Monrovia - Liberians are heading to the polls today in their second since Liberia emerged from its fourteen year civil war which virtually destroyed the country’s economy.
Winston Tubman in the leader of the Congress for Democratic Change, one of the two parties favoured in the polls along side incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Unity Party. He’s running alongside former international soccer star George Weah, who ran and lost against Sirleaf in the 2005 elections.
Tubman has been one of the most vocal critics of Sirleaf’s recent Nobel Peace Prize, claiming she is responsible for supporting the war for her support of Charles Taylor, who is currently on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
He has also accused the Sirleaf administration of corruption and warns that if his party is not in power after the ballots are counted, there is no doubt the elections had been fixed. If he believes this is the case he says he will certainly take action, but insists that it will be non-violent. The question is whether or not he will step down or accept any election results other than those in his favour.
I spoke with him in the garden outside his home a day before the elections, the morning after a largely peaceful campaigning period came to a close.
Damon van der Linde: How do you feel now that the campaigning is over?
Winston Tubman: I feel we have the numbers up there. If angels came and conducted the elections we would win by a landslide. But since angels won’t come and more likely devils will come, cheating is a possibility. There is no way anybody else could win the election other than us.
DV: How do you see that?
WT: I see that from the show of support we’ve been getting all around the country. What you saw here in Monrovia is what we’ve seen everywhere we’ve gone. So if all those people are supporting us in the way that they are doing, in the numbers with commitment, with the passion, then who is left to vote against us in such a way that person could win? The evidence is there and it’s not just one place, it’s everywhere.
Of course we can’t say we’ve won already because we haven’t won. If Sirleaf was not involved in the elections and they were free and fair, then I would not worry because then we would have the numbers. Already the evidence is coming out that this is being attempted.
DV: Can you give me examples of this evidence?
There is evidence that ballot boxes have been stuffed – ballots with her name. Right now we’re worried about winning the elections, not investigating fraud. That shouldn’t be arising. It is arising now because we have the numbers, they don’t have the numbers. They’re trying to do manipulation that will distort the reality out there. Do you think they can rule the country against the huge majority out there that are supporting us? They cannot. The country will be ungovernable.
If the international community is going to look at all this and say “that’s what the reports have shown,” we’ll have a sort of [Former President of Côte d’Ivoire Laurent] Gbagbo thing on us.
DV: Have you seen polls that prove this?
WT: Our own polls show this, but we don’t have a system of polling here that is found elsewhere so we can look at it accurately but so far as it is, there was a poll from the Carter Center Recently that favoured us.
DV: What if it turns out that the Unity Party is elected into office? What actions will you take?
WT: We will never resort to violence but we will not accept cheating. We will call on our people to react to it in a manner that is fully lawful and peaceful.
DV: Do you have any specific plans? You’re obviously very prepared for such a thing to happen.
WT: I wasn’t prepared until recently. Even if I wasn’t prepared, my people are not going to accept it, I can tell you. I know how they think, I know how they feel.
The international community are giving her the Nobel Peace Prize right at that juncture. The Liberian people feel let down that this is happening. Somebody’s trying to impose something on us.
DV: Do you think there is any collusion?
WT: I don’t know, but I think it is strange that it is happening. This woman doesn’t deserve the Nobel Peace Prize and that she should be getting it now on the eve of when the Liberian people want to throw her out of office. We are not planning anything against her. She’s brought harm, she’s brought weapons, she’s done the most odious things. And for the first woman president to be doing this and for the Oslo committee to be giving her the Nobel Peace Prize, this is not hidden. Didn’t they do any effort to investigate?
It is like someone saying they would give Hitler the Nobel Peace Prize because he built the Autobahn. The Autobahn is good. It’s still being used and appreciated. But you don’t give Hitler the Nobel Peace Prize because of that. You have to look at the totality of his record. And the totality of her record is not hidden.
DV: Some of the more vocal opponents are unemployed young adults. Do you see this as being a problem?
