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Could “Snap Elections” Be A Way Out As Liberians Grow Weary Of Unproductive Presidents?

By Paul Jeebah Albert          


As Liberia is about to experience a major transition, the need to make an amendment in the constitution that allows for “snap elections” to be held whenever the approval rating of the president dips, should be given some aforethought and consideration.

 A myth does exist that snap elections (an election called earlier than expected), are only meant to unseat a sitting leader before his term expires. Yes, this statement could be true if the factors leading to the elections are real.

However, there have been times when the incumbent came out victoriously, because the perceived factors were proven to be false and conjured up. Snap elections that turned out in favor of the leader in power reassures him or her of the confidence that the electorates have in the ability of the leader to lead.

Snap elections are very common in Great Britain and other Western democracies. They are a good way of keeping a leader and his or her elected officials on their toes, and thus awakening within the citizens a deep sense of reassurance and awareness of the fact that it is they, the citizens, who own the government and that those whom they elect including the president are only custodians. If the citizens are not pleased with their custodianship they can vote them out as they see it fit.

A Liberian presidential term in comparison to an American presidential term lasts for more than half of a decade (6 years). If the president’s performance is up to par, that president may be re-elected and continue to occupy the presidential seat thus wielding awesome power and enjoying all the rights and privileges that go with the highest office for over a decade (12 years).

On the other hand, what if the president’s performance does not meet the people’s expectations?

As yet, no constitutional provision has been crafted to gauge the president’s job approval rating so as to determine whether he is fit or not to complete the term; and so he continues to remain in office in spite of a dismal record of presidential performance.

For an emerging democracy and a country that woefully lags in its developmental objectives in comparison to other countries within the West African region, this is a stalemate towards progress; it is a dangerous precedent; and it sets the stage for even greater social strife. 

The 12-year leadership of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was marred by allegations of massive corruption in her government; particularly the law- making, epic-center which is the legislative branch.

This behavior on the part of elected officials in the legislative chambers contributed massively to the government’s inability to deliver on some of its basic promises to the citizens such as creating an environment where people could thrive free from want; have access to clean drinking water; electricity; education; jobs; health care; food; sanitation; good roads and other basic necessities. 

What gave impetus to her political endurance during this period was the fact that Liberians are willing to endure these hardships without resolving to any measures in forcibly removing the government; and while some of her government’s critical policy pronouncements were in sharp contrast with her achieved goals, she continued to lead under constitutional mandates and enjoy the goodwill of the masses.

How did she achieve such a political feat anyway? How did her government survive with the masses living under a perilous economy and a state of high joblessness? And worst, in the midst of these unmitigated circumstances, news abound everyday of how the national wealth is only benefitting the few.

The secret behind the longevity of Ellen’s tenure in spite of the bleak picture of an overall dismal presidential performance that her sharpest critics always portrayed can be explained in several ways:

First, the constitutional provisions which provided for the changing of the guard after a 6-year minimum term or a 12-year maximum term have some safety measures in place to protect against any individual or groups of individuals who might harbor the diabolical intention of forcibly removing the government, or creating a political hegemony and thereby stifling the mass participation of the citizens.

Second, Liberia had just emerged from a civil war; and therefore people were war-weary; yearning for peace and needing a time for national reflection as the visible scars of the civil war were seen and felt everywhere; and they served and continue to serve as a constant reminder of the fact that ethnic bigotry and change through guns was not the proper way of moving ahead if Liberians were desirous of ensuring their national prosperity and posterity. 

Third, the African Union (AU) enforced an accord in discouraging any government that would come into existence through the use of force and spread regional chaos. For example: the coup d’etat in Gambia was quelled through the collective and effective efforts of the AU as soon as it was started. 

Fourth, the constitution in principle and practice ensured a greater representation and participation of Liberians of all walks of life, and from all the political subdivisions in the body politic. 

Last, Ellen’s impressive international resume which accounted for her track record of job experiences with the United Nations, the World Bank, and other well-respected international organizations wrought for her incalculable political dividends at home, as scores of organizations from the international community as well as NGO’s and foreign troops flocked in her behest to help in the stabilization of war torn Liberia. 

Optimists might say of Ellen that she did her level best in spite of the odds that she faced and that the country is now on the proper trajectory while at the same time pessimists and fierce critics of hers fear that the antebellum conditions which precipitated the prolonged civil war and devastated the country are still lingering. If the latter statement is true, it raises this question: will Liberians again return to business as usual by keeping another person in office for 6 to 12 years with no constitutional safeguards in place in case his government becomes a failure and he proves to be incapable of leading the country? 

I beg to express a differing angle.

It would be foolhardy to unequivocally state that Liberians will continue to exercise the same degree of patience which they accorded under Ellen to another administration and for over another decade, as the political landscape in which Ellen operated and the mood of the voters at the time has changed.

Moreover, the challenge to the new administration will be tougher in that donor countries and organizations have developed a negative mindset towards Liberia. This attitude derives from the fact that these entities have pumped a lot of resources into the stabilization of Liberia and all that they saw or heard was a talk about massive corruption in high places.

These developments in addition to other evolving factors such as shifts in the norms, mores, and values of the voters based on how they perceive and interpret events occurring within the country now, have created a very high degree of uneasiness in the country.

The signs of the time indicate that Liberians are nervous as Ellen’s 12-year term fades away and a cloud of uncertainty hovers over the thinking of many in the changing of the guard.

Given the prevailing public sentiments in the country and the growing impatience on the part of the average Liberian citizens towards the inability of their leaders to deliver on their promises, “snap elections” enshrined within the constitution could be a smart way to prevent any unforeseeable insurrection that may tend to derail the country’s nascent democracy. 

Paul Jeebah Albert can be reached at, 704-636-7868. He lives in Spencer, North Carolina.


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