Nestled on the west coast of Africa, Liberia, a nation with a tumultuous history marked by a devastating 14-year civil war that concluded in 2003, now stands at the center stage of a high-stakes electoral drama. In the wake of the October 10 presidential election, the country finds itself at a critical juncture as leading candidates George Weah and Joseph Boakai remain locked in a tight race with 98.50% of the ballots counted. The anticipated second round, scheduled for early November, unveils a political landscape reminiscent of the 2017 presidential election, where Mr. Weah emerged victorious with 61.54% of the vote.
As Liberia grapples with its post-war recovery and strives to establish a stable democratic foundation, the unfolding electoral saga has captivated the attention of its 5.5 million citizens.
Beyond the electoral dynamics, this article delves into the nuances of Liberia's political landscape, examining President George Weah's record and the challenges faced in the aftermath of the civil war. The second round of elections has become a battleground for Weah and Boakai and a test for the future of representative government in West Africa. Against the historical backdrop of coups, term limit controversies, and election irregularities in the region, Liberia's electoral process takes on added significance. This article will unpack the unfolding narrative and explore the broader implications for Liberia's democratic trajectory.
George Weah falls short
Despite George Weah's promises of victory to Liberians, the "knockout blow" did not happen. The famous "Mister George" had promised Liberians an inevitable and sure victory, but the incumbent failed to win the 50.1% of votes needed to be elected in the first round. The incumbent, former soccer star George Weah, had received 43.8 per cent of the vote, with more than 98 percent of ballots counted. With 43.5 percent of the vote, Joseph Boakai, a veteran of Liberian politics who served as vice president from 2006 to 2018, was trailing slightly.
On November 7, he will face 78-year-old Joseph Boakai, the former vice-president of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and a veteran of four decades in power. This second round reveals a significant blow for the President's camp, which needs financial preparation for this eventuality. "We will win in the first round because a second round would cost us too much," said Emmanuel Mulbah Johnson, President of the youth league of the Congress for Democratic Change.
Official results are not expected until later this month; Mr. Weah and Mr. Boakai will compete in a runoff election as none of the candidates received the 50% of the vote required to win in the first round. Voting in the 5.5 million-person coastal nation this month is anticipated to be a litmus test for the future of representative government in West Africa.
Although the election was largely peaceful, ballot boxes were stolen on Friday in the county of Saino, according to the chairwoman of the National Election Commission. Potential suspects have, however, been arrested. In a country with a heavy background, such incidents have slowed the proclamation of the results and held the country in suspense for several days.
The region has had several coups whose leaders, once in power, postponed elections, presidents who abrogated term limits to stay in office, and contaminated elections due to allegations of irregularities. On the platform of tackling pervasive corruption and creating infrastructure projects, Mr Weah was first elected in 2017.
Since officially entering office in January 2018, Mr. Weah has been criticized for doing too little to combat corruption even though he has partially delivered on infrastructure.
Nathaniel McGill, the current President's chief of staff, was among the three Liberian officials targeted by the U.S. Treasury for corruption last year. Despite his promise, Mr. Weah has not yet conducted the investigation. In Liberia, over 2.4 million individuals may cast ballots. Despite the narrow margin separating the two front-runners, prominent people from both parties declared victory as the results began this past week.
George Weah has underestimated the widespread anger he has sparked, a far cry from the joy that greeted his victory in 2017. The candidate of the country's most disadvantaged sections, who was associated with the former player, once a former child prodigy from a poor district of Monrovia, is now paying for his meager record. Despite his administration's 400 kilometers of roads and free university tuition, "Mister George" failed to persuade most voters on October 10.
Over the past six years, his reputation has degraded. Though his supporters considered him as the one who cemented peace in the country after the civil war—which, according to the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, killed 250,000 lives—ended twenty years ago, the Weah presidency is presently associated with impunity for corruption.
Even if they only receive 2% of the vote, Mr Weah and Mr Boakai are now in a race against time to reclaim the votes of candidates who were disqualified in the first round. It is time to negotiate for heads of essential administrations or ministerial positions. Weah is the favorite in this game due to his power. According to Lucia Maria Ursa, political actors' power supersedes party platforms and ideologies, particularly in Liberia.
Mr. Boakai urged the opposition to stand with him in his efforts to "save" Liberia from the CDC's "flagrant incompetence, corruption, insecurity, and lack of leadership" during a press conference on Thursday, October 19. It will be difficult for George Weah to win over people outside of the southeast, where he received about 85% of the vote, while Joseph Boakai prevailed in the counties with the highest population.
Although foreign observers praised the first round of this election for its legitimacy, more people expressed concern over the second round. Despite the candidates' April pledges to resolve disagreements through institutions such as mediation, some opposition voices are already accusing the other candidates of fraud. This begs whether, on November 7, the loser will acknowledge the outcome.
In a surprising turn, George Weah lost the election at the end of November. The anticipated runoff did not favor the incumbent, marking a significant shift in Liberia's democracy. The unexpected defeat of George Weah will not only reshape the nation's leadership but will also ignite a renewed commitment to the principles of democracy and governance. As the dust settles, Liberia's democratic spirit remains unyielding, paving the way for a new era of resilience, inclusivity, and progress.