Results expected in key vote to replace Liberia’s Sirleaf

ISLAMABAD: Counting was under way in Liberia on Wednesday following a peaceful poll that will determine President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s successor after 12 years and complete a historic democratic transfer of power.

The first official results in the presidential and legislative elections are expected on Wednesday afternoon from the National Elections Commission (NEC), which has already suggested that turnout was high.

Some voters who appeared at the wrong polling station or were registered more than once were unable to cast their ballot, the NEC has said without putting a figure on those affected, triggering concern from political parties.

The nation’s 2.18 million registered voters made their choice from a crowded field of 20 presidential candidates—including just one woman—and elected 73 parliamentarians for the lower chamber, the House of Representatives.

Frontrunners for the presidency include footballing icon George Weah, incumbent Vice President Joseph Boakai, longtime opposition figure Charles Brumskine and upstart former Coca-Cola executive Alexander Cummings.

Telecoms tycoon Benoni Urey and former central bank governor Mills Jones could also secure significant vote shares.

“We expect 2005 and 2011 to replay itself in 2017,” Ibrahim Al-Bakri Nyei, Liberian political analyst at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), told.

In both those previous elections Weah’s CDC party and Sirleaf’s Unity Party went into a run-off round of voting. Boakai has the backing of the Unity Party this year.

If no candidate wins 50 percent of the presidential vote, then the run-off of the top two contenders will be held on November 7.

The vote is seen as a crucial test of Liberia’s stability. Sirleaf, Africa’s first female elected head of state, is stepping down after a maximum two six-year terms in which she steered the country away from the trauma of civil war, but, say critics, failed to tackle its poverty.

Cummings’ ANC party said it was aware of late ballots and voters with valid voting cards being turned away, saying in a statement it was “confident the National Elections Commission (NEC) is doing all that it can to ensure registered voters are not disenfranchised.”

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.