Liberians head to polls as President Weah seeks second term
Liberians voted on Tuesday in a general election in which President George Weah is seeking a second term after six years marked by corruption allegations and abiding economic hardship in Africa's oldest independent republic.
Around 2.4 million people are eligible to vote in the West African nation still struggling to emerge from two civil wars that killed over 250,000 people between 1989 and 2003 and from a 2013-16 Ebola epidemic that killed thousands.
“I am here to elect a good leader who will lead our country. A leader that will make school fees affordable for children to attend,” said voter Nanny Davies, a mother of six who sells fish at a market, queuing alongside hundreds of others at the Baptist Field polling centre in the south-east of the capital Monrovia.
Polls opened at 08:00 (0800 GMT) and closed at 18:00. A team of observers from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) said that a high number of voters came out very early waiting for the polls to open.
No major incidents were reported and the voting was calm and orderly at various voting centres visited, Ecowas said in a press release.
The National Elections Commission (NEC) also said that voting went well across the country, but that it might have to be extended in some parts of Sinoe and Rivercess counties that did not get their ballots on time.
Some ballots were transported by canoes that capsized, said NEC chair Davidetta Browne-Lansanah.
The electoral commission will begin releasing provisional results on Wednesday. To avoid a runoff, the winner must secure over 50% of votes cast.
Analysts believe the vote will most likely head to a runoff where Weah, a 57-year-old former soccer star who was first elected in 2017 in Liberia's first democratic change of government in 70 years, is likely to hold on to power.
He says he needs more time to fulfil his promise to rebuild the nation's broken economy, institutions and infrastructure, pledging to pave more roads if re-elected.
“I have asked the Liberian people for a second-term mandate and that's why we have come here,” Weah said after casting his ballot at the Kendeja Elementary School polling station in southern Monrovia.
“I have cast my vote and I am happy to exercise my constitutional right,” he said, wearing a crisp white djellaba robe and matching white baseball cap.
Weah has faced criticism from the opposition and some donor countries for not doing enough to tackle corruption during his first term in office. Last year, he fired his chief of staff and two other senior officials after the US sanctioned them for corruption.
Weah's main challenger among 19 candidates is former vice-president Joseph Boakai, 78, of the Unity Party, who he beat in a runoff in 2017. Boakai has campaigned on the need to rescue Liberia from what he calls mismanagement by Weah's administration.
Voters will also select members of the 73-seat lower house, and half of the 30-member Senate.
Although campaigning for the vote has been mostly peaceful, sporadic clashes have broken out between supporters of rival parties, prompting the United Nation's rights office to express concern about election-related violence after two people were killed in September.
“I want peace. All our past leaders have come and failed us,” said voter Cynthia Kollie. “We have suffered too much.”
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