Monday 16 September 2019

Liberia votes to replace Africa's first female leader

Voters queue to cast their ballots in Monrovia (AP)
Voters queue to cast their ballots in Monrovia (AP)
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has led Liberia's transition from a 14-year civil war that ended in 2003 (AP)

Liberians are going to the polls in an election that for the first time in more than 70 years will see one democratically elected government hand power to another.

As Africa's first female president prepares to step aside, many called for peaceful and fair elections. There are fears that if the results are not accepted the tensions and violence of Liberia's past could return.

Liberia's health system was devastated by the Ebola outbreak that killed nearly 5,000 Liberians in 2014-15 and posed the biggest challenge for Nobel Prize-winning President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

She has led Libera's transition from a 14-year civil war that ended in 2003 after killing more than 250,000 people.

Many residents are calling for a president who delivers on promises to improve the economy, increase employment and improve access to electricity.

More than 2.1 million voters have registered to vote at nearly 5,400 polling stations throughout Liberia.

Twenty presidential candidates are vying for a majority in the first round of elections, while nearly 1,000 candidates from 26 political parties fight for 73 seats in the House of Representatives.

Given the high number of presidential candidates, it is unlikely anyone will win more than 50% of the vote, taking the elections to a second round, likely to be in November.

The frontrunner, 72-year-old vice president Joseph Boakai, of the Unity Party, says he has not yet been able to fully utilise his capabilities.

"You don't take a race car and park it in the garage. Put it on the road," he said during the campaign period.

His main contender is 51-year-old former international football star George Weah. His running mate is Jewel Howard-Taylor, the ex-wife of former president Charles Taylor, who is jailed for war crimes.

Mr Weah ran against Ms Sirleaf in 2005, winning in the first round but losing to her in the second.

"The day I become president of this country, people will see what I can do," Fifa's 1995 Player of the Year told the Associated Press.

Another top candidate, ex-warlord Prince Johnson, who videotaped himself as his fighters tortured and killed president Samuel Doe in 1990, has expressed doubt about Mr Weah's ability to govern.

The only woman vying for the presidency is international model MacDella Cooper, 41, who has promised she would take only a dollar a year as salary if she was elected

Charles Brumskine, former leader of the senate during the regime of Charles Taylor, promises change, and says he would cut his and his vice president's salary by 30%.

Taking the reins from Ms Sirleaf, who has brought Liberia international attention, will not be easy, but the transfer of power stands as an example in Africa where other leaders cling to power.

"It is an historic day for our nation, and for the consolidation of Liberia's young democracy," she said on Monday.

"Let us take a moment to reflect on how far we have come, as a nation, and as a people, from a society destroyed by conflict and war, to one of the most vibrant democracies in the West Africa region."

International observer missions are in the country to watch the polls. Final results for the first round are expected to be announced by October 25.

The poll will have only Liberian security forces led by the police in charge because two years ago the United Nations peacekeeping mission that had served in the country since 2003 handed security responsibilities over to the government.

The post-war police force with just over 5,000 will be in charge while the new army of about 2,000 troops says is it standing by in case of trouble.


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