After a court-ordered delay, Liberia is finally going to the polls today to elect a new president.
In a run-off election, Liberians will pick between Joseph Boakai, vice-president to the outgoing Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and George Opong Weah, the former soccer star who enjoyed a glittering career in Europe. Weah is believed to be favorite to win the presidency after leading the first round of voting during which more than two million Liberians went to the polls. But with Weah unable to secure 50% majority of votes required, it resulted in a second round run-off.
The run-off was initially scheduled to hold on Nov. 7 but was postponed by Liberia’s Supreme Court following allegations of electoral fraud in the first round of voting. Reports from Monrovia suggest tensions are growing as locals fear violence breaks out between local party officials as early polling results start to come in.
Boakai has campaigned on his leadership and experience having served as vice president since 2006 and as minister of agriculture in the 1980s but, in contrast, Weah has pitched himself as an outsider who’s up against the establishment in Liberian politics. The genesis of that rhetoric is linked to his first ever bid for the presidency in 2005. Political opponents criticized the merit of his candidacy citing his lack of political experience.
Thanks to his continued involvement in politics (he unsuccessfully ran again for the presidency in 2011 and has served as a senator since 2014), Weah is much more experienced these days. Aligning with Liberians who hope to see a new set of leaders take office continues to serve Weah’s ambitions: in the first round of voting, he scored 8% more votes than Boakai. His message also resonates as some of Weah’s supporters have referred to his opponents as “a political cartel” who should be expelled from power.
But despite his rhetoric, Weah has strong links to the establishment he’s been keen to distance himself from. As his running mate, he selected Jewel Taylor, ex-wife of Charles Taylor, the former warlord and Liberian president currently serving a 50-year jail term for war crimes. Jewel Taylor, who has served as a senator since 2005 and is from Liberia’s largest ethnic group, offers some political stardust and even more popular support to the Weah ticket. But Weah’s selection of Taylor as his running mate hasn’t gone without notice as he’s been forced to deny having any personal relationship with the former warlord.