses no threat to the old-time union.

He historicized that the UP-LAP-LUP amalgamation dates as far back as 1985 during the military regime of former President Samuel K Doe, but broke up in the 1997 elections which war crime indictee Charles Taylor won with landslide.

“So, it is just a process of old friends coming back together, and we just need to formalize it,” Sieh speaks of the recent merger deal of which he is both one of the drafters and signatories.

The merger will carry the name of the ruling Party and emblems of Cllr. Varney Sherman’s LAP and Mr. Isaac Mannah’s LUP.

He disputed claims by aggrieved partisans that consultations were not held and affirmed that it was not possible to consult all partisans individually before the agreement was reached.

A mass meeting of two party officials from each of the 15 political subdivisions of the country was called and these party executives saw logic in the merger, the LUP Chief Scribe claimed.

Negotiations are still underway and the process would be finalized at conventions to be held by each of the merging parties where all partisan would have inputs in the final amalgamation process says Sieh, adding, “no one will be left out of the process.”

More Merger Necessary

Liberia has a population of about 3.5 million people and more than 20 political parties with just almost the same beliefs.

Mr. Sieh thinks that this is ‘unnecessary’ and ‘confuses the population’ most of whom are illiterate.

He woos other parties to follow their example: “Almost all the political parties have the same philosophy, so why not merge. We want other political parties to follow our example to make the political race much more competitive.”

The LUP executive claimed that most of the parties in the country were operating in brief cases and must come together to form stronger forces or alliances. “They do not have party headquarters, they do not have [bank] accounts, they do not have membership; they are just there by name,” and popup during electoral processes.

Compromising Threshold Bill Ahead of the 2011 elections, dark cloud are already gathering by the “refusal” of the National Legislature to pass the threshold bill submitted to them by the National Election Commission (NEC) almost 10 months ago.

The threshold and three other bills currently hitched at the National Legislature are very critical to the 2011 elections.

The NEC has alarmed that time is running out and persistent “failure” of the Legislature to pass the bills which are already late serves as an upsetting wedge in the path of 2011.

The four Acts in question are: An Act to set the Threshold Bill to Reapportion Constituencies Throughout the Republic of Liberia; A Proposal by Two-Thirds of the Membership of both Houses of the Legislature of the Republic of Liberia to Amend Certain Provisions of the 1986 Liberian Constitution; An Act to amend Provisions of the Electoral Reform Law of 2004 and the New Elections Law of 1986 to be called and cited as the Electoral Reform Law of 2008; and an Acts to repeal Acts which created certain cities, districts, chiefdoms, clans and townships in the Republic of Liberia.

The threshold determines the number of Legislative seat(s) each county will carry in accordance with the country’s population as in each county, provided that the number of seats in the Legislature is not more than 100.

The Lawmakers have the constitutional mandate to set the threshold, but are yet to do so on grounds that some counties would be underrepresented in the 53rd Legislature while others argue that the official national population census result has not been released by the country’s statistics house, LIGIS.

But Mr. Sieh said there was a need for the Lawmakers to find a compromise to pass the bill.

Hailing from one of the least populated counties that may be affected by getting only a legislative seat, Mr. Sieh said compromise was the way forward, but it was dangerous for the lawmaker to keep the bill on the shelf.

“I think we have to go by the constitution [number of legislative seats not going beyond hundred], but I think, again, there has to be some flexibility. We have to look at it critically. “I know that depopulated counties will be seriously affected, underrepresented, but to put the bill down and not doing anything about it is not the way best forward. Delay is not necessary or good for our young democracy; the National Legislature needs to take the bull by the horn and do something about the threshold bill,” Mr. Sieh asserted.

“Compromise needs to be made in terms of number and mathematics,” the Deputy Information Minister said before suggesting that it would be better for counties which populations produce a seat or cannot produce a seat be given two seats and the rest can be spread among counties like Montserrado which will definitely take the highest number of seats, because of its huge population.

Because of the war, he argued, most Liberians left their areas for the Monrovia and other urban counties making them to be populated, and these very people are now returning home and need to be equally represented at the Legislature.

South-eastern Counties Pile Pressure

Meanwhile the most uninhabited counties of the South-eastern region want the National Legislature to pass the threshold bill immediately.

Four counties of the region recently issued a resolution calling on the National Legislature to pass into law four electoral related bills that are docked at that August Assembly.

The four counties, according to NEC, made the call in a joint resolution signed at the end of a two-day regional consultative meeting held in Fish Town, River Gee County from April 17 to 18, 2009 under the theme: “Understanding the Electoral Process Leading to 2011”.

The NEC quotes participants at the regional meeting as saying “affirmative to the vote declared, they are calling on the Legislature to diligently pass into law without further delay the above mentioned bills.

The civic/voter regional meeting organized by the NEC with funding from the Government of Liberia brought together local and traditional leaders, representatives of Community Based Organizations, Civil Society Organizations, Legislative Caucuses, Youth Groups and Women Organizations from Grand Kru, Grand Gedeh, Maryland and River Gee Counties.

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