Former soccer star George Weah has won Liberia’s presidential run-off election and will succeed incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf next month, the country’s first democratic transition in over 70 years.
With 98.1 percent of the vote counted, Weah led with 61.5 percent to Vice President Joseph Boakai’s 38.5 percent, National Elections Commission Chairman Jerome Korkoyah told reporters in the capital Monrovia on Thursday.
At his party headquarters outside Monrovia, tears streamed down Weah’s face as he greeted supporters from a balcony. Below, hundreds of young people sang and danced to a live performance of Hipco, Liberian hip hop music popular with the country’s impoverished youth.
“Success for George Weah is victory for the whole country,” a 47-year-old engineer named Randall Zarkpah said as he walked home with his young son through streets ringing with honking car horns and loud cheers as dusk fell.
“When you feel sick for some time and you receive proper medication - that is how I feel now. He will be good for our country. He is King George!”
Weah grew up in Clara Town slum in Monrovia and went on to become the only African to win FIFA World Player of the Year, starring for AC Milan, Paris St Germain and Chelsea.
His popularity at home fueled a previous run for president, in 2005. He won the first round then but lost the second round to Johnson Sirleaf, whom he will now succeed.
His rags-to-riches story helped him tap into dissatisfaction with Johnson Sirleaf’s 12-year tenure. She drew a line under years of civil war but drew criticism for failing to root out corruption or persistent poverty.
“My fellow Liberians, I deeply feel the emotion of all the nation,” Weah wrote on Twitter after the results were announced. “I measure the importance and the responsibility of the immense task which I embrace today. Change is on.”
Weah’s critics, however, say he has offered few concrete policy proposals. His choice of running mate has also raised eyebrows: Jewel Howard-Taylor, the ex-wife of Charles Taylor, a former president of Liberia who is serving 50 years in a British prison for war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone.
“I think Weah is not fit for the work. He will see it,” said Anthony Mason, 34, who had huddled around radios at the headquarters of Boakai’s Unity Party for the results.
Weah looked set to sweep 14 of Liberia’s 15 counties in the run-off. Turnout in Tuesday’s vote stood at 56 percent, the election commission said. Earlier on Thursday, Boakai said he doubted that the vote was “free, fair and transparent”, without elaborating. He did not say whether he might challenge the eventual result.
The second round was delayed by more than a month after the third-place finisher in October’s first round, backed by Boakai, alleged fraud. The Supreme Court ultimately rejected the challenge. The U.S.-based Carter Center and National Democratic Institute said on Thursday there were notable improvements in the handling of the run-off, echoing positive assessments from other international observers.
Founded by freed U.S. slaves in 1847, Liberia is Africa’s oldest modern republic. But the last democratic transfer of power occurred in 1944, a military coup took place in 1980 and a 14-year civil war ended only in 2003.
Liberians go to the polls Today to select either former international footballer George Weah or Vice President Joseph Boakai as their new president, in a vote that analysts say is too close to call.
After seven weeks of delays caused by legal challenges against the country’s electoral commission lodged by Boakai’s party, polling stations will open at 8:00 am (0800 GMT) for the West African nation’s 2.1 million voters.
They will choose a successor to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is stepping down after serving 12 years as Africa’s first elected female leader, representing Liberia’s only democratic transfer of power since 1944.
Trucks filled with voting materials were escorted by police around the capital Monrovia on Monday, after leaving the offices of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), which has rushed to clean the national voter register to avoid allegations of fraud.
“For three days now I have not closed my eyes. We are making sure that nothing goes wrong because this election is a crucial one,” a stressed-looking policeman told AFP.
Both contenders have already announced they are confident of victory but the final result is not expected to be known for a few days.
In the first round of voting on October 10, Weah topped the poll with 38.4 % while Boakai came second with 28.8% triggering a run-off as neither made it past the 50% needed to win outright.
Boakai then accused the NEC of fraud and incompetence grave enough to have affected the vote, delaying proceedings while the complaints were analysed by the Supreme Court. His party’s arguments were ultimately rejected. Whoever wins the delayed vote faces an economy battered by lower commodity prices for its main exports of rubber and iron ore, and a rapidly depreciating currency.
Both candidates have been accused of offering vague platforms, beyond assurances on free education and investment in infrastructure and agriculture.
As Liberia’s most famous son, Weah attracts huge crowds and has a faithful youth following in a country where a fifth of the electorate is aged 18 to 22, but he is criticised for his long absences from the Senate, where he has served since 2014.
Weah’s endorsement by warlord-turned-preacher Prince Johnson, who is extremely popular in the populous county of Nimba, may boost his chances, while he was pictured at a public event with Sirleaf on Thursday, heightening speculation a feud with Boakai has pushed her to support his opponent.
“You know I’ve been in competitions — tough ones too and I came out victorious. So I know Boakai cannot defeat me,” Weah told AFP on Saturday. “I have the people on my side.”
Weah has also polled well in Bong county, the fiefdom of Liberian warlord and former president Charles Taylor and his ex-wife, Jewel Howard-Taylor, who is the former footballer’s vice-presidential pick.
Charles Taylor is serving a 50-year sentence in Britain for war crimes committed in neighbouring Sierra Leone, but his presence has loomed over the election.
Liberia's Supreme Court will rule on Monday on a petition asking to delay the runoff presidential election after a complaint said the National Election Commission failed to investigate claims of irregularities in the first round of the vote to replace Africa's first elected female president.
All activity to prepare for Tuesday's runoff has been halted until the court's decision. A delay of the vote is almost certain, as the electoral commission has said it would be hard to meet deadlines now.
