Africa-Press – Liberia. With barely 22 months to the 2023 presidential, senatorial and representatives elections in Liberia, the political landscape in Bong County is shaping up to be competitive as residents of the county look to end the six-year tenures of a number of lawmakers in the county.
Residents of the county are feeling the momentum after James Kolleh’s victory in the November 16, 2021 by-election in District Two, becoming the youngest person to be elected in Bong County at the age of 32.
Kolleh, of the opposition People’s Unification Party (PUP), defeated the ruling party’s candidate Melvin Salvage after he obtained 4, 283 followed by Salvage who accumulated 3, 882 votes.
In the build-up to the by-election, riding on a mammoth war chest of financial resources from the party, Salvage created a giant image after the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Nathaniel McGill and Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor, a native of Bong County who has won two successive elections as senator of Bong County before her rise as vice president, campaigned with him in the nooks and crannies of the district.
The presence of McGill and Howard-Taylor seemingly instilled fear in the minds of other candidates, even as they buoyed confidence in their supporters in the district. With such political actors by his side, Salvage was perceived as a lawmaker-in-waiting.
On election day, the perceived ‘heavy weights’ failed to galvanize their constituencies. And McGill and Howard-Taylor apparently could not believe their eyes as results began to trickle in from various polling places across the district, pointing to one inevitable outcome: Salvage was losing. And he fell from public perception that was enhanced by the belief in the old politics of ‘big names’ intervention. Here are four incumbent representatives and one senator facing uphill re-election bids in 2023.
Moima Briggs-Mensah, District Six:
Briggs-Mensah is set to face a contentious re-election battle in 2023 for her seat, which political analysts have rated as a “toss-up.” Briggs-Mensah could face four challengers, including former Bong County senator Henry Yallah, Assistant Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy, William Thompson, Liberian Diplomat Kollie Gargbo and Diaspora Liberian Richard Natee.
Briggs-Mensah is being confronted with allegations of being emotional, which has seen her at loggerheads with influential leaders of the district, including former Bong County superintendent Selena Polson-Mappy and Commissioner of Salala District, Daniel Tubman.
Her acceptance of rumors about people and capitalizing on it to create “enemies” without investigation or inquiry is one factor that appears to be diminishing her popularity, according to many.
Also, one key issue threatening Briggs-Mensah’s re-election is her failure to establish a District Development Council (DDC) since her election in 2017. Many believed the creation of the DDC would have included citizens of the district, ensured transparency and accountability especially with the usage of development funds coming from the county coffers and other sources which are for the benefit of the district and people.
For Yallah, who lost his re-election to Prince Moye in 2020, he has maintained a strong presence in the political scene in Bong County even before he was elected senator in 2011.
The former president of the Bong County Students Union (BONSU) had contested for representative of electoral District Three in 2005 and lost by 100 votes to George Mulbah.
He has also enjoyed unfettered movement across parties, from the New Deal Movement in 2011 to the People’s Unification Party (PUP) and now President George Weah’s Congress for Democratic, under which he’s expected to contest.
Another factor for Briggs-Mensah in 2023 is the emergence of Thompson, whose popularity, opinion polls have shown, has been unmatched in the district to date. Thompson, whose grandfather hails from Zeansue Clan, has garnered huge support, mainly from the youth and elders of the district.
Thompson, who was raised in Toyota, a vote-rich city in District Six with over 10, 000 votes, was instrumental in bringing an electricity project to the area which has benefited locals. Already, Thompson is being touted as a “lawmaker-in-waiting” by young people of the district.
While Briggs-Mensah’s popularity appears to be diminishing in Totota, Zeansue Clan and other vote-rich areas in upper District Six, analysts believed that the lawmaker is racing against time to make amends in 2023. Briggs-Mensah’s Re-election Chances: 40%
Joseph Papa Kolleh, District Seven:
Kolleh’s campaign has long been gearing up for his re-election bid. He has embarked on a number of projects in both Sanoyea and Fuamah Districts, including the launch of a vocational school, dedication of a bridge and construction of youth centers in the two districts which he furnished with DS TV.
In 2017, Kolleh, who hails from Sanoyea, defeated his major rival, Andrew Tehmeh with less than one hundred votes difference, to replace the district’s former lawmaker Corpu Barclay, who served for for 12 years (two terms).
Tehmeh has already announced that he would be contesting in 2023, but Kolleh’s major challenger could be Foday Fahnbulleh, who finished third in 2017, less than five hundred votes behind Kolleh.
Fahnbulleh hails from Fuamah, the largest of the two districts. Key for Fahnbulleh is the decision by Mr. Benedict Binda and Melvin K. Boima to endorse his candidacy. Both Binda and Boima are from Fuamah District and contested the 2017 election, finishing fourth and fifth respectively.
