Monrovia — Joseph Boakai faces yet another important decision of his five-decade political career: choosing a running mate ahead of the presidential elections in 2023.
The Unity Party (UP) standard bearer expects to name a committee to vet potential running mates in a few months, according to three elite members of the party with knowledge of the situation who spoke to FrontPageAfrica Sunday on the condition of anonymity.
Selecting a running mate is always critical for a presidential candidate. But it’s an especially urgent calculation for the 77-year-old Boakai who, if he wins, would be one of the oldest African presidents.
The decision carries added weight amid an emerging crisis within his newly-formed political marriage with the All Liberian Party (ALP) and the Sen. Nyonblee Karngar-Lawrence, the embattled political leader of the Liberty Party.
“We’re still going to be in crisis or recovery, and you want a running mate who can manage that,” a UP political strategist who worked for former president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s 2011 campaign. “This seems like a much more important decision than usual.”
Boakai faces pressure on multiple fronts. He must consider the demands of the ideologically diverse parties within his collaboration, especially their roles played in standing with him before breaking ranks with the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP).
He must balance those concerns with his stated desire for a partner who is “ready to be president on a moment’s notice.”
Stalwarts close to several presumed contenders say they’ve not yet been contacted. Boakai has offered plenty of hints. He’s said he can easily pick anyone but is in no hurry to name a running mate.
According to multiple sources, he’s given no indication of whether he’ll look to the Senate, where he spent six years as president of the Liberian Senate.
Some options available to Boakai
Sen. Karngar-Lawrence: Boakai hasn’t hidden his admiration for the Liberty Party senator. Her political feat earned in Grand Bassa County as a two-term elected senator makes her politically relevant to Boakai, who did little to tamp down speculation about her prospects as running mate, despite Mo Ali, former secretary general of UP, donning a customized t-shirt with the inscriptions “Boakai-Nyonblee 2023”.
Benoni Urey: Boakai has also spoken positively of the ALP standard bearer, who has stood with him since they both lost the 2017 presidential elections. Urey is arguably the richest within the three-party collaboration, a valuable commodity for an opposition seeking to unseat the ruling party. But his dismal performance in the 2017 presidential elections in which he finished 6th place with a total vote of 24, 246 accounting for 1.6 per cent could put the odds against him.
Sen. Prince Moye: As a senator from the third-most populous county in the country, the Bong County senator would bring a lot of fortunes to Boakai if selected. In 2017, Unity Party struggled in an election where the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) won both the first and second rounds of the elections in Bong County. But Moye, who won twice as representative of Bong’s second district before going on to win as senator in 2020, has made significant amends in the county, defeating the ruling party candidate Henry Yallah in a crucial senatorial election the CDC deemed as “a must win to redeem its image”.
But Unity Party, according to political pundits, could experience could experience similar scenario in Bong if Boakai picks Moye as running mate, considering that the current vice president and a native of Bong, Jewel Howard-Taylor, could be retained by President George Weah as running mate.
Fury over Ali’s “Boakai-Nyonblee” hint
At the fund raising program of the Karnga-Lawrence faction of Liberty Party in Buchanan over the weekend, Ali sent a strong hint to would-be contenders for running mate to Boakai when he donned a t-shirt with the inscriptions “Boakai-Nyonblee” 2023.
Ali would then follow up with a post on Facebook: “We are not ambivalent, we are not ambiguous and we know exactly where we stand. The t-shirt tells where we stand and that’s on period,” Mo Ali posted as he sat next to Boakai at the program.
Some members of the collaboration, especially members of Urey’s ALP, took to social media to register their displeasure, describing Ali’s action as a disrespect to their political leader.
Byron Brown, Jr, of the ALP posted on Facebook: “Boaka’s silence after seeing Mo Ali donned a t-shirt of him and Sen. Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence signifies that he wants another confusion to erupt in the new arrangement.”
“Mr. Benoni Urey must be respected for being loyal to Boakai over the years when no other opposition leader in the disintegrated CPP had confidence in him.”
Jethro Emmanuel Kolleh, a member of ALP, wrote on Facebook: When there was crisis within the CPP, it was only ALP, the “one per cent” party that stood up to have salvaged his political status. Where were you (in reference to the role of Karnga-Lawrence). We are not arrowheaded on being vice president, but respect must be accorded.”
“An attempt to launch a ‘Bassa Caravan’ again, we will not support such. “We are waiting on you to openly pledge support to Boakai presidency, Sen. Karnga-Lawrence.”
The potential crisis within the new political arrangement has also claimed the attention of renowned Liberian journalist Matthew Nyanplu, who described the possibility of a Boakai-Nyonblee ticket as “a caricature of the Weah-Taylor ticket of 2017”.
He said the Boakai-Nyonblee ticket would cost Liberia, as Weah-Taylor, with the debt of by-election in Grand Bassa if they won. “From an economic standpoint, it is a poor decision and does not represent any difference from what we have today in Liberia, same thinking, same actions. By that, they cannot win, by being more of what they seek to change,” he said.
Nyanplu said the Liberty Party senator has no appeal beyond Grand Bassa. “She narrowly defeated Gbehzongar Findley during the 2020 senatorial election, a result that says much about what she brings to the ticket in terms of numbers and her leadership prowess.
“On policy and national leadership, Nyonblee is barely known for any policy stance. Her impact at the Senate remains questionable. What policy, or act has she put forward and what impact has that had on Liberia. What is her traction in the Senate where she has been for more than 10years? We are yet to see.”
“We are yet to see proof of Nyonblee’s capability to lead Liberia, were the unforeseen to happen! What leadership traction does she bring? We need more evidence and judging 10years at the Senate, it seems more Liberia has been paying Nyonblee to be the same as all those who are there. Only a strong and marked breakaway from business as usual can energize Liberians to clamor away from the party in power.”
Nyanplu said a Boakai-Nyonblee ticket would drive Liberians away rather than attracts them. “Boakai, a former vice president for 12 years with nothing to show for it; though he says he was parked; Nyonblee, a senator from one of Liberia’s original founding counties, in power for more than 10 years, with less sway in her county and a contested stronghold.”
“All point to distraction from what should be at the core of defeating Weah and CDC, a break from business as usual and people who are benefiting from a system they claim is victimizing them. Boakai-Nyonblee is ordinary and not extraordinary. It has zero appeal and will not break.”