In the lead-up to the 2023 Presidential and Legislative elections in Liberia, major political actors have begun massive campaigns for their flagbearers in the hope of winning the upcoming elections.
The incumbent President, George Weah, has been touted by many of his supporters, including Assistant Agriculture Minister Alvin Wesseh, as the most favourable aspirant for the “Liberian Presidency.”
Wesseh, among other things, stated that opinion polls conducted by local media institutions and some unnamed international organisations put Mr Weah ahead of rival politicians.
An Assistant Minister for Agriculture made the latest claim bordering on the incumbent standing a better chance of winning on Friday, January 6, 2023.
“‘International Organisations have conducted voter perception polls around the country, which shows that the incumbent President is in the lead of other contenders,” said Wesseh.
The comments by the minister, who is also the Vice Chairperson of the ‘Congress for Democratic Change,’ a constituent party within the Coalition government, spanned from 48:48 sec to 50:04 sec during the second and final lap of the OK Conversation radio show.
Interestingly, the Agriculture Minister failed to substantiate his claim even when he was repeatedly challenged to name the international organisation involved in the opinion poll.
His comment comes on the heels of a similar statement by his party’s youth league first-round-victory-for-weah-cdc-youth-league-leader-declares/. Even more worrying is the comment by the youth leader that in 2023 they will accept nothing less than a first-round victory for the incumbent President George Weah.
DUBAWA decided to examine the claim and understand what opinion polls play in the country’s electoral process. This researcher contacted Mr Wesseh to confirm from which organisation he had sourced the information, but he was not forthcoming with any information.
Further investigations conducted by DUBAWA on the websites of ECOWAS, Carter Center, Democracy International, National Democratic Institute and many other websites to ascertain if, indeed, some international organisation has conducted an election poll on Liberia’s upcoming election proved futile.
The closest DUBAWA came to finding anything relating to the survey being talked about by government spokespersons was an online research report published by BTI in 2022. BTI project is a think-tank group comprising nearly 300 country and regional experts from leading universities worldwide. The project analyses and compares transformation processes towards democracy and inclusive market economy worldwide. A section of the report, on page 14, titled, Political and Social Integration, states that,
“Four Afrobarometer surveys since 2008 found approval of democracy following a bell curve. Initially high after the civil war, dissatisfaction with leaders and the desire for strong leadership on Ebola has entailed a steady reduction. Liberians, in principle, support democratic institutions and leadership elections in particular. 70% prefer democracy to any other kind of government and reject authoritarian alternatives like military rule (73%). They believe that Liberia is more democratic now than three years ago, which likely reflects the eventual election victory of George Weah. At the same time, dissatisfaction with the way democracy is working in the country is increasing. Complaints include impunity for elite corruption, a lack of concern among elites for ordinary Liberians, and a lack of order. ”
The highlighted section of the above quote is similar to the statement Wesseh made but in a completely different context. The afrobarometer survey talked about the previous elections, not the upcoming ones, as Wesseh would have us believe. The Afrobarometer assessment stated that “Liberia is more democratic now than three years ago.” Furthermore, the report is grounded on Liberians’ readings on the democratic state of the country.
Could this be the same opinion poll being touted by government spokespersons?
This explainer will explore opinion polls’ role in elections and the general democratic culture in Liberia. It will also explore why this particular survey or opinion poll should be investigated, whether real or charade.
The Executive Director of the Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD), Mathias Yeaney, weighs in on the latest claim made by Minister Wesseh with respect to the 2023 opinion polls debate for Mr Weah. IREDD works to promote sustainable democracy and development through informed policy research.
In a write-up to DUBAWA, Yeaney said participants for opinion polls are drawn from different localities, disaggregated by gender, age and regions with different political affiliations, which makes it important for people to know the details of an opinion poll.
“Any opinion poll conducted in a political party’s stronghold is to confirm whether it remains a stronghold,” he said in response to questions asked by DUBAWA.
“However, if you want an objective opinion poll report, you must conduct it across other areas, mainly in heavily contended areas.”
When asked about the sponsors of opinion polls, Yeaney, who has been a civil society actor and researcher in the country for close to a decade, added that usually, anyone can sponsor the study.
“However, whether the sponsor wants a say or a particular result coming from the study, then there is a problem,” he said, “Anyone can sponsor an OP, but the outcome must be objective. No manipulation. It is also important to make the Sponsored public.”
Providing a background of the role Opinion polls have played in Liberia’s election process, Mr Yeaney said, “Opinion polls, whether scientific or unscientific, have had no bearing on the outcome of electioneering activities in the country.”
He cited that most opinion polls conducted in urban areas like the nation’s capital, Monrovia, do not reflect the views of the ordinary people in rural Liberia.
“If the opinion were something to go by, then, in 2005, President George Weah would have won over former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf because all the OP conducted, whether on the radio or through other means, proved that he was going to win, but at the end of the day, Madam Sirleaf flogged him in the election,” said Yeaney.
The IREDD Executive Director explained that the country has a history where citizens make electioneering decisions based on regional and traditional lines, not opinion polls, as is insinuated.
One of the major opposition political parties, the ‘Unity Party’ of former Vice President Joseph Boakai, termed the claim from Minister Wesseh as “Absolute nonsense.”
In a conversation with DUBAWA, a member of the intellectual class in Liberia said the claim by Wesseh is a calculated attempt by the ruling establishment to confuse the sound democratic decision of the Liberian people.
Robert Doe: “It is a propaganda message. Well, if you are not smart and intellectual as I am, you will fall prey to it. I challenge Assistant Minister Wesseh to prove his claim about the International Organisation Opinion Polls.”
Doe, who was also a one-time civil society actor of the erstwhile “Potential Youths,” said the government’s fate would be decided at the ballot box and not by opinion polls.
The UP secretary general, Amos Tweh, questioned the authenticity of the opinion polls.
He said it is either a ghost survey or the usual CDC machinations to steal or thwart the democratic will of the people, using such deceptive comments to justify their grand design.
It is fair to state that Opinion Polls, though important, do not necessarily reflect the outcome of elections in Liberia and, more importantly, the details of the Opinion Polls, including the total population used, and the survey sponsors. The outcome must be made public as part of efforts to grow the democratic culture of the country.