Vote counting under way in Liberia

Liberians crowded around radios on Wednesday awaiting results from the presidential run-off between a millionaire soccer star and the war-ravaged West African nation’s top female politician.

Final results in the race between George Weah and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf will not be announced for two weeks. But Bobby Livingstone, an information officer for the National Elections Commission said preliminary results from some areas could be

released later on Wednesday.

Overnight following Tuesday’s election, workers tallied votes by the light of fluorescent lanterns and handed ballot boxes over to central election commission staff. Liberia’s electricity supplies were destroyed during decades of conflict also displaced a third of the West African nation’s three million people and left up to 200 000 dead.

National Election Commission chairperson Frances Johnson-Morris praised the vote and urged the country to accept the results.

“While understanding that the stakes are high, we urge the two parties involved in this race to conduct themselves in an exemplary manner,” Johnson-Morris said, promising to investigate foul-play if proof is presented.

“The Liberian people have made their choice through the ballot today, and we are all obliged to respect the choices made by the men and women of the nation.”

But Weah’s party accused Johnson-Morris of bias and called on her to step down.

On Tuesday, Johnson-Morris threatened to revoke Weah’s party license because of comments he made last week claiming to have won 60% of the vote in the first round on October 11, instead of the 28% electoral authorities allotted to him.
A simple majority was necessary to avoid a run-off.

Weah had not lodged any official complaint of fraud in the first round.

Johnson-Morris told British Broadcasting Corporation that Weah’s comments were “reckless and irresponsible”.

Weah’s party said Johnson-Morris’ warning was “prejudicial” and conveyed “personal interest”.

“It is therefore our request that she recuse herself from supervising or associating with the electoral process.”

Morris-Johnson said on Wednesday she would not immediately comment on Weah’s request that she step down because it had not yet been officially conveyed.

Alan Doss, head of the United Nations Mission in Liberia, declared the vote “peaceful and transparent,” but said UN troops arrested five people in different parts of the country for minor incidents, the most grave being an assault on electoral staff.

After nightfall on Tuesday, UN troops set up roadblocks that snarled traffic on main roads, stopping cars and searching trunks as part of stepped-up security measures around the poll.

Helicopters were dispatched to retrieve results from the most inaccessible areas. Many of Liberia’s roads are impassible and are often litte more than dirt tracks washed away by floods.

Weah, a one-time Fifa player of the year, and Johnson-Sirleaf, a former finance minister, finished first and second in the October 11 first round, which weeded out 20 other candidates, including warlords and rebel leaders.

Weah’s ascent from Monrovia’s slums to international soccer stardom has earned great appeal in a dirt-poor country short on heroes. He is a high school dropout with no experience in government, but that’s seen as a plus by many in a country

long-ruled by coup leaders and warlords.

Johnson-Sirleaf boasts a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University and has a résumé full of top postings in government and the United Nations. But her role in past, failed governments is seen as a drawback by some. If successful, she would become Africa’s first elected female president.

Late Tuesday, the UN’s Doss praised the vote, saying it “offered the people of Liberia an opportunity to leave behind the conflict that has devastated this country for so long and turned the page on a very dark chapter in their history”.

About 1,3-million people were registered to vote. Turnout on Tuesday appeared lower than the first round, in which Weah took 28% to Johnson-Sirleaf’s 20%. A simple majority had been needed for outright victory.

Founded by freed American slaves in the mid-1800s, Africa’s first republic was once among its most prosperous, rich in diamonds, ancient forests and rubber.

Years of war ended in 2003 when warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor was forced to step down as advancing rebels shelled the capital.

A 15 000-strong UN force was deployed afterward, and now support a transitional government led by Gyude Bryant. - Sapa-AP

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