On October 11th Liberians went to the polls for the second time since the end of the civil war. As expected none of the presidential candidates won an outright majority in the first round, forcing the top two candidates – sitting President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of the Unity Party (UP) and Winston Tubman of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) – to a second round on November 8th. Perhaps most surprisingly former warlord Prince Johnson of the National Union for Democratic Progress (NUDP) received 12 % of the votes, placing him third. Initial analyses indicate that Prince Johnson was able to mobilize much support in Nimba County – where many see him as a hero for ousting the oppressive regime of former President Samuel Doe in 1990 – and amongst the country’s ex-combatants.
Sirleaf and Tubman have already begun negotiations to get the defeated candidates to support their bids for power. Prince Johnson has, for example, stated that he will rally his supporters behind President Sirleaf. If he is successful, Sirleaf is in a good position to win the presidency considering that she received 44 % in the first round. Sirleaf’s efforts to bind ex-warlords, such as Prince Johnson, to UP does not represent a new trend. In fact, since 2005 pacts and alliances with ex-generals and commanders have constituted a central pillar of her leadership strategy, as well-known figures such as Adolphus Dolo (General Peanut Butter), Roland Duo, Alhaji Kromah, to mention a few, have been tied to the regime.
It can be discussed whether Sirleaf’s political and economic cooperation with ex-generals is conducive for peace and stability in the long-run. A generous interpretation of her co-option strategy is that it is a necessary evil to prevent future wars. A more sinister explanation is, however, that it is handy to have these entrepreneurs of violence on her side if the second round of the elections becomes contested.