OP-ED: The Contest of Ego, Relevance, and Charles Brumskine

The 2017 presidential election in Liberia has been intense. Not only does this election represent the first peaceful transition of power in a lifetime, the race was so tight that a winner could not be determined without a runoff election.

That runoff, which was to be held on November 7th, never happened thanks to a challenge by losing candidate Charles Brumskine and a resulting decision by the Supreme Court to postpone the runoff indefinitely so that the National Elections Commission can investigate.

We wrote about Brumskine’s quest to remain relevant the other day. While democracy provides for electoral challenges, Brumskine’s claims appear to be less about ensuring the legitimacy of the vote and more about ego and relevance.

History has had its fair share of sore losers and agitators, and it’s not pretty.

In the United States, voters heard phrases like “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore” and “If you’re against a certain candidate, give him the shaft” from then-losing-candidate Richard Nixon.

One of Nixon’s adversaries, Dick Tuck, had his own case of sour grapes. After losing a California Senate election, he famously said, “The people have spoken, the bastards.”

Fairly harmless utterances by disappointed candidates can be expected and even understood. Bad behavior, on the other hand, cannot. Some sore losers have taken matters into their own hands:

  • Gary Smith, a losing 2012 New Mexico congressional candidate, was caught on video, and subsequently arrested for, allegedly slashing his opponent’s tires.
  • In 2013, a candidate in the Philippines lost an election and reportedly burned down a daycare center in his community.

Others, such as Al Gore, who lost the 2000 US presidential election to George W. Bush, took the matter to court, challenging the election results in Florida and demanding a recount. It took 47 lawsuits and 36 days before the matter was settled when the US Supreme Court stopped the recount and Gore conceded.

Gore, at least, had a fighting chance to win the election (he won the popular vote), and the punchcard ballots used in Florida caused many votes to be disqualified due to “hanging” and “pregnant” chads.

Brumskine came in a distant third, getting a mere 9.6 percent of the vote. The runoff election was to have been between George Weah and Joseph Boakai, with 38.4 and 28.8 percent of the vote, respectively. Evidence of the “gross irregularities” in the vote cited by Brumskine have yet to be revealed. European Union and Carter Center observers have said that they saw no major problems with the vote.

Had the runoff paired Brumskine with one of the other candidates, we can hardly imagine him contesting those election results or claiming the system was broken. His indignation stems from a bruised ego and a desire to remain relevant in a youthful country that’s not buying what he’s selling.

We have a case of ‘he said, she said,’ led by an irrelevant candidate who likes the spotlight. Brumskine has said that it’s not about him or winning or losing, but rather about “putting a system into place.”  And, while he hasn’t resorted to slashing Weah’s tires or burning down buildings, Brumskine’s agitation could prove to be dangerous.

Encyclopedia Britannica looks to Marxism to define political agitation. Vladimir Lenin’s What Is to Be Done? pamphlet published in 1902 describes the two mediums, print and speech (or propaganda and agitation), used to explain the causes of social inequities such as hunger, poverty, or unemployment in order to mold public opinion. With agitation, emotional slogans and half-truths are commonly used to exploit the peoples’ grievances and stir up indignation or action.

Even if the runoff election were to be held in the next few days, Brumskine and his “coalition of losers,” as some have called the other candidates who have joined his fight, have changed the narrative of this election. Are the people of Liberia buying it? We’ll find out when the next vote happens.

Featured photo by Zeze Ballah

Francis Cordor

Francis Cordor is a US-based software engineer who has worked on projects for the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and IBM. At IBM, Francis worked on various network diagnostic and configuration projects on the Datapower SOA appliance (a network appliance) with companies like France Telecom and Vodafone. Francis is also the founder of FrancordSoft —a software development company.

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