Liberians usher in new era with high-stakes presidential vote

Monrovia: Liberians began voting on Tuesday to replace President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in a contest set to complete the country’s first democratic transition of power in more than 70 years.
Voting opened at 8:00 am in the small West African nation, although there were delays in some polling stations, capping a campaign hailed for vibrant and violence-free debates and rallies. Africa’s first female elected head of state, Sirleaf is stepping aside after a maximum two six-year terms.
In an eve-of-election speech, she urged a peaceful vote, and for the results to be respected by all.
“The future of the country is in your hands, no one is entitled to your vote, not because of party, ethnicity, religion or tribal affiliation,” Sirleaf, a co-winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, declared.
The country’s 2.18 million registered voters are choosing from a crowded field of 20 presidential candidates — although just one of them is a woman — and will also elect 73 seats in the House of Representatives (lower chamber).
Among the frontrunners are footballing icon George Weah, incumbent Vice-President Joseph Boakai, longtime opposition figure Charles Brumskine and former Coca-Cola executive Alexander Cummings.
Also waiting in the wings with potentially significant vote shares are telecoms tycoon Benoni Urey and former central bank governor Mills Jones. Back-to-back civil wars, the 2014-16 Ebola crisis and slumped commodity prices have left Liberia among the world’s poorest nations, while corruption remains entrenched.
Christmas Kamara, a market trader waiting to vote in Liberia’s biggest slum, Westpoint, said she felt betrayed by the government during the Ebola crisis and would not vote for Boakai.
The first official results are expected within 48 hours after voting closes at 6:00 pm (1800 GMT). If no candidate wins 50 per cent of the presidential vote, then a run-off of the top two contenders will be held on November 7 — an outcome analysts say is a near certainty. — AFP