Liberians look set to head to the ballot box again on 8
November to choose between George and Ellen
MONROVIA, 17 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - Soccer legend George Weah
looks set to go head-to-head with former finance minister
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in a run-off to decide who will be the
next president of war-battered Liberia, according to
preliminary results released on Monday.
With returns in from 95 percent of polling stations across
the heavily forested country, Weah was in the lead with 28.8
percent of the votes and Sirleaf was trailing in second with
A candidate must get 50 percent plus one vote to be declared
the winner of Liberia's first presidential elections since
the end of a 14-year civil war.
"Looking at the numbers above... the NEC sees it prudent to
begin preparations for a presidential election run-off,"
Frances Johnson-Morris, the head of the National Elections
Commission, told reporters on Monday evening.
"The run-off election will be held on November 8," she added.
Almost a week after Liberians went to the polls, radios are
still constantly tuned to news bulletins and residents hang
around on street corners animatedly discussing the latest
twists and turns and moaning about how slowly the results are
Johnson-Morris said death threats had been sent by text
message to her mobile phone, warning she would be killed if
she did not "release the results well."
Meanwhile, the political jockeying has already begun ahead of
the November run-off.
"We are preparing for the second round," Rudolph Johnson,
Weah's running mate, told IRIN on Monday.
Both camps are trying to win endorsements from some of the
other 20 hopefuls who contested last Tuesday's first-round
Top of the list will be former Senate leader Charles
Brumskine, who is currently on 13.9 percent, and Winston
Tubman, a onetime UN special envoy, who has so far captured
9.4 percent of the votes.
"We are talking to almost everyone. The message we are
carrying is what's good for Liberia," said Sirleaf's campaign
manager, John Bestman, in between meetings. "We are
Cole Bangalu, chairman of Weah's political party, was also in
an upbeat mood.
"We are constructively engaging other parties to see how they
can join forces with us. We are getting a very positive
response. We believe the run-off will give an overwhelming
result in our favour," he said.
Liberians hope that the polls will cement peace and stability
in this West African nation, torn apart by a brutal civil war
between 1989 and 2003, which left an estimated quarter of a
million people dead and forced hundreds of thousands of
others to flee their homes.
A run-off would give the country a choice between "King
George", a roaring success on a football pitch but untested
in the political arena, and veteran opposition leader
Sirleaf, known as the "Iron Lady" because of her no-nonsense
Sirleaf, a 66-year-old grandmother, boasts a resume including
stints at the World Bank and the United Nations. She says an
experienced head is needed to kick-start Liberia's battered
economy and use its abundant natural resources to make it the
pride of West Africa.
Weah, who grew up in a shantytown kicking a ball about
barefoot before playing for the cream of Europe's clubs, says
he understands the youth and the underprivileged. The 39-year-
old believes his lack of political experience is a bonus
because it means he has clean hands.
As the negotiations play out behind closed doors ahead of the
formal announcement of a run-off, some Liberians are cynical,
saying any alliances will be more about personal gain than
"It would have been better if the politicians had teamed up
before the first round but politicians are greedy," said 32-
year-old Varney Lake, whose store in the capital, Monrovia,
sells everything from shampoo to kitchen sinks.
"No-one wanted to give up the chair, everyone wanted to be
president so we had to choose between 22 people! And now
we're going to have to vote all over again."