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Optimism ahead of Liberia's election

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Optimism ahead of Liberia's election

Optimism ahead of Liberia's election
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After a dozen years of recovery under Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberians are optimistic about their first power transfer for 73 years.

How many candidates are standing in the election?

Twenty. The first round of the vote is on Tuesday.

Observers think no one is likely to win a majority outright. This means the top two candidates are expected to face each other in a run-off in around a month.

Who is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf?

A former finance minister in the 1970s who fled after a coup and worked for the World Bank and Citibank during her exile.

Supporters say she restored a measure of professionalism to a government that had been seized by a military junta in 1980.

Outside her home country, Johnson Sirleaf has served as an ambassador for peace in an unstable region.


But?

Many Liberians say she failed to stamp out graft and nepotism that have held the country back.

Her son, Robert Sirleaf, was a senior advisor and ran state oil firm NOCAL which collapsed after his tenure as crude prices slumped in 2015.

Her other son, Charles, was among 45 government officials suspended in 2012 for failing to declare their assets to anti-corruption authorities. Johnson Sirleaf declared her assets this year.

Last year a grand jury indicted government officials, including the speaker of parliament on charges including bribery.

Who are the other candidates?

Among the front-runners seen as likely to win a place in the run-off are Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai, representing the ruling Unity Party, and football star George Weah. He lost to Johnson Sirleaf in 2005.


Weah has served in the Senate since 2014 for the opposition Congress for Democratic Change.

Many candidates have promised a break from the past.


Have things been peaceful so far?

Yes. The campaign has been rambunctious but has passed off without incident so far.

The expectation is that it will come off without bloodshed.

What kind of situation is Liberia in?

Pretty good. 78-year-old Johnson Sirleaf has a lot to boast about since she became Africa’s first modern female head-of-state.

The economy is four times the size it was when she took office in 2005. Violent gang warfare is a receding memory.

Analsysts say the recovery has been remarkable. GDP for the country of 4.6 million reached 2.1 billion dollars last year, up from just 550 million the year Johnson Sirleaf took office.

Charles Taylor, the warlord who ruled in Liberia’s darkest days is now in a British jail, serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity, including terrorism, pillage, rape, murder and sexual slavery.


Is it all good news, then?

Not quite. Liberia is still one of the world’s poorest countries. Its health services were overwhelmed three years ago by an outbreak of the Ebola virus.

Residents complain of corrupt officials and poor public services. They are looking forward to the prospect of change.

What they are saying

“For me, the only thing about this administration is peace. I gave her a plus in that. She has not been able to deal with corruption, she failed to deal with people who took money to build their big houses,” – Timothy Sambulah, a taxi driver in the capital, Monrovia.

“There will be no business as usual. We are going to end the ear of selective justice so people are given equal protection under the law,” – Charles Walker Brumskine, Liberal Party candidate.

“High-level corruption has been a slap in the face for Liberians, most of whom live in abject poverty,” – Liberian political analyst Robtel Neajai.