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The Regime on the Defensive

In the months following the Rice Riots, the regime tightened its grip to stifle potential sources of unrest. A new ministry responsible for internal security was set up, operating under extraordinary powers granted by the Sedition Law. Labor legislation was enacted in October 1979, making workers involved in illegal stoppages liable to prosecution and loss of employment. Managers were made responsible for reporting offenses punishable under the law and were prohibited from making unauthorized agreements with employees. Expatriate managers not complying with these regulations were to be expelled from the country.

The Tolbert administration was particularly sensitive about the mayoral election in Monrovia, where the True Whig candidate was being challenged for the first time in 20 years. The popularity of Sawyer, who was running as an independent, disconcerted the government , which first tried to invoke the largely neglected property qualifications for voters and then rescheduled the election for June 1980, purportedly to let tempers cool. Overcoming resistance by hard?liners, Tolbert subsequently succeeded in persuading the legislature to approve a constitutional amendment abolishing the property clause.

In January the PAL formally registered as a political party under the label of the People's Progressive Party (PPP). According to the Constitution, there was no prohibition against forming political parties, but the PPP was the first to apply for recognition since the Independent True Whig Party had been banned in 1955. A Supreme Court ruling had to be obtained, however, disallowing government efforts to block the party's registration.

In March the PPP launched a dramatic but ill?considered offensive against the administration, calling for a general strike to reinforce its demands for the resignation of the president and vice president. The MOJA distanced itself from the proposal, which Tipoteh characterized as "at best infantile and rather ridiculous," but some army personnel were reportedly sympathetic. The PPP leaders, including Matthews and Chea Cheapoo, the onetime protege of Minister of Justice Joseph Chesson, were arrested under the Sedition Law, and a trial date was set for April 14, the first anniversary of the Rice Riots.

Tolbert also came under unremitting pressure from his own party. Younger, reform?minded True Whigs issued a report after the Rice Riots that was scathing in its criticism of the administration's methods. Members of the president's family and administration urged him to repeal the Sedition Law. Meanwhile, rumors abounded that the old guard intended to overthrow the administration and seize power while Tolbert was on a state visit to Zimbabwe planned for April.

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