Political pundits believed with the numerical advantage Fuamah District has over Sanoyea District, coupled with the declaration of support for a “consensus” candidate from Fuamah District in Fahnbulleh, Kolleh’s re-election hinges on how many votes he would garner over his rival Tehmeh in Sanoyea District should he have any hope of re-election in 2023. Kolleh’s Re-election Chances: 45%
Senator Henrique Tokpa:
Age, poor health and failure to deliver on campaign promises are major factors threatening Senator Tokpa’s re-election in 2023. Tokpa, former president of Cuttington University who helped residents of the county through a tuition aid scheme during his tenure at the university, has been a shadow of himself since his overwhelming by-election victory in 2018.
Already in his late 70s, Sen. Tokpa has been battling poor health, which that has made him spend much of his time seeking treatment in the United States of America. FrontPageAfrica gathered that Tokpa has spent almost five months in the United States of America recovering from an undisclosed illness.
His long absence from the county has heightened speculations that he won’t contest a second term. While uncertainty surrounds Tokpa’s political future, it seems residents of the county have already found his successor in District Five lawmaker, Edward Karfiah. Karfiah has been touring the nooks and crannies of the county, gauging the views of residents on the possibility to contest as senator in 2023.
Karfiah, of the PUP, indicated his interest in the senatorial election when he declared that he would give a positive response to residents of the county including youths, women and ‘very objective elite’ whom he claimed were asking him to run for senator in 2023.
One of the groups promoting Karfiah’s senatorial ambition, the Friends of Karfiah, in December of 2021 described him as “the only right choice for senator that can actualize the collective dreams of residents of the county.” Karfiah is also being marketed as a youthful leader who has the vigor to tackle the county’s many challenges.
“What we need in 2023 is a young man, youthful and useful senator, pragmatic leader with a proven track record, someone who we can look up to as an ambassador of the youths, and we are proud this young man is the person of Edward Karfiah,” the group said in Bong Mines in December 2021 during a petition program organized for Karfiah.
Karfiah’s political profile was elevated last year when he singlehandedly propelled Kolleh to win the by-election in District Two despite all the odds. Tokpa’s Re-election Chances: 20%
Robert Womba, District Four:
Next to Senator Tokpa, Womba’s approval ratings in the district are dismal, opinion polls have shown. Of the five lawmakers facing an uphill re-election battle in 2023, it seems it’s only a matter of time for Womba to be called a “former lawmaker”. The Unity Party lawmaker, whose campaign mantra in 2017 was to bring the needed change to the district, seems to have failed to live up to the hype that may him lawmaker.
Additionally, the lawmaker’s woes have been compounded by the multiplicity of aspirants emerging from his native Zota District, including the Medical Director of Phebe Hospital, Dr. Jefferson Sibley, three-time contestant Susannah Mator, Diaspora Liberian Rufus Kermee, Deputy Public Works Minister Joseph Torr, one-time contestant James Paye and Emmanuel King of Kpaiquah Town.
With such number, according to political pundits, could put the odds in favor of the most popular candidate to emerge from Panta, another administrative district making up electoral District Four.
With his age, agility and overwhelming influence he has had in recent years, analysts are convinced that the County Health Services Administrator Jonah Tokpah is poised to replace Womba if the over 5,000 inhabitants in his native Gbarnga Siaquelleh turn out to vote on election day in 2023. Womba’s Re-election Chances: 30%
Albert Hills, District One:
Hills of the opposition All Liberian Party (ALP) could face an uphill battle for his seat in 2023. Forget about the emergence of the influential Prince Kwenah who has declared his ambition to contest, the race could be a proxy political fight between the ALP lawmaker and Bong County Senator Prince Moye.
Hills ran an aggressive campaign against Sen. Moye in the senatorial election in 2020 in favor of former senator Yallah and it seems Moye is prepared to “reward him for that”.
Moye has made constant visitations in Hills’ district, breaking grounds for people-centered projects, particularly in places where the district’s lawmaker has failed to deliver since his election in 2017.
If Moye supports Kwenah in 2023, which seems to be likely, then it could spell doom for Hills, analysts say, because the district’s former lawmaker, Tokpah Mulbah who won two-term (12 years) could relinquish his ambition to support Wamah Kuteh, who has shown impressive showings in the last two elections he has contested, finishing second and third respectively.
Kuteh has always garnered votes from Palala, a vote-rich city in the district. With the support of Tokpah Mulbah, political analysts are convinced that Kuteh could win Palala and Dutai, where Tokpah Mulbah hails from.
Also in the Kokoyah side of the district, there is Dennis Garsinii, a Diaspora Liberian who hails from Botota, another vote-rich area in District One. Garsinii has been engaged with residents of the district, and was crucial in providing drugs to the District Health Team during the Ebola and Corona Virus outbreaks.
Garsinii has been blessed to have with him key stakeholders in both Kokoyah and Kpai Districts who have endorsed his candidacy. Hills’ Re-election Chances: 30%