Liberia’s 2024 Legislative By-elections in Nimba and Grand Gedeh Counties: Assessing the Races and the Racers

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The Bigger Picture
On February 9, 2024, the National Elections Commission (NEC) of Liberia announced vacancies for a Senate seat in Nimba County and a House of Representatives seat in Grand Gedeh County. These vacancies arose due to the outcomes of the 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections and the unfortunate incident that happened on December 4, 2023. Senator Jeremiah Kpan Koung of Nimba County was elected Vice President of Liberia, while Representative Erol Madison Gwion passed away less than three months after winning the election in Tchien Electoral District Number One, Grand Gedeh County.

In accordance with Article 37 of the 1986 Liberian Constitution, the Legislature promptly notified the NEC of these vacancies within the stipulated 30-day period, on February 9, 2024.

Recently, the NEC reaffirmed its readiness to manage the upcoming by-elections through a press release, adhering to its electoral operational and management mandate. The political campaigns for the 2024 Senatorial By-Election in Nimba County and District #1 Representative By-Election in Grand Gedeh County commenced on April 4, 2024. According to reports from EISA observers, the campaigns have been progressing peacefully thus far and are scheduled to conclude on April 20, 2024. EISA emphasizes the importance for parties and candidates to adhere to the Campaign Guidelines set forth by the NEC.

The Races                                                                                                                                                                                       With 307, 254 registered voters, Nimba County remains what Liberians refer to as a ‘vote-rich’ county. The County is Liberia’s second most populous county behind Montserrado County. Winning an election in vote-rich Nimba appears to be a Herculean task for any politician. In addition to its huge population, Nimba is large in area, measuring 11,551 km2 (4,460 sq. ml.). Nimba is Liberia’s largest county in landmass. This makes every town in Nimba count when it comes to voting, indicating that candidates travel long distances between the towns to convey their platforms and messages to the voters.

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In contrast, the by-election in Grand Gedeh is a representative election and the number of registered voters in the district is 20,407, which is 31.9% of the 63,942 registered voters in the county. Grand Gedeh District #1 is also concentrated in Zwedru, the capital city of Grand Gedeh County. The 11 polling precincts and 46 Polling Stations in the district are in Zwedru City. This presents no or limited difficulty for candidates to tour the district for campaign purposes.

The Racers                                                                                                                                                                                                Four candidates are contesting the Senatorial by-election in Nimba County. These candidates include Samuel G. Kogar of the People Unification Party (PUP), Nya D. Twayen, Jr. of the Unity Party (UP), Thomas S. Grupee of the Reformers National Congress (RNC), and Armstrong Gobac Selekpoh of the Liberia National Union (LINU) party. Kogar, a current Representative of District #5 in Nimba, is seeking a transition from the House of Representatives to the Senate. Should he succeed, there would be a by-election in Nimba District #5. Nya D. Twayen, Jr. is a former Assistant Minister for Youth Services at the Ministry of Youth and Sports (2007-2010). His election would bring to a total of two the number of UP senators in the Senate. Thomas Grupee, meanwhile, is seeking a return to the Senate, having lost the seat to now Vice President Jeremiah Koung in the 2020 senatorial election. Armstrong Gobac Selekpoh joins the fray with experience in monitoring and evaluation and with a connection with the youth segment of the county. Should he win, his victory could motivate many young Liberians who continue to show their readiness to lead the country by their participation in the country’s elections.

In Grand Gedeh, 15 people (3 females; and 12 males) are contesting for District #1 Representative seat. Notably, this race includes a mother-step-son contest, as the son and wife of the fallen Representative Erol Madison Gwion are vying for the seat left behind by husband and father. Additionally, the race in Grand Gedeh also involves different elements which include individuals who served various positions in the county’s youth leadership, rural women leadership, strong inner-clan connections and local market association. The backgrounds and connections of these representatives from key stakeholder groups predict a tight race.

According to reports from EISA observers, the campaigns have been progressing peacefully thus far and are scheduled to conclude on April 20, 2024.

Recently, EISA observed the public debates in Nimba but was disheartened to note that some politicians excused themselves from participating. This trend was prevalent during the 2023 elections as well.

The Bottomline
The EISA mission hails the participation of three women in the Grand Gedeh District #1 by-election, which offers the possibility of the county’s three districts being represented by two women. EISA is aware that there are no “small” elections, and that political campaigns sometimes transcend clashes of ideas to heated exchanges. In this case, the mission takes notes of all the variables that make these by-elections unique and urges all the key players to apply the positives from the peaceful 2023 presidential and legislative elections.

About USAID Support to EISA-IEOM to Liberia: The USAID-funded EISA International Election Observation Mission (EISA-IEOM) Activity seeks to enhance the integrity of the 2023 Liberia Presidential and Legislative elections through the deployment of an independent international election observer mission (EOM) to monitor, assess and report on all phases of the electoral process by international and regional benchmarks. The IEOM is implemented in close coordination with the financial support of USAID/Liberia and will complement the efforts of other electoral stakeholders.