The court heard arguments on Friday. Charles Brumskine, the Liberty Party candidate who placed third, has asked the court to grant an October 27 petition to halt the runoff vote until the claims of irregularities are investigated. He argued before the packed court that the October 10 first round was marked by fraud.
His party petitioned the court to compel the election commission to investigate the complaints.
A lawyer for the commission, Alexander Zoe, asked the court to dismiss the petition and allow the runoff vote to proceed. Brumskine told The Associated Press he looks forward to a rerun of the October vote, in which 20 candidates vied to replace Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
"The process was completely corrupted," he said. "We now realise elections were lost long before election day."
International soccer star George Weah placed first in the October vote, followed by Vice President Joseph Boakai. They were to face off on Tuesday after neither won the required 50% plus one vote to win outright.
- Associated Press
The National Elections Commission of Liberia (NEC) says the ballot papers for Tuesday’s presidential re-run election have arrived in the country.
NEC said in a statement on its website that the materials were imported from Slovenia and that they landed at the Roberts International Airport in Monrovia on Saturday. It said the ballot papers “were later conveyed to a safe location under heavy security escort by officers of the Liberia National Police’’.
The run-off election holds on November 7 and is between ex-football star, George Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and incumbent Vice President Joseph Boakai of the ruling Unity Party (UP).
Messrs. Weah and Boakai secured the highest number of votes among 20 candidates in the first round of the elections on Oct. 10. While Mr. Weah secured 596,037 votes or 38.4 per cent, Mr. Boakai polled 446,716 votes, representing 28.8 per cent of the total 1,641,922 votes cast.
A winner needs 50 per cent plus one vote to succeed outgoing President and Noble Prize winner, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is stepping down after serving out her tenure.
“The second round of election on November 7 will fulfill the legal requirement of 50 plus one per cent, if a particular candidate is to be declared winner. Both CDC and UP fell short of that requirement. “Of the total votes cast, CDC recorded 38.4 per cent, while UP got 28.8 per cent. The rest of the 20 candidates fell short of 10 per cent of the total votes,’’ NEC said.
Former soccer star George Weah won the first round of Liberia’s presidential election with 38.4 percent of the vote, 10 points ahead of Vice President Joseph Boakai who will face him in a run-off next month, the electoral commission said on Thursday.
Liberians are slowly waking up to the prospect of the only African ever to win FIFA World Player of the Year and the Ballon d‘Or replace Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as their leader.
Weah, 51, has served as a senator from the opposition Congress for Democratic Change since 2015, after returning home from an international soccer career to immerse himself in politics. As a political novice in 2005 he lost to Johnson Sirleaf in a presidential election.
The official final results showed Boakai, representing Johnson Sirleaf’s ruling Unity Party, had won 28.8 percent of the vote, putting the two frontrunners comfortably ahead of a large field of mostly minor candidates.
Lawyer Charles Brumskine, who says the vote was rigged despite observers calling it fair, came third with 9.6 percent.
“King George”, as Weah’s supporters call him, is wildly popular among the youth and the disenfranchised, especially in the shanties of the rundown seaside capital Monrovia. Many of them feel they have not benefited from Liberia’s post-war recovery, a sentiment that has counted against Boakai.
But Weah has so far been light on policy and will face a tough time meeting high expectations in a difficult economic climate of low prices for the commodities that are Liberia’s main exports.
Johnson Sirleaf, a former finance minister who worked for Citibank and the World Bank during years in exile after fleeing Liberia during a coup, was awarded the 2011 Nobel for shoring up peace after a 15-year civil war that ended in 2003. Many Liberians credit her with creating the conditions that allow this election to bring Liberia’s first democratic transfer of power for seven decades. But she has not managed to effectively tackle corruption or lift millions out of poverty.
An Ebola outbreak ravaged the economy and a drop in the price of iron ore only made things worse. Poor roads still leave most of rural Liberia stranded during the rainy season, and few Liberians have grid power outside the main cities.
Former soccer star George Weah maintained his lead over Liberian Vice President Joseph Boakai as more provisional results from the West African country’s presidential election were announced on Friday.
If current trends hold, the rivals would contest a runoff next month to decide who will succeed Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in what would be Liberia’s first democratic transfer of power in decades. Based on returns from about a third of the country’s more than 5,000 polling stations, Weah has received 39.6 percent of votes cast, with Boakai of the ruling Unity Party (UP) at 31.1 percent, the elections commission said.
“We are still confident that there are places that we believe are our strong support ... We are very optimistic that with reports coming in, UP is going to take the lead,” Boakai told Reuters after Friday’s results announcement.
Charles Brumskine, a lawyer, was running third with 9.3 percent of the vote. The final certified results from Tuesday’s poll must be announced by Oct. 25, although the provisional first-round winner is expected to be known in the coming days.
Weah, a star striker for Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan who won FIFA’s World Player of the Year in 1995, came in second behind Johnson Sirleaf in a 2005 election that drew a line under years of civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.
He has served in the senate since 2014 for the Congress for Democratic Change opposition party. Boakai, the former head of Liberia’s petroleum refinery company and agriculture minister, has served as Liberia’s vice president since 2006. Brumskine and the parties of two other candidates have said the vote was marred by fraud and vowed to contest the results, though international election observers have said they saw no major problems.
“The Liberian people deserve to know what was done,” Brumskine said. “They deserve a valid, transparent election. So many Liberians were deprived of their constitutional right to vote. We will, therefore, be requesting a re-run of the election.”
Liberia, Africa’s oldest modern republic, was founded by freed U.S. slaves in 1847, but its last democratic transfer of power occurred in 1944. Johnson Sirleaf’s nearly 12 years in office have seen the country’s post-war peace consolidated, although Liberians complain about poor public services and widespread corruption.