Top female politician takes lead in Liberian vote

Liberia’s top female politician took a strong early lead in a presidential run-off as her millionaire soccer-star opponent charged the vote was fraudulent, throwing uncertainty over elections that had raised hopes for peace in the war-ravaged nation.

National Election Commission chairperson Frances Johnson-Morris said on Wednesday that with results in from 59% of polling stations across the country, including the capital, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had 56,4% of the vote so far. George Weah had 43,6%.

Weah, at a news conference held at the same time Johnson-Morris was speaking to reporters elsewhere in the capital, accused poll workers of having plans to stuff ballot boxes in Johnson-Sirleaf’s favour. Weah has repeatedly been critical of the National Election Commission and Johnson-Morris, who is not related to Johnson-Sirleaf.

“The world is saying this election was free and fair, which was not true,” Weah said, displaying 39 ballots for Johnson-Sirleaf that he claimed were among the extra ballots with which workers had been supplied.
He said a concerned poll worker had handed the ballots over to his Congress for Democratic Change party.

“No Weah! No peace!” chanted hundreds of angry supporters at his headquarters. Soon afterward, two white United Nations tanks rode by as a helicopter surveyed the scene from above.

Johnson-Morris said Weah’s camp had not submitted any evidence of fraud with the electoral commission.

“If there is evidence, they need to share that evidence with us within 72 hours. That’s the rule,” she told reporters.

Paul Risley, spokesperson for the UN mission in Liberia, told The Associated Press “there have been no reports that we are aware of ... that would indicate fraud”.

Risley also said the UN was awaiting reports of both international domestic observers who monitored Tuesday’s vote.

Alan Doss, head of the UN mission in Liberia, had declared the vote “peaceful and transparent”, and Johnson-Morris had praised the vote and urged the candidates and the country to accept the results.

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. Tuesday’s run-off was held because no one won an outright majority in the first round.

Weah’s ascent from Monrovia’s slums to international soccer stardom had earned him great appeal in a dirt-poor country short on heroes. He is a high-school dropout with no experience in the government, but that’s seen as a plus by many in a country long ruled by coup leaders and warlords.—Sapa-AP

Associated Press writer Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia contributed to this report

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