Press Review CW 42/2023: Standstill or new beginning?
Press Review 13 October 2023 to 20 October 2023

Liberia’s presidential election heads into run-off

On Thursday, the National Elections Commission (NEC) of Liberia released the preliminary results of the general elections held on 10 October. With more than 98% of ballots in the presidential race counted, incumbent George Weah, candidate of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), is projected to receive 43.8% of the votes. Joseph Boakai, a veteran of Liberian politics who previously served as Vice President under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from 2006 to 2018 and ran as the Unity Party (UP) candidate in this year’s elections, trailed slightly with 43.5% of the vote.  Despite a broad field of 20 candidates, the two leading politicians thus attracted the vast majority of votes. Nevertheless, neither of them managed to garner more than 50% of the votes needed for a direct election. As a result, Weah and Boakai will in all likelihood face off in a run-off election in November in a remake of the 2017 presidential election. Voter turnout in the first round was very high, at around 79%, according to the NEC. About 2.4 million of Liberia’s population of about 5.5 million were eligible to vote. Although the election was reportedly largely peaceful, hundreds of voters in one northeastern district will have to cast their ballots again this week after unknown perpetrators stole ballot boxes at two polling stations in Nimba County. According to analysts, however, these votes would in no way be enough to decisively change the final result. The election on 10 October was the first since the end of the 14-year civil war in 2003 to be organised entirely by the Liberian government without financial support or other assistance from international partners. At the same time, it was the first election since the withdrawal of the United Nations (UN) UNMIL peacekeeping mission in 2018. The UN, the African Union (AU) and the Election Observation Mission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have all hailed the free and peaceful elections. In a preliminary report, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) also attested to Liberia’s largely successful election. The report praised, among other things, the technical preparations and the conduct of election day. The country’s press was also said to have been able to report freely on all aspects of the election campaign. However, the EU EOM criticised the use of government platforms and state resources that appeared to have given an advantage to the incumbent. Former football star Weah was first elected in 2017 on the promise of developing infrastructure projects and fighting corruption in the coastal West African country. Although he has been able to at least partially fulfill these promises in terms of infrastructure, for example through increased road construction, in the run-up to the elections, Weah was accused of having done little to fight corruption since taking office in January 2018. In 2022, for example, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on three senior Liberian officials, including Weah’s chief of staff Nathaniel McGill, for corruption. McGill subsequently resigned, but was nominated by the CDC as a candidate for this year’s senatorial elections and, according to preliminary results, comfortably won the Senate seat for Margibi County with 40% of the vote.

Lesotho plunges into constitutional crisis

Since Monday, Lesotho has been experiencing a constitutional crisis due to a now postponed motion of no-confidence in Prime Minister Samuel Ntsokoane Matekane, which was further aggravated by intervention from the heads of Lesotho’s security agencies. In a joint statement released on Monday evening, the senior personnel of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), the Lesotho Defence Forces (LDF) and the National Security Service (NSS) united behind Matekane, who has been in office since October 2022, and announced that they would prevent a change in the current government at all costs. The authorities were reacting to the no-confidence motion filed on Friday by the Basotho National Party (BNP), which is backed by the main opposition party Democratic Congress (DC). Matekane is the leader of a coalition government comprising of his party, the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP), as well as the Movement for Economic Change (MEC) and Alliance for Democrats (AD) parties. However, the opposition accuses him of corruption and failing to fulfill his election pledges. Some 64 MPs had gathered in the 120-seat Lesotho parliament on Monday to vote on the motion – enough to topple the government. Among the MPs were members of Matekane’s own party, the RFP, who expressed their dissatisfaction with his leadership style and government programme. However, before the vote could take place, RFP MP Lejone Puseletso filed an emergency motion on behalf of the government to challenge the constitutionality of the no-confidence motion in court. Matekane himself, in a national address on Monday morning, expressed concern about the hurdles his government is facing and accused several opposition politicians of exploiting the law and preventing progress. DC leader Mathibeli Mokhothu invoked the constitutional right of MPs to move no-confidence votes. He should have been sworn in as prime minister in place of Matekane if the no-confidence vote had been successful. The current constitution of Lesotho’s constitutional monarchy, headed since 1996 by King Letsie III, dates from 1993 and has undergone several reforms since then. The 2020 constitutional amendment simplified the process for a no-confidence motion by limiting executive power and as well as the power to curtail the opposition. The government’s request for a court case to challenge the no-confidence motion has been scheduled for October 30. Until then, the Speaker of Parliament, Tlohang Sekhamane, has been forced to postpone the vote on the no-confidence motion. The postponement is causing a parliamentary deadlock and delays important domestic issues, including the budget. In the event that the no-confidence motion is deemed valid in court and a new government takes office, there is a risk of a de facto military takeover, given the statements of the security officials. Such a scenario would pose a growing threat to the political stability of the country and its institutions.

In other News

On Saturday, immunologist Rose Gana Fomban Leke was awarded the Virchow Prize for Global Health at Berlin’s Red City Hall. The Cameroonian-born doctor was honoured for her ongoing commitment to fighting and eradicating life-threatening infectious diseases for over forty years, as well as for her continuous promotion of research in this field. In her career, she achieved great success in the fight against malaria and polio and contributed to the immunisation of vulnerable populations and the development of prevention and treatment strategies, especially for pregnant women. With her work, she makes an important contribution to advancing the health-related goals of the United Nations Agenda 2030 and improving global health as a whole. At the same time, the professor emeritus of the University of Yaoundé is tirelessly committed to the rights and participation of women and girls in science. The Virchow Prize, endowed with 500,000 €, is under the patronage of Bundestag President Bärbel Bas and recognises medical innovations of outstanding importance.

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