According to initial results of the runoff election in Liberia, former soccer star George Weah will be the new president. Official figures are still pending.
Waiting for election results in front of Weah election poster: Monrovia, December 27 Photo: reuters
Twelve years after his first unsuccessful attempt, former world footballer George Weah is by all accounts set to become Liberia’s next president. Local media proclaimed the 51-year-old the clear winner Wednesday after he came out ahead in 13 of the country’s 15 provinces in the Dec. 26 runoff vote count. The electoral commission planned to release initial results later in the day; radio stations, meanwhile, confirmed Weah’s victory, citing the unpublished figures.
"Hope is immense," the presumptive election winner wrote on Twitter, thanking the Liberian people for their trust. Weah had presented himself in the election campaign as a candidate of change who would lead one of the poorest countries in the world into a new era – after twelve years of government by the now 79-year-old President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, against whom Weah had lost in his first presidential bid in 2005.
Weah’s opponent in that runoff was Johnson Sirleaf’s previous vice president, Joseph Boakai – making it a clear choice between continuity and political change.
Johnson Sirleaf may have stabilized Liberia and begun reconstruction after the civil wars between 19, but still the majority of the population lives in squalor, and many people accuse a new elite of enrichment at the expense of the majority of the population.
Runoff delayed for months
Weah had won the first round of voting on Oct. .4 percent of the vote. The fact that the runoff against runner-up Boakai, who came in at 28.8 percent, did not take place until almost a quarter of a year later is due to the fact that on November 1, the Supreme Court accepted a complaint by the opposition to annul the first round of voting and instructed the Election Commission to wait with the second round of voting until it had been decided.
The case was eventually dismissed, but the delay could not be reversed.
"Hope is immense," the presumptive election winner wrote on Twitter
George Weah had used the involuntary break to expand his electoral alliance. Most recently, for example, the party of third-place finisher Charles Brumskine, a veteran of Monrovia’s political scene, also sided with Weah. Weah already has the considerable constituency in rural areas of former strongman Charles Taylor behind him, having fielded his ex-wife Jewel Howard-Taylor as a running mate.
Former rebel leader Charles Taylor himself, who ruled Liberia from 1996 to 2003 when he was toppled by international military intervention, has been behind bars in Nigeria since his arrest in 2006 and was sentenced to 50 years in prison in 2012 by the international Sierra Leone Tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity; he is serving his sentence in the United Kingdom.
Fears that with a President Weah, the Taylor faction would also return to power have dogged the former soccer star throughout his election campaigns. But the younger generation, which has grown up since the war, is obviously less frightened by this than their parents.
Weah himself has explicitly refused to join calls for Taylor’s early release. He presents himself as a reconciler who will bury Liberia’s old divisions. "Time for change" and "We are one people" had been Weah’s slogans at his final rally last Saturday.