Liberia’s Run-off election to determine the successor of Africa’s first female President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf finally kicked off Tuesday morning with indications of low voter’s turnout. George Stewart reports
Voters at polling centers loosely formed queues, while some were not interested in the process. A group of young men opted to vote later in the day. They stood around the polling center identifying their names on displayed voter rolls at the Duahzon Public School Building in Margibi County. Officially, polls closed at 6pm local time, enabling electoral officials to tally votes and conclude the process early in the evening.
A taxicab driver only known as David is committed to fully running traffic without any plan to vote. He said even the voting day added to the fatigue of Christmas makes it uncertain for him to get his day’s report. “The hustle already hard, then their voting business makes things harder”, David said as he drove on. Like some qualified voters, David’s candidate was defeated; thereby weakening him to repose his confidence in any of the two candidates.
Reports from polling centers across the country on local radio stations further pointed to signs of possible low voter’s turnout. Run-off elections in Liberia usually experience dramatic low voter’s turnout, because second time voters feel reluctant to sacrifice for another round of voting, especially in a hash voting process like that of October 10.
Once National Elections Commission (NEC) reveals low voter’s turnout, reasons such as post-Christmas voting date and voter’s refusal to return to the polls for the second could surface. Also, the October 10 polls included nearly 1000 candidates who contested legislative seats.
There are reports that some representative candidates relocated voters in their favor. Now the burden of returning to their polling centers this time lies with the voters themselves. Mr. Arthur Kieh and his family supported an incumbent representative who lost the seat. The kiehs are unable to vote in this runoff since the cost of returning to their polling center is as high as Ten Thousand Liberian Dollars.
Former Football star, George Weah and Sirleaf’s Vice President, Joseph Boakai are the two candidates qualified in today’s election. Weah won the October 10 polls with 38%, defeating 19 candidates, but fell short to uprightly obtain at least 50% plus one vote. His contender, Vice President Joseph Boakai obtained 28% as the second highest candidate in the first round. Liberian elections law qualifies the two highest to contest another round of election in two weeks after the announcement of the first round results, but the results were heavily protested on court.
The third place winner, Cllr. Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party challenged the October 10 polls, describing it as marred with “frauds and irregularities”, but Liberian Supreme Court ruling on December 7 authorized the NEC to conduct the runoff after a cleanup of the voter’s roll. Boakai’s Unity Party joined Brumskine’s Liberty Party in court action against the NEC for the cancelation of the first round results. If their plead to the Supreme Court were anything to go by, Liberia would by now be preparing itself to again hold crowded elections with more, if not all, candidates returning to the ballots against the inauguration of the new president on the
The winner of the Liberian run-off election is poised to break record as the first president in more than 70 years to take over from another democratically elected president. Liberia’s last democratic transition was in 1944 when the 18th President, Edwin Barclay turned over to William V.S. Tubman as the 19th President of the country.
As vice to Tubman, William R. Tolbert took over the presidency but was killed in a coup d’ etat led by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe who ruled the country for 20 years. All these years, Liberia had had civil wars until 2005 when Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won the first post war elections in a highly contested election.
Liberians expect a more robust president to step up the gains of Mrs. Sirleaf, whose administration was weighed down by rampant corruption, luxuries in government and the outbreak of Ebola. Her administration enjoyed huge international support and presence in Liberia. The largest United Nations peacekeeping troop was deployed during her first tenure of six (6) years. After 12 years of the Sirleaf Administration, the country is yet to fully restore of basic social services such as water, electricity, roads and airport facilities.
Footballer turned politician George Weah has overwhelmed Liberian politics as his sporting popularity heavily wins for him the young people representing at least 60% of the country’s population. Liberia is a small size West African nation of less than six (6) million people.
Weah is heavily criticized for what his opponents point to as his weak public speaking skills and his inability to understand the intricacy of government. He boycotted all of the presidential debates for undisclosed reasons. Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change has always won all of Liberia’s first round elections since 2005. This time, his party is standing in collaboration with other political parties including jailed former president Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Party (NPP). Taylor’s former wife Jowel Howard Taylor, herself a senator, serves as the vice presidential candidate to George Weah. If the Weah ticket wins the runoff election, Mrs. Taylor by law will preside over the senate as its President.
Weah’s contender, Vice President Joseph Boakai, 73 has complained and longed for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s support to his presidency. Though Sirleaf has not openly confirmed the withdrawal of her support to Boakai, she stayed out of most of his political rallies in the name of wrapping up her government logically.
Boakai has rated himself nominal in the Sirleaf administration, though he has presided over the House of Senate for 12 years and attested to globally condemned concession agreements. He claimed President Sirleaf did not give him the chance to play active role in her government. In one of the electon debates, Boakai referred to himself as “a race car parked in garage for 12 years”, meaning he was not given the chance to fully exert himself in government.
Liberia stands at a crossroad. The more than two million registered voters have to decide the fate of this challenged nation either led by aged and preserved Boakai or an inarticulate and politically limited Weah, already enclosed by political radicals. “To fit in the shoes of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the new president must possess the skills and charisma to rub shoulders with today’s world leaders”, Reporter George Harris of Daily Observer Newspaper told me as he covered the polls outside Monrovia.