Liberians hopeful of first democratic handover since 1944

Monrovia (AFP) –


Liberians were awaiting Wednesday the result of a presidential election they say represents far more than the choice of a successor to Africa's first elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Sirleaf's predecessor Charles Taylor fled the country in 2003 with hopes of avoiding prosecution for funding rebel groups in neighbouring Sierra Leone, while two presidents who served prior to Taylor were assassinated.

The tumult of the last seven decades in Liberia, a small west African nation where an estimated 250,000 people died during back-to-back civil wars between 1989-2003, means a democratic handover has not taken place since 1944.

"No matter the results, we will accept it without causing problems. We don't need trouble here anymore," said Samuel Nuahn, 46, who voted for establishment candidate Vice President Joseph Boakai in Tuesday's presidential run-off.

Boakai faced former international footballer George Weah in the vote after neither man gained the requisite 50 percent of votes to win in a single round on October 10.

The results are due on Friday, the National Elections Commission (NEC) said, though local media is already saying the sportsman, the only African ever to have won FIFA's World Player of the Year and the Ballon D'Or, is ahead.

As observers hailed a credible election held without a single major incident of violence, despite weeks of delays caused by legal challenges, Liberians said they were looking foward to the baton of peace held for 12 years under Sirleaf being handed over.

"Since years of civil war this is the first time we see the transition of power from one person to another. So today is an exciting moment for me especially as well as an exciting moment for Liberia," voter Oscar Sorbah told AFP after casting his ballot on Tuesday.

The Sirleaf administration, elected in 2005, guided the nation out of the ruins of war and through the horrors of the 2014-16 Ebola crisis, but is accused of failing to combat poverty and corruption.

Weah's CDC party has watched their icon miss out on the presidency in a 2005 bid and was similary frustrated when he ran for vice-president in 2011, but has repeatedly urged its young and exuberant supporters to keep cool.

"No matter what the provocation will be, CDC will not respond with violence," Jefferson Kotchie, head of the youth wing of the CDC, told supporters assembled at the headquarters of the party.

The ballot was delayed for seven weeks due to legal challenges lodged by Boakai's Unity Party against the electoral commission over the conduct of the first round, but many of the complaints appeared to have been addressed in the second round.