Voting closes in Liberia presidential run-off between football legend and ex-VPTue, 14 Nov 2023 19:24:43 GMT

Polling closed on Tuesday evening in Liberia’s presidential run-off  election, in which voters were choosing whether to hand former football star George Weah a second term in office, despite a mixed record, or elect political veteran Joseph Boakai.The run-off, which followed a first round of voting on October 10, was expected to be close between the two rivals, who also faced off in 2017.At a polling station in a women and children’s centre in the coastal county of Margibi, voting ended shortly after 6:00 pm (1800 GMT). Ballot counting began several minutes later.”The process is over now, but from what I saw the process was overall peaceful — just that we had one or two minor incidents of tension but they were brought under control”, said Felelia Kammoh, 48, an observer there for the Unity Party.The electoral commission has 15 days to publish the results.More than 2.4 million people are registered to vote.Weah and Boakai both cast their ballots earlier on Tuesday, with the incumbent expressing his confidence that he would be re-elected and his opponent suggesting the ruling party has taken “short cuts” to manipulate the vote. Turnout appeared lower than in the first round, with shorter queues outside polling centres around Monrovia.There were no reports of major incidents or violence.The head of the ECOWAS Election Observation Mission to Liberia, Attahiru Jega, praised the “calm and order prevailing in the various voting centres visited” around Monrovia, the regional bloc’s commission said in a statement.”He stressed the need for a climate of peace, tolerance and consensus around the electoral process until its completion,” the statement added.The peaceful election was also commended by former vice president of Zambia Nevers Mumba, who now leads the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy In Africa.He said turnout appeared to be roughly two-thirds of the record 78.86 percent of the first round, when the presidential vote was coupled with parliamentary elections.”This election is going to decide the future of this country,” said Bestman Todawiah, 55, a school administrator voting in Monrovia.”What I expect from this election is that (it) should be free, fair and transparent, and at the end of it, whoever wins becomes the president of this country.”- Thin margin -Last month, Weah, 57, and Boakai, 78, came out virtually neck-and-neck on more than 43 percent of votes cast, with the incumbent 7,126-votes ahead overall.The elections are the first since the UN in 2018 ended its peacekeeping mission, created after more than 250,000 people died in two civil wars between 1989 and 2003.The incumbent Weah — the only African to win football’s most prestigious individual award, the Ballon d’Or — is popular among young people but must defend his record in office, while Boakai is an old hand who has worked in both the public and private sectors. Student Taiyee Success Iledare, 22, waiting to cast her ballot in the Monrovia suburb of Duazon early Tuesday morning, said she would vote for Weah.”When you look around you see a lot of development… When he wins I want him to make sure he deals with the issue of drugs”, she said.Irene Palwor, a 41-year-old petty trader said she had backed Boakai.”I feel that he will make a change… (He) will create job opportunities for the women and for the youth.”- Alliances -Weah, who grew up in the slums of Monrovia, says he has supported education, built roads and hospitals, and brought electricity into homes. He was president when the Covid-19 pandemic hit while Liberia was still recovering economically from back-to-back civil wars and the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic. His detractors say he is disconnected from the realities of skyrocketing prices and shortages.More than a fifth of Liberians live on less than $2.15 a day, according to the World Bank.Boakai blames Weah for the corruption which is endemic in Liberia and has worsened on his watch, according to Transparency International. The former vice president has forged alliances with local barons, including ex-warlord and senator Prince Johnson, who supported Weah six years ago. Clashes during election campaigning left several dead and raised fears of post-election violence.