World News

President of Liberia Is Ousted in a Party Brawl

Posted January 14, 2018 9:43 p.m. EST

MONROVIA, Liberia — Just days before the end of her 12-year tenure as Liberia’s head of state, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been expelled by senior members of her political party, who accused her of supporting the opposition candidate and now president-elect, George Weah, in his recent election campaign.

A statement from the Unity Party, released late Saturday, said that Sirleaf, Africa’s first female democratically elected head of state, had been expelled because of “several violations and other acts inimical to the existence of the party.”

Among them was her failure to support her vice president, Joseph Boakai, in the election.

Weah will be sworn into office on Jan. 22, the first peaceful democratic transfer of power in the country since 1944.

The Unity Party’s spokesman, Mohammed Ali, accused Sirleaf of using state resources to fund Weah’s campaign and said that evidence would be disclosed to the public at a later date.

“The president not only refused to support the candidate of the Unity Party, but she financed to some extent and openly supported the opposition party that won the election, and that is a gross violation of the party’s constitution,” Ali said.

The expulsion comes on the back of earlier accusations that Sirleaf interfered in the first round of voting to favor Weah.

The president’s press secretary, Jerolimnek Piah, said Sirleaf would respond to her expulsion and the allegations on Monday.

Nathaniel McGill, chairman of Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change party, called the claims of financial and political support from the outgoing president “rubbish.”

Weah, a celebrated former soccer player who also ran for president in 2005 and vice president in 2011, defeated Boakai by a large margin in a runoff election in December, gaining 61.5 percent of the vote. The vote, initially scheduled for Nov. 9, had been delayed by more than six weeks amid fraud allegations and a Supreme Court challenge.

Sirleaf responded to that contesting of the results by saying that the nation’s democracy was “under assault.” After the runoff results were announced, Boakai conceded defeat to Weah and offered to aid his government, but also referred to previous fraudulent elections in his concession speech.

Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated Nobel laureate, never publicly endorsed Boakai or campaigned for him, and remained distant from her party. Many members called for her expulsion months ago.

The expulsion is thought to be connected to a rift between Sirleaf and the party’s chairman, Varney Sherman, a lawyer who last year was accused by the activist organization Global Witness of being involved in a bribery scandal. The group claimed that his law firm had facilitated bribes to lawmakers in an attempt to pass legislation favorable to a mining company. Sirleaf’s government initiated a trial of Sherman, which has not yet concluded.

Government corruption has persisted during Sirleaf’s two terms in office.

Analysts say that the president’s expulsion from the party could raise questions about her legacy.

“The dominant narrative is of her being a leader that promoted good governance — this expulsion will lead people to question that narrative,” said Ibrahim al-Bakri Nyei, a Liberian who is completing a Ph.D. at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. “It will leave room for people to ask questions as to why she didn’t support the party.”

But for some it appeared that the president may have abandoned her party long before it expelled her.

“She clearly wasn’t in support of her party, and that is a big deal because it hasn’t happened in our political history,” said Aaron Weah, director of Search for Common Ground, a nongovernmental organization focused on conflict resolution.

While the expulsion is yet another chapter in Liberia’s recent political drama, analysts take it as a sign that the nation’s democracy is maturing since its second civil war ended in 2003. Last year’s elections unfolded peacefully, with parties and citizens respecting the Supreme Court’s rulings. Now, parties are expelling their leaders in accordance with their own rules.

“It shows,” Aaron Weah said, “that political parties are beyond the influence of a president or one particular person.”