Liberia votes as George Weah eyes second presidential term

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Liberians are voting on whether to give football legend George Weah a second term as president, with peace among voters’ main concerns in a nation still scarred by back-to-back civil wars.

Even before polling stations opened at 0800 GMT, hundreds of people had gathered in the early morning sunshine waiting to vote in the capital Monrovia.

“I vote for the good of my country. I expect peace and development,” said Agostina Momo, 18, who is voting for the first time.

“It is my constitutional duty to vote, for the future of my children, my grandchildren,” said Augustus Okai, 54, who was first through the door at her polling station.

“I hope that the next president will be the most competent for our country.”

The main political parties have pledged that the presidential and legislative elections in the West African country will pass off peacefully.

But the killing of three people last month in clashes between their supporters has fuelled fears of a return to violence.

Scuffles also broke out Sunday as Weah held his final campaign rally, leaving several injured.

The election is the first to be held since the United Nations ended its peacekeeping mission in Liberia in 2018.

The mission was created after more than 250,000 people died in two civil wars between 1989 and 2003.

Weah, 57, entered politics after a career as an international footballer which saw him become the first and only African to win football’s most prestigious individual award, the Ballon d’Or, in 1995.

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On his election in 2017, he promised to create jobs and invest in education, but critics say he has failed to keep his pledges.

He is the favourite against 19 rivals for the presidency but could face a second-round runoff in early November unless a candidate secures an unlikely absolute majority in the first round.

The European Union, the African Union, the West African bloc ECOWAS and the United States have deployed observers, in a region hit by a string of recent coups.

– ‘Cherish peace’ –
Polling stations are due to close at 1800 GMT, with the 2.4 million voters also electing members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The electoral commission will begin publishing results from Wednesday, with final results due within 15 days.

Weah grew up in the slums of Monrovia and is popular with young people, in a country where over 60 percent of the population is aged under 25.

He was absent from Liberia during the conflict years, playing for a string of top-flight international clubs, including Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan.

As president, Weah has not set up a war crimes tribunal despite international and domestic demand.

“We want him six more years. He maintained the peace, built roads, paid school fees. He’s a great leader,” said Theresa Sneh, 48.

The ex-star striker, who has campaigned on the slogan “One round victory”, has defended his record on the economy, the building of schools and hospitals and wider access to electricity.

He has promised new roads, jobs and to continue the fight against corruption.

“We must all cherish this peace and continue to preserve it, because without peace, our world will be difficult,” Weah told thousands of people gathered in Monrovia Sunday.

“Without peace, development will not take place.”

– ‘Young are suffering’ –
Joseph Kamara, 24, who transports passengers on his motorised three-wheeler, feels Weah has done nothing for him, however.

“Young people are suffering. They are taking drugs,” he said.

He said he voted for Weah six years ago but will vote for his main rival, Joseph Boakai, this time.

Former vice president Boakai, who lost to Weah in 2017, has said that any vote cheating or manipulation will lead to “the end of this country”.

The 78-year-old has forged alliances including with former warlord and senator Prince Johnson, who has threatened a popular revolt if the ruling party manipulates the elections.

Boakai has pledged to restore the country’s image, develop infrastructure and improve life for the poorest.

More than a fifth of the population lives on less than $2.15 a day, according to the World Bank, and the price of staple foods has soared.

Boakai, who served as vice president between 2006 and 2018, presents himself as an honest alternative to Weah, whom he accuses of presiding over a corrupt system.

The United States has sanctioned five senior Liberian officials for alleged corruption in three years.

The watchdog Transparency International ranked Liberia 142nd of 180 countries in its 2022 corruption perceptions index.

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