Liberia’s Vice-President has quietly occupied the executive backseat for 12 years, but in light of electoral fraud he believes snatched away his chance at the presidency, Joseph Boakai is unleashing himself.
Known as Sleepy Joe for his propensity to fall asleep at public events, the second-in-command to Africa’s first elected female leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is suddenly wide awake and unafraid to speak out.
“There are a lot of irregularities, we believe, most of them really calculated to make this election go the way it went,” charges Boakai, sporting a trilby hat in an interview at his home in a suburb of the capital, Monrovia, on Monday.
The election, he says, was “designed to be rigged”.
Boakai took 28.8 percent of votes in an October 10 presidential election, behind former international footballer George Weah’s 38.4 percent, meaning the two men would enter a runoff round.
But Liberty Party presidential candidate Charles Brumskine, who came in third last month, has alleged ballot stuffing and false voter registration cards marred the election, allegations backed up by Boakai.
The Supreme Court found that the fraud case was enough to suspend indefinitely the runoff as the electoral commission deals with Brumskine’s complaint.
– ‘Interference’ –
Taking his grievance a step further, Boakai says he has no faith that the commission can guarantee a free and fair election, and called for the board of commissioners to be “sanitised” before the runoff.
“I had doubts the NEC was competent enough to administer an election that would be free, fair and transparent” while in government, he asserts, saying his role stopped him from speaking out.
“As you can see, the only people who are not complaining are (Weah’s) CDC,” he added, though the CDC contested election results in 2005 and 2011 once they didn’t come out on top.
Campaigning on a platform of stability and his more than three decades in government, Boakai is seen as a beacon of stability, but many voters are looking for change, especially the young and poor who worship Weah’s footballing success.
Boakai is also believed to have fallen out with his boss over her absence from the campaign trail, while supporters whisper that she prefers Weah, and the vice-president says he is in contact with Sirleaf “as and when she finds it necessary.”
Boakai’s Unity Party signed a letter accusing the president of “interference” by meeting polling officials at her home before the election, and he maintains “there is a reason to raise qualms” if the meeting was indeed at her residence.
Sirleaf’s press secretary has denied the meeting was anything other than a normal part of her duties in ensuring a peaceful election.
– Tough upbringing –
The fifth of sixth children, Boakai passed through a succession of family members’ homes while growing up, leaving behind his disabled mother and soon learning to take care of himself.
Against the odds he secured a good education by working as a cleaner to pay his fees, before chancing upon Sirleaf’s sons in the same dormitory at university.
He would later turn down a job she offered him in the 1980s, before accepting to join her ticket in the 2005 elections, which followed the end of Liberia’s civil war.
Given that Boakai is now 72, Sirleaf casts a long shadow on his life. “I am not concerned about whether or not the president supports me,” is all he will say now.