WT: Of course it’s a serious problem. This government has not focused on that. We will be concerned about bringing stability first. We want to bring that under control and unite the people and make them feel happy in their own country. Make them feel safe and then jobs will be brought in. Our country is resource-rich.
People are coming with investment; jobs will be found. But it won’t happen under this regime.
DV: Can you tell me about any of your specific plans to bring jobs to Liberia?
WT: I don’t have any specific plans because my specific plans now relate to winning the election. Those are my specific plans and we don’t daydream saying “we’ll do this, we’ll do that,” because if we don’t win the election, the chances then that these people continue will be the reality and our people will not have any better situation under the continuation of what we have now.
DV: Why do you think you have so much support from the unemployed young people?
WT: Because they see us and they know we identify with them. They know we were never involved with the war and bringing mercenaries and giving guns and drugs to the kids. They know George Weah never did that, I’m someone who was invited to join them in what they did but I refused. We’re to build this country, not break it down. That’s what they’ve been doing.
DV: If Unity does win the election and these young people are very upset, what is your message to them in terms of how they should react?
WT: My message is that we will stay lawful and peaceful. I will not tell them to break the law, go out there and burn buildings down. Mrs. Sirleaf told the people when the war was going on that they should burn down the Executive Mansion. People who had been vandalizing the country, killing people, coming down the countryside causing havoc – she called on them to go further and burn down the mansion where the president lived. Who were the people she called to do that. She identified with them, and asked them to do more. This is the woman they’ve given the Nobel Peace Prize to?
DV: Do you see any human rights issues that have been lacking in the current administration?
WT: They have not focused on anything other than themselves. Human rights is nothing they pay attention to. They have been responsible for the death of 300,000 plus. You think any real human rights leanings can be found in such people. I don’t see the evidence of it.
DV: What plans do you have for any specific human rights issue?
WT: Our specific plans are to first of all get into power, appoint people who are committed to this problem and that will be able to bring the passion the honesty and the energy to solve them. Our plans don’t go beyond that because as of now, our plans deal with coming to power and winning the election.
DV: So how do the people know why they should vote for your party? Are there any issues that you think need to be addressed?
WT: The people that know why they should vote for us are the people we have seen in the tens of thousands. The few people that are not joining the majority of Liberians, we are still appealing to them. But if they are susceptible to taking bribes and being fools or being scared, we’ll still work with them and try to persuade them that that’s not the future of this country. They are on the wrong side of history if they are there. And I cannot believe that knowing all this stuff the international community does not see where the plight of the Liberian people is and what is going to help them rather than what is going to hurt them.
DV: Why do you think the international community has shown support for Sirleaf.
WT: She has a huge PR effort out there. When we come to power, I would like to find out how much of state funds they have used to do this. They have used a lot of government money to project themselves. Also, if the international community had seen and read about the horrors that went on, but what they seek to ignore is that Mrs. Sirleaf was behind that and now she suddenly comes out and she’s this knight in armour slaying the dragon. What is perplexing to me is that the evidence is not hard to find. Anybody looking at this country and what has happened in the past to decades will see, and they will see who did it.
DV: Do you have any final messages for Liberians on election day?
WT: My final message is that those who are supporting CDC are doing the right thing. We will not let them down. We will do everything to ensure that the votes they have given will not be stolen and will be counted in our favour.
We who are their leaders continue to insist that nothing violent is done. It’s the other side who are the purveyors of violence and they are the ones they are giving the Nobel Peace prize to. It’s an irony.
DV: But regardless of outcome, are you going to work to ensure peace and stability?
WT: Yes, regardless of the outcome. If we don’t go that way we’ll further destroy the country. You see how everything is damaged and ruined here. The best thing we have is the talent and commitment of our young people so we want to channel that away from destruction and violence. We want to channel that towards unification and working together, opening up and working together positively. The young people are open and innocent, wanting to reach out and improve their lives. There is nothing sinister or vicious about them.