Liberia votes to herald in new presidential era
Monrovia — Liberians began voting on Tuesday to replace President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in a contest set to complete the country’s first democratic transition of power in more than 70 years.
Voting opened at 8am in the small West African nation, although there were delays at some polling stations, capping a campaign hailed for vibrant and violence-free debates and rallies. Africa’s first female elected head of state, Sirleaf is stepping aside after a maximum two six-year terms.
In an eve-of-election speech, she urged a peaceful vote, and for the results to be respected.
"The future of the country is in your hands. No one is entitled to your vote, not because of party, ethnicity, religion or tribal affiliation," Sirleaf, a joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2011, told the nation.
The 2.18-million registered voters are choosing from a crowded field of 20 presidential candidates — although just one is a woman — and will also elect 73 seats in the House of Representatives (lower chamber). Among the frontrunners are footballing icon George Weah, the incumbent Vice-President Joseph Boakai, longtime opposition figure Charles Brumskine and former Coca-Cola executive Alexander Cummings.
Also waiting in the wings with potentially significant vote shares are telecoms tycoon Benoni Urey and former central bank governor Mills Jones.
Back-to-back civil wars, the 2014-16 Ebola crisis and slumped commodity prices have left Liberia among the world’s poorest nations, while corruption remains entrenched.
Christmas Kamara, a market trader waiting to vote in Liberia’s biggest slum, Westpoint, said she felt betrayed by the government during the Ebola crisis and would not vote for Boakai.
Former rebel leader Prince Johnson is also running for president, though a fifth of Liberia’s registered voters are aged 18-22 and are less likely, analysts say, to vote along the ethnic or tribal lines that divided the nation during the war.