Liberia runoff in chaos as opposition calls for boycott

Liberia’s main opposition leader has called for a boycott of Tuesday’s presidential runoff in a move that threatens to rob the election of legitimacy.

Winston Tubman, the leader of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), told his supporters that he had evidence of widespread fraud and voting irregularities in last month’s first round of elections. He claimed that his opponent, the incumbent president and recent Nobel laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was trying to create a one-party state.

A boycott would guarantee victory for Sirleaf but would cast a cloud over Liberia’s fledgling democracy, which has been praised by the international community.

Sirleaf called on Liberians to ignore the boycott and the National Elections Commission said the runoff will go ahead as planned.

John Kollie, the head of the Liberia Media Initiative for Peace, Development, and Democracy, said: “She is going into an election without a competitor so people in this country won’t take it seriously.”

In the first round, the CDC came second with 33% of the vote while Sirleaf’s Unity Party took 44%. As neither had won at least 50%, a runoff was scheduled.

The October poll was ruled to be free and fair by the West African regional body, Ecowas, the UN and more than 4 000 independent election observers.

But Tubman claims it was marred by fraud.
Addressing supporters in a dusty football field outside party headquarters in Monrovia on Saturday, he said: “If I call for a boycott, it is my right to do so. To castigate me for doing something that many Liberians, if not most Liberians, agree with is not the way to encourage free speech in our democracy.”

Tubman said he wanted his supporters to remain peaceful, but added: “We will not recognise the new government.”

This is not the first time that Tubman’s party has threatened a boycott. When it became clear in October that Sirleaf, who had just been awarded the Nobel peace prize, was leading the first round, the CDC joined seven other opposition parties in signing a statement saying they were pulling out of the electoral process.

They rejoined days later, after the chairperson of the National Elections Commission resigned following allegations that he favoured the country’s Harvard-educated president, who is Africa’s first female head of state.

Tubman’s running mate is George Weah, the football legend turned politician. Weah’s status as both celebrity and man of the people appeals to the young and disillusioned who are fed up with the lack of jobs and rising price of food.

He remains wildly popular in the slums of Monrovia, but has yet to translate his personal support into political success.

His home community, Clara Town, is a crowded slum spread along the bank of the Monsterrado River in the capital. There is no electricity or running water and residents use the river as both a toilet and a place to find their food.

“He is a son of the soil , so we believe in him,” said Anthony Walker, one of the many unemployed men looking for small jobs to do up and down the dusty pot-holed roads. “When he gets in power he will do something for us,” the father of six said.

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