Liberians are going to the polls on Tuesday to choose a successor to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female president who won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to end a 14-year civil war.
The main candidates to succeed her are Vice-President Joseph Boakai, representing the ruling Unity Party, and former football star George Weah who lost to Johnson Sirleaf in 2005.
Twenty candidates are standing with none thought likely to win a majority outright. The top two are expected to face each other in a run-off in around a month. Parliamentary elections are also being held at the same time.
Ahead of the vote, the president said it would be the first smooth transfer of power in three generations and called for a peaceful day.
“Remember that you are an empowered people, the future of the country is in your hands. No one is entitled to your vote, not because of party, ethnicity, religion or tribal affiliation,” she said.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was finance minister in the 1970s and 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 two sons have been implicated in corruption scandals.
Security forces numbering some 5,000 are being deployed to keep order. They include police and members of the United Nations mission in the country.
“No security personnel is allowed to get around the voting area in terms of getting involved with opening the boxes that contain ballot papers, getting involved with the counting process, we have warned our officers to stay clear off,” said Deputy Police Commissioner Sam Collins.
There is optimism that the vote will pass off peacefully, and for the future of the country generally. Liberia’s economy is four times the size it was when Johnson Sirleaf took office.
Charles Taylor, the warlord who ruled in the country’s darkest days is now in a British jail, serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity.
Euronews correspondent Nii Akrofi Smart-Abbey reported from the capital Monrovia:
“With voting materials now dispatched to the various voting stations and the security service also ready and alert to ensure a peaceful