Liberia heads for presidential run-off voteTue, 17 Oct 2023 19:20:52 GMT

Liberia is heading for a rematch of the 2017 presidential runoff between incumbent George Weah and opponent Joseph Boakai, with official provisional results on Tuesday placing them neck and neck.With votes from more than 98 percent of polling stations counted, Weah, a former international footballer who is running for a second term, garnered 43.79 percent.Boakai, aged 78, won 43.49 percent, according to the national electoral commission.None of the 18 other presidential candidates received more than three percent in the first round of voting in the West African nation on October 10.The figures published on the commission’s website indicate that neither Weah nor Boakai, who was vice president from 2006 to 2018, can secure enough votes for an absolute majority to be elected in the first round.A run-off is planned for two weeks after the announcement of official results but could be delayed by possible appeals.First elected six years ago after beating Boakai in a run-off, Weah, 57, is popular among many young people. Others, however, are disappointed with his first term, accusing him of breaking his promises. Living conditions have not improved for many of the nation’s poorest, and corruption has risen.The United States has sanctioned five senior Liberian officials for graft over the past three years.Boakai, a key figure in national politics for almost four decades, has promised to restore the country’s image, develop infrastructure and improve the lives of the most disadvantaged.He has forged alliances with local figures, including former warlord and senator Prince Johnson, who supported Weah in the last election and remains influential in the key county of Nimba. Boakai largely dominated the county this year, as well as Lofa county, where he comes from.- Contest of ‘fierce passion’ -The run-off promises to be a close contest hotly-contested between the long-standing adversaries. According to Abdullah Kiatamba, an independent analyst, whoever comes out on top in the first round will have the advantage of greater momentum.He warned of the risk of violence in the second round.”Their passion is going to be fierce,” he said.Liberians turned out en masse to vote in the first round, with no major incidents.During the campaign period, however, clashes between supporters of the ruling party and opposition supporters led to several deaths, notably in Lofa county, raising fears of post-election violence.International observers, who were present in large numbers, have congratulated the electoral commission on the smooth conduct of the first round. However, the West African bloc ECOWAS warned against any premature declaration of victory, and said it would crack down on any instigators of violence.The vote was 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.