Liberia votes as football superstar eyes second presidential termTue, 10 Oct 2023 18:52:39 GMT

Liberians voted Tuesday on whether to give football legend George Weah a second term as president, with peace among voters’ top concerns in a nation still scarred by back-to-back civil wars.More than 2.4 million people were registered to vote in the West African nation, choosing their 73 representatives and 15 senators in addition to the president.Polling stations located at Nancy Doe Market in the capital Monrovia closed at 6:00 pm (1800 GMT), with counting beginning shortly after.Joseph Kollie, the president of one of the stations, praised the strong participation and peaceful vote.Even before polling stations opened in the morning, hundreds of people had gathered in the early morning sunshine waiting to vote in Monrovia.”I vote for the good of my country. I expect peace and development,” said Agostina Momo, 18, who was voting for the first time.”I am confident because I have worked a lot and people have confidence in me”, Weah told AFP after casting his ballot in the Monrovia suburb of Paynesville. “I hope to win in the first round.”The main political parties had pledged that the presidential and legislative elections in the country of about five million will pass off peacefully.But the killing of three people last month in clashes between their supporters has fuelled fears of a return to violence.Scuffles also broke out Sunday as Weah held his final campaign rally, leaving several injured.The election is the first to be held since the United Nations ended its peacekeeping mission in Liberia in 2018.The mission was created after more than 250,000 people died in two civil wars between 1989 and 2003.Weah, 57, entered politics after a career as an international footballer which saw him become the first and only African to win football’s most prestigious individual award, the Ballon d’Or, in 1995. On his election in 2017, he promised to create jobs and invest in education, but critics say he has failed to keep his pledges.As president, Weah has not set up a war crimes tribunal despite international and domestic demand. He is the favourite against 19 rivals for the presidency but could face a second-round runoff in early November unless a candidate secures an unlikely absolute majority in the first round.The European Union, the African Union, the West African bloc ECOWAS and the United States have deployed observers, in a region hit by a string of recent coups.- ‘Cherish peace’ – The electoral commission wasdue to begin publishing results from Wednesday, with final results due within 15 days.Weah grew up in the slums of Monrovia and is popular with young people, in a country where over 60 percent of the population is aged under 25.He was absent from Liberia during the conflict years, playing for a string of top-flight international clubs, including Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan.”We want him six more years. He maintained the peace, built roads, paid school fees. He’s a great leader,” said Theresa Sneh, 48.The ex-star striker has defended his record on the economy, the building of schools and hospitals and wider access to electricity.He has promised new roads, jobs and to continue the fight against corruption.”We must all cherish this peace and continue to preserve it, because without peace, our world will be difficult,” Weah told thousands of people gathered in Monrovia Sunday.”Without peace, development will not take place.”- ‘Young are suffering’ -Joseph Kamara, 24, who transports passengers on his motorised three-wheeler, feels Weah has done nothing for him, however.”Young people are suffering. They are taking drugs,” he said.He said he voted for Weah six years ago but will vote for his main rival, Joseph Boakai, this time.Former vice president Boakai, who lost to Weah in 2017, has said that any vote cheating or manipulation will lead to “the end of this country”.The 78-year-old has forged alliances including with former warlord and senator Prince Johnson, who has threatened a popular revolt if the ruling party manipulates the elections.Boakai has pledged to restore the country’s image, develop infrastructure and improve life for the poorest.More than a fifth of the population lives on less than $2.15 a day, according to the World Bank, and the price of staple foods has soared.The United States has sanctioned five senior Liberian officials for alleged corruption in three years.The watchdog Transparency International ranked Liberia 142nd of 180 countries in its 2022 corruption perceptions index.