July 22, 2024

Incumbent president and former footballer, George Weah, is facing off against political veteran Joseph Boakai.

Liberians are heading to the polls to vote in a tight run-off that will decide the next president after two leading candidates finished the initial round of voting in a dead heat.

Polls opened at 08:00 GMT for the country’s fourth post-war presidential election, the first one without the presence of the United Nations mission which previously provided support to the country’s electoral commission.

President George Weah, a former footballer, is seeking a second term in office. He is facing off against former Vice President Joseph Boakai, an elder statesman who is critical of Weah’s rule.

The two candidates took 43.83 percent and 43.44 percent of the vote in the first poll, respectively — a difference of just 7,126 votes — building anticipation for a closely contested run-off on Tuesday.

Controversial first term

Weah, who is more popular with the youth, has asked for more time to come through on his promises to crack down on corruption and improve livelihoods in one of the world’s poorest countries. Liberia is still struggling from the aftermath of two civil wars between 1989 and 2003, and the 2013-16 Ebola epidemic that killed thousands of people.

Weah says he has supported education, built roads and hospitals, and brought electricity into homes.

However, his detractors, including rival Bokai, point to a poor record on corruption, high youth unemployment, and general economic hardship.

“There is a mismatch between words and action,” said Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei, director of Monrovia-basedDucor Institute for Social and Economic Research.

Boakai, who served as vice president from 2006 to 2018, has significant public and private experience, but at 78 years old, his age is considered a handicap.

FILE PHOTO: Liberia's opposition Unity Party Joseph Boakai waves to his supporters as holds his final campaign rally for the presidential elections in Monrovia, Liberia October 7, 2023. Reuters/Carielle Doe/File Photo
Joseph Boakai waves to supporters at a campaign rally, in Monrovia, Liberia, October 7 [Carielle Doe/Reuters]

Weah and Boakai have received endorsements from candidates who lost in the first round.

A decisive factor could be how the 6 percent of voters whose ballots were invalidated in the first round decide in the second round.

Turnout could also be key, said Lawrence Yealue, who runs the civil society group Accountability Lab Liberia.

He expects a lower turnout than the record 79 percent on October 10, when the presidential vote was coupled with parliamentary elections.

Although generally peaceful, several clashes between vying factions took place in the lead-up to the elections. Any alleged irregularities in the final poll could lead to more unrest.

Liberia’s economy grew 4.8 percent in 2022, driven by gold production and a relatively good harvest, but more than 80 percent of the population still faces moderate or severe food insecurity, the World Bank said in July.

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