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Liberia's Precarious Position

March 22, 1985

Samuel K. Doe's preoccupation with prolonging his personal power as head of state in Liberia is jeopardizing the future of his nation, and ultimately may jeopardize the generous aid that he has received from the United States.

He has kept essential promises, that is true. A new constitution was submitted to the voters and approved last July. Elections will be held in October for the legislature and in November for the presidency. That is close to his promised schedule of returning the nation to civilian rule on April 12, the fifth anniversary of the bloody coup in which he and other enlisted men seized power.

But the election could prove meaningless unless he reverses his recent maneuvers. He closed the Daily Observer again in January, thus suppressing the nation's one independent and responsible news medium. He has suspended the United People's Party for violations of election-code provisions not previously published. And the Election Commission is moving at such a glacial pace that Doe's own party may have no substantial rivals when Election Day comes. If it comes. He has a creative eye for treason and plots, and may, some fear, find an excuse for another national emergency before the polling places open.

The United States has been generous with Liberia, including an aid package of $90 million this year. That aid has been justified on grounds of historic ties, the misery of the place--which is in virtual economic collapse--and the promise of an early return to constitutional civilian rule. But Congress and the Administration will inevitably recognize the futility of that aid if Doe persists in suppressing the Daily Observer and obstructs a free and open election in the autumn.

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