Liberia votes as vice-president, soccer star run for presidency

Liberians are at the polls today for a runoff election between a former international soccer star and the vice-president to replace Africa’s first female head of state.

For the first time in more than 70 years, the West African nation founded by freed American slaves will see one democratically elected government hand power to another.

Nearly 2.2 million voters have the choice between 51-year-old former soccer star and senator George Weah and 73-year-old Joseph Boakai, who has been vice-president for 12 years.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 79, is stepping down after two terms in office that brought the impoverished country out of back-to-back civil wars and grappled with a deadly Ebola outbreak.

The runoff had been contested twice in court amid claims of irregularities, with its original Nov. 7 date delayed.

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Joseph Nyuma Boakai, Liberia’s vice-president and presidential candidate of the Unity Party, greets supporters during a campaign rally in Monrovia on Dec. 24. (Thierry Gouegnon/Reuters)

The first-round Oct. 10 election brought high numbers of voters, and officials hoped Tuesday’s vote would be no different. The National Elections Commission has said voter lists have been cleaned up according to Supreme Court orders. They have been posted at all 5,390 voting places.

Many people showed up at polling stations before the sun rose. In the New Georgia township west of the capital, Monrovia, voters used flashlights to check for their names.

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Candidate Weah speaks outside his home in Monrovia on Dec. 23. (Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images)

“We need a leader who will move the country forward, not backward,” said 32-year-old Samuka Donzo, who sat in line in a classroom chair. “Liberia is too hard now; we need a leader who will make things cheaper so that we don’t have to continue to rely on neighbouring countries for basic commodities.”

A fish seller, Siami Morris, also arrived early.

“This election is important because we want somebody who will properly man this country,” she said. “This is why when the process was being delayed with people going to court and coming back, it was to me like a piece of war.”

On Monday, NEC spokesman Henry Flomo told The Associated Press the commission was “fully prepared” for the election. “We only hope that Liberians will turn out,” he said.

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