Taylor's hopes of returning home may be dashed

Hopes that former Liberian president Charles Taylor’s party would perform well on his behalf have been dashed by early results from last week’s vote, which could undermine his vow to return to Liberia instead of facing war-crimes charges.

Despite his implication in heinous acts of torture and systematic looting of his own nation to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, according to United Nations and United States documents, Taylor remains a mythic figure in his war-ravaged country two years since he fled into exile to end the second civil war in Liberia since 1989.

“Lots of people believe that if Charles Taylor was here he would have won election, and so no one in his party is nearly as capable,” a senior west African official said. “He didn’t build a system; he built a cult that makes him irreplaceable.”

It is that cult of personality that the US-educated lay preacher is banking on to keep him in his exile in Nigeria, far from prosecutors at the UN-backed war-crimes court for Sierra Leone where he faces 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for arming the rebel Revolutionary United Front.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has said he will only hand Taylor to an elected Liberian government.

Under the Constitution, a president cannot take that decision without the consent of the legislative branch—which means that whoever wins will have to face lawmakers and convince them to extradite the man most Liberians know as “Papay”.

But with two-thirds of the votes tallied, only six candidates from his former National Patriotic Party (NPP)—four in the Senate, two in the House—stand a chance of joining the post-war elected legislature.

It’s a fairly poor showing from the 70 candidates presented to the bicameral legislature by the former ruling party, which during Taylor’s era held 96% of the seats.

And it shattered predictions by senior members of the party before the elections—including standard-bearer Roland Massaquoi, who has so far managed to attract just 3,7% of the presidential votes tallied.

“We are the party of the people, the party of the rural area, the party that understands what Liberia needs,” Massaquoi said in a pre-vote interview. “We are not just the party of Charles Taylor; we existed before him and will survive long after him.”

But according to the West African official, the NPP is exactly that: the party of Taylor that without him cannot exist.

Those associated with Taylor who did not run under the banner of the NPP have had far more success in their political aspirations, but it remains unclear what loyalty they still maintain.

Edwin Snowe, once married to Charles Taylor’s daughter, has taken 60,8% of the votes cast for representative in Monrovia, running as an independent.

Adolphus Dolo, better known as General Peanut Butter from his days commanding one of Taylor’s militias, is running second in the Senate race for northern Nimba county—behind Prince Johnson, once Taylor’s closest ally and now arch-nemesis notorious for his torture and assassination of then president Samuel Doe in 1989.

“A lot of Taylor people, fearing the international climate against him, distributed themselves around,” the West African official said.

“They have eased themselves into parties in power, realising that even if NPP wins, it cannot resist political pressure to bring Taylor back [to stand trial].
That is something other parties may be able to do.”—Sapa-AFP

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