Liberia on Thursday peacefully awaited the results of a landmark presidential poll pitting former football star George Weah against Vice President Joseph Boakai in the first democratic transfer of power after decades and two devastating civil wars.
Whoever wins will succeed the continent’s first elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who took over at the helm of Africa’s oldest republic in 2006.
“The Liberian people clearly made their choice… and all together we are very confident in the result of the electoral process,” tweeted Weah.
He topped the first round of voting in October with 38.4 percent of ballots but failed to win the 50 percent necessary to avoid a run-off.
Weah is the only African ever to have won FIFA’s World Player of the Year and the coveted Ballon D’Or — one of football’s most prestigious awards.
The 51-year-old starred in top-flight European football teams Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan in the 1990s before playing briefly in England for Chelsea and Manchester City later in his career.
This is his third shot at the presidency and Chelsea icon Didier Drogba has already sent Weah a congratulatory message.
“Is it President Weah?” said the New Dawn newspaper on Thursday, referring to a man who has the backing of heavyweights including former warlord Prince Johnson and apparently the covert support of outgoing president Sirleaf.
Sirleaf’s predecessor Charles Taylor fled the country in 2003, hoping to avoid prosecution for funding rebel groups in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Two presidents who served prior to Taylor were assassinated.
The tumultuous events of the past seven decades in Liberia, where an estimated 250,000 people died during back-to-back civil wars between 1989-2003, have prevented a democratic handover from taking place since 1944.
‘Peace in Liberia’
The National Election Commission’s communication chief Henry Flomo said: “The happiness of the NEC is that 48 hours after the vote everything remains peaceful.
“Even those who were making strong statements on social media have started to change their tone. Everyone is saying that they have a common thing to protect, that is peace in Liberia. We will be annoucing the provisional results today”.
“No matter the results, we will accept it without causing problems. We don’t need trouble here anymore,” said Samuel Nuahn, 46, who voted for establishment candidate Boakai in Tuesday’s run-off.
Boakai came second with 28.8 percent in the first round.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed the “peaceful conduct” of the vote, praising “the government, political parties and the people of Liberia for the orderly poll”.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc also hailed the peaceful nature of the vote.
After a vote that passed without a single major incident of violence despite weeks of delays caused by legal challenges, Liberians said they were looking forward to a peaceful handover after 12 years under Sirleaf.
“Since years of civil war this is the first time we see the transition of power from one person to another,” voter Oscar Sorbah told AFP.
The Sirleaf administration, elected in 2005, guided the nation out of the ruins of war and through the horrors of the 2014-16 Ebola crisis, but is accused of failing to combat poverty and corruption.
Weah’s CDC party watched their icon miss out on the presidency in a 2005 bid. He was similarly frustrated when he ran for vice-president in 2011, but has repeatedly urged its young and exuberant supporters to keep cool.
“No matter what the provocation will be, CDC will not respond with violence,” Jefferson Kotchie, head of the youth wing of the CDC, told supporters assembled at the headquarters of the party.
The run-off was delayed for seven weeks due to legal challenges lodged by Boakai’s Unity Party against the electoral commission over the conduct of the first round, but many of the complaints appeared to have been addressed in the second round.