After a smooth day of voting, Liberia awaits election results

Shops and schools closed, Monrovia, usually vibrant, had the appearance of a ghost town on Tuesday October 10

After a smooth day of voting, Liberia awaits election results

Shops and schools closed, Monrovia, usually vibrant, had the appearance of a ghost town on Tuesday October 10. The only perceptible agitation was that of voters massed in front of churches and cultural centers transformed into polling stations. At the university, the first voters arrived at dawn. Students, mothers with their children on their backs, elderly people... They waited in scorching heat, sometimes until late in the day, to slip their ballot into the ballot box. “I have projects and I want to be able to carry them out in my country. So I voted for change,” enthuses Franklin, 18.

The stakes are crucial for Liberia, which is entering its 20th year of peace but is still struggling to recover. In the capital, frozen in the economic golden age of the 1970s, great poverty grips. The inhabitants survive in an abandoned city, in the middle of shanty towns that are regularly flooded during this rainy season.

But for the first time in its young democratic history, the country organized and largely financed its elections, in which 2.5 million Liberians were called to elect their president, 73 assembly representatives and 15 senators. A logistical challenge that was accompanied by a few hitches. “Materials could not arrive before offices opened in some areas due to flooded roads. But overall, the process went well,” says an observer from the Election Coordinating Committee (ECC), an independent poll supervision body which deployed 2,500 agents across the fifteen counties.

A poor record

In a country where the State struggles to provide basic services, financing the election with public funds represented another challenge. Of the $53 million (around €50 million) needed to organize it, only $49 million was disbursed by the Ministry of Finance. During an appearance before the Senate on August 29, Davidetta Brown-Lansanah, the president of the electoral commission, estimated that a second round could only take place if the government disbursed the missing funds.

These structural challenges underline the economic precariousness in which Liberia still finds itself six years after the election of George Weah. The former footballer, born in a slum in Monrovia, became senator then president, had aroused a wave of hope when he came to power. But at 57, the outgoing president has a poor record. Road repairs and free tuition for undergraduates have not reduced mass poverty, made worse by health crises and inflation.

Facing him, 19 candidates are in the running, including Joseph Boakai, already his main challenger in 2017. At 78, the former vice-president of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf promises to repair the country by focusing on its agricultural assets and is trying to seduce those disappointed with the Weah presidency, in particular young people without employment or training for whom the future lies in emigration.

With his “rescue team”, the former Minister of Agriculture under the dictatorship of Samuel Doe (1980-1990) is running for his third presidential election. A pure product of public administration, Joseph Boakai seems ready to do anything to win this time. Like allying himself with former rebel leader Prince Johnson, made famous by the torture he inflicted on Samuel Doe by having him tortured to death in front of the cameras.

Symbol of impunity for crimes committed during the two civil wars (1989-1997 then 1999-2003), Prince Johnson has become, since his return from exile in Nigeria in 2005, a kingmaker. In 2011, he supported Ellen Johnson Sirleaf against George Weah. In 2017, Weah vs. Boakai. Since then, the president and the former warlord have fallen out. And for this election, the man who is now senator from Nimba, the second most populous county in the country, imposed his protégé Jeremiah Koung as Joseph Boakai's running mate.

“Imperfect casting”

As for George Weah, he chose the influential Jewel Taylor, former wife of Charles Taylor, as vice-president. Rebel leader who became president of Liberia (1997-2003), the latter was sentenced in 2012 to fifty years in prison for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone.

“It’s flawed casting, but at least the election stands. No doubt the country must go through this to consolidate its democratic process. The hardest part is not holding the vote, but accepting the results by all parties,” judges a human rights activist.

The election took place in a climate of tension. Since the end of September, at least four people have died in clashes between activists of the ruling party and the opposition. George Weah's opponents have also questioned the credibility of the electoral process in recent weeks, accusing in particular the electoral commission – whose presidency is appointed by the head of state – of being vested in power.

Faced with the risk of violence, the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) encouraged, at the opening of polling stations, "the electoral commission to continue to do demonstrated impartiality and fairness in the execution of his mandate, in the greatest interest of all Liberians. » In this context, opponent Joseph Boakai softened his criticism. After voting, he urged his supporters to remain peaceful before and after the vote.