Liberia’s provisional election results are expected today, the election commission said as the country waits to see who will succeed Africa’s first female president and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who led the country’s recovery from Ebola and civil war.
Agency reports said a runoff election was widely expected with 20 candidates vying to replace Sirleaf. She will step aside after two six-year terms in office. She led the country’s recovery from a 14-year civil war and guided it through the Ebola crisis in 2014-15 that killed nearly 5,000 Liberians.
The National Election Commission said local vote counting had ended after a largely smooth election. It apologized for delays in some areas and said it had quarantined materials from one precinct and will investigate reports of alleged compromised voting.
At press time, former soccer star George Weah, Vice President Joseph Boakai, former rebel leader Prince Johnson and former Coca-Cola vice president Alexander Cummings were leading in various parts of the country, local media reported. A presidential candidate must win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a second round. Final results should be known within two weeks. A runoff election, if needed, would come two weeks after that announcement.
International observers said Tuesday’s vote went smoothly despite late starts in some counties.
More than 2.1 million voters had registered to vote throughout Liberia, established by the United States in the 19th century for freed black slaves.
John Mahama, the former president of Ghana who led the regional election observation mission, said despite tension and fear among some voters who waited a long time to vote, the run-up to the election, voting and counting had gone well.
“The mission believes… Liberia is on track to achieve a credible poll thus far, I’m using my Kenyan experience thus far.”
The chair of the National Elections Commission admitted however that there had been problems and said that they would try to “standardise the recruitment” of polling officers in future. “Voters were confused.
Sometimes they stood in line for an hour or two and were then told they were not in the right place. There was a lot of frustration,” said the chair, Jerome Korkoya.
Observers agreed. “I don’t think it was well-organised,” said Oscar Bloh of the Election Coordinating Committee, pointing out that while electoral officials worked through the night to collect and count votes, in many cases security personnel left, leaving them vulnerable.
Other problems included disorganised queues and ballot papers arriving late, he said. In one incident in Bong County, young people who, upon arriving at their polling station and seeing that their names were not on the list, set up a road block that caused long delays.
He said it was not clear whether these incidents would affect the outcome of the election. “We’re not sure yet of the scale of the problem,” he said. Voters had jostled and sweated in a queue on Peace Island, a collection of tin-roofed houses perched on a bit of high land in the middle of a swamp in Monrovia.
Undeterred by the long wait in the sun, the women who made up most of the queue spoke of the need for better education, roads and healthcare as they waited. The United States called the election “an important step toward achieving Liberia’s first peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected head of state to another in decades.”
Voters commended her leadership but said they were ready for change. The election turnout was impressive, especially among younger generations, said Christopher Fomunyoh of the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute, which was monitoring the elections. “All of these people are saying they want change and improvement, and that explains why almost all of the candidates are presenting themselves as candidates for change,” Fomunyoh said.