|T. Q. Harris, Jr.|
Surely complacency has set in, trapping Liberia, yet again, in the debilitating claws of stagnation. This is clearly evident in the behavior of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and those currently ruling the country. They act as though all is well, when nothing could be farther from the truth.
From Abuja to Washington, DC, many are concerned about Liberia’s current fragility and hoping in 2011 there will be a significant breakthrough. Arguably, lack of leadership is the central issue.
Rather than prioritize healing and reconciliation in the aftermath of a devastating war, those leading the country have focused their attention on negotiating commercial contracts, filling their pockets, prolonging their stay in office, and lately, amending the Constitution to make changes such as extending the tenure of Supreme Court Justices. If Liberia was ever in need of wise leaders, the time is now!!!
Having had enough of the insanity, the international partners are refusing to pay for run-off contests in the 2011 elections. This obviously is an indirect way of forcing Liberians to behave more responsibly.
The partners’ decision not to fund run-off contests, undoubtedly, has gotten the attention of the government. However, rather than seek a remedy through dialogue with stakeholders, the President and legislators are attempting to push through a Constitutional amendment wherein the winner of each contest shall be determined by an Absolute Majority. This no doubt will reduce the financial burden in the short-term; however, it is a myopic solution to a delicate issue that is bound to produce adverse consequences for the nation in the future.
These are existing conditions under which the Constitution is to be amended: Liberia at the moment is held together by several thousand heavily armed UN troops and about a thousand police from various nations. The Armed Forces of Liberia is headed by a Nigerian national, while a team of American military professionals rebuild the army. Critical to the national economy is the large United Nations Mission (UNMIL) presently on the ground. Moreover, the Government has to seek approval from the UNMIL before carrying out most activities within the country because it is solely responsible for security.
Why under these circumstances is President Johnson Sirleaf pushing so hard to amend the Constitution, rather than encourage Liberians to work together and rebuild their country?
The proposed referendum also seeks to change the timetable for presidential and legislative elections. But, if voting for the president and legislators during the rainy season is problematic, why is the Elections Commission planning this all important referendum at the peak of rainy season? Perhaps we ought to think through the critical decisions more carefully.
A few years ago Liberians were running for their lives as the world watched on live television. There were bodies laid out in the fields and along the roads from the countryside all the way into the Capital. The previous 13 years also were marked by unspeakable horrors. And Liberia, in the past 20 years, has been ranked among the most dangerous places in the world. As a result of the senseless violence, thousands of Liberians have been forced to live outside the country, struggling to survive in refugee camps and wherever we could call home. Thankfully, with the international community’s intervention and UN troop deployment in 2003, there has been uninterrupted yet fragile calm.
Now Liberians are beginning to return home, it is silly that anyone would raise the issue of Residency without mentioning the more than 250,000 men, women and children murdered because they were unable to escape the mayhem. The fact is only those who enjoyed the protection of armed factions were safe in Liberia during the past 20 years.
Considering the importance of the 2011 elections, I trust opposition leaders will see the wisdom in putting forth one candidate to contest each elected office. At this critical stage, the need for CHANGE must supersede personal ambition.
In its October 12, 2010 editorial, the Analyst Newspaper has proffered a viable remedy that addresses the issue of Absolute Majority, which is an Amalgamated opposition willing to field one candidate for each office. This, I believe, is a noteworthy proposal which must be given serious consideration.
In conclusion, the international partners’ unwillingness to fund run-off contests in the 2011 elections may be the start of disengagement from Liberia. We cannot afford a premature departure of UN troops, it benefits no one. However, amending the Constitution because of temporary financial constraints is the absolute wrong approach to resolving the issues. And a national referendum at this stage is not the solution.
I, therefore, would like to urge leaders of opposition parties to let us work together to limit the number of candidates in the upcoming elections. We can no longer continue to operate as lone rangers while the people suffer and the country falls apart. Turning Liberia around will require compromise and more compromise; only then will stagnation end so progress can begin!
The Author: T. Q. Harris, Jr. is a member of the Free Democratic Party (of Liberia) who is expected to be a Presidential candidate in the 2011 Election. Mr. Harris in 1997 was the Vice Presidential nominee of his Party. He is currently the Chairman of Liberian Contempt UPS. To get more information: http://www.tqharrisforpresident.com/ ; http://www.friendsoftq.org/ ; firstname.lastname@example.org ; Phone: (562) 256-4271 Liberia: (231) 6 538827