Are Political Mergers Electorally Rewarding in Liberia? – by Seltue Karweaye

Last updated 01/01/2012
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The merger convention involving the ruling Unity Party (UP), Action Party (AP) and the Unification Party (UP) have ended in Ganta City, Nimba County, with election of officers to steer the affairs of the Unity Party, now New Unity Party (NUP). At a joint signing ceremony Monday, the Liberty Party (LP) and New Deal Movement (NDM) and said that it shall without delay proceed to work and collaborate with the Organizing Committee of the Democratic Alliance (the “DA”) to ensure the full and successful realization of bringing opposition political parties together to contest the ensuing Presidential and Legislative elections. Democratic Alliance is sandwiched with several millionaires who apparently amassed wealth in past regimes. The Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) signed a memorandum of understanding with Winston Tubman, the political leader of the Liberian National Union (LINU) last year. In order to assess the profitability of Alliance or coalition in Liberia, this article will present a brief analysis of electoral consequences of all those political party mergers that have actually occurred in post conflict Liberia since the 1997 and 2005 national elections. Two principal questions will be address. Are political mergers electorally rewarding in Liberia, or do they result in electoral losses? What does the election results say about political merger in Liberia?

Political parties in Liberia are not unitary actors; rather, each contains within its ranks a variety of different ideological beliefs and strategic orientations. Nor are individual political parties wholly isolated; rather, each has friends and allies among the other parties and of course, some implacable opponents. The extent of internal party collegiality, on the one hand, and of external cross-party amicability, on the other, will obviously be constrained by electoral imperatives. As far as the party’s internal life is concerned, for example, the enemies within may feel that their relative influence will be enhanced by subordinating their differences to the need to maintain a common electoral identity. At the same time, as far as external relations are concerned, the party leaders may not wish to identify too closely with other parties in the system for fear of eroding their distinct partisan appeal. In some cases, internal differences or external friendships may prove overriding, and the party itself may split asunder and/or ally itself with another party. Moreover, in some instances electoral imperatives may even act to encourage such Alliances or Alliances: dissident factions within a party may feel that they can exert a greater influence by going it alone. On the other side, party leaders may also sometimes feel that it would be more electorally profitable to mount a joint campaign with their friends than to maintain what may well be a relatively unprofitable partisan distinctiveness, and in some cases these joint activities may even lead to full-scale party mergers. But while party coalition may not be uncommon in our political landscape, their electoral consequences are far from easy to predict in Liberia. In Liberia, mergers are derived largely from elite behavior, whereas their electoral consequences will depend on responses that they generate at the popular level. As far as mergers are concerned, joining forces with a one-time opponent may actually damn a party in the eyes of some of its supporters, and the new whole may prove less electorally successful than the sum of the previous parts. Splinters may also prove damaging, because they may well be considered by voters to be either strategically irrelevant or ideologically distasteful. Hence they may also fail to reap the anticipated electoral reward.

Political Alliance In Postwar Liberia

This article measures the electoral consequences of coalitions by comparing the total vote won by parties in the Liberian election immediately following the merger agreement and elections is held. The period under scrutiny runs from the beginning of 1997 to the end of 2005. In almost all cases the relevant electoral data are drawn from the Liberian general election, 1997 and 2005.

In 1997, the Liberian People’s Party (LPP), United People’s Party (UPP), Liberia Action Party (LAP) and the Liberia Unification Party (LUP) merged to form the Alliance of Political Parties (ALLIANCE).

At the end of the ALLIANCE convention held in Virginia, Liberia, the ALLIANCE was comprises of coalition of two Liberian Political Parties, LAP and LUP, contested the 19 July elections after LPP and UPP left the ALLIANCE due to alleged fraud during the election of the ALLIANCE Standard Bearer.

During the 2005 national election, LPP and UPP merged into alliance called the Alliance for Peace and Democracy (APD). The LAP, LUP, People’s Democratic Party of Liberia (PDPL) and the formerly dominant True Whig Party (TWP) merged into a four-parties coalition called the Coalition for the Transformation of Liberia (COTOL). The Liberia National Union (LINU), Liberia Education and Development Party (LEAD) and the Reformation Alliance Party (RAP) merged also into three political parties coalitions called the United Democratic Alliance (UDA).

Are mergers or coalitions electorally profitable in Liberia?

In terms of average vote change the answer is clearly no: are electorally unprofitable in the sense that the mean vote of the parties involved actually declines or increases following the reshuffle? In terms of the frequency of gains and losses, the answer is also no, in that there is almost a perfect balance between the one case recording an increased vote and the three cases recording a decline. In the 1997 election, the ALLIANCE presidential candidate Cletus Wotorson won 2.5 of the Votes (15,969 of the Total Votes of 621,880). The coalition won only 2 of the seats in the House of Representatives and None in the Senate. During October 11, 2005 (the first round of the 2005 election, APD Candidate Togba Nah Tipoteh won 2.3% of the votes in the presidential poll. The coalition won five seats in the Senate and House of Representatives. COTOL presidential candidate Varney Sherman placed 5th out of 22 candidates, winning 7.8% of the votes. The coalition was more successful in concurrent legislative elections, winning seven Senate seats (the most of any single political party or coalition in the history of Liberia Multi-Party System). UDA candidate John Morlu won 1.2 % of the vote in the presidential poll. The coalition won no seat in the Senate and one in House of Representatives. The electoral record of party coalition or alliance in Liberia is interesting in itself. It clearly cannot be expected to throw much light on the wider questions of party system dynamics or competition. To be sure, as in the case of the LAP, LUP, People’s Democratic Party of Liberia (PDPL) and the formerly dominant True Whig Party (TWP) coalition is of central importance. In many cases, however, as can be seen from the LAP and LUP (ALLIANCE), LPP and UPP (APD Coalition) and LINU, LEAD and RAP (UDA), this type of reshuffling often leaves the balance of electoral forces largely unchanged. Nevertheless, these election results does offer some limited grounds for speculation about the differential perceptions of party elites, on the one hand, and party voters, on the other. Alliances or Coalitions are derived from elite behavior, whether prompted by factional frustration in the case of Alliance, or cross-party friendships in the case of Alliance. The rewards and penalties associated with such reshuffling, on the other hand, derive entirely from mass electoral behavior. Hence the scope for speculation, for, as we have seen from 1997 and 2005, there are certain circumstances where Alliance or Coalition occur despite the empirical evidence that these are not likely to be electorally rewarding in Liberia. Mergers involving LAP and LUP (ALLIANCE), LPP and UPP (APD Coalition), LINU, LEAD and RAP (UDA) are cases in point, because the majority of these cases result in electoral result decline for each Coalition or Alliance.

During the 2005 election, mergers clearly prove popular in Liberia, yet in the three cases involving Alliance or Coalition have proved electorally damaging. In sum, there are enough cases to suggest that, ceteris paribus, intra-party frustrations and inter-party friendships can prove so compelling that elites may well ignore the possible electoral consequences of their actions in Liberia. Or else they just like to gamble. Evidences from 1997 and 2005 presidential elections suggest that political mergers do not led to electorally reward in Liberia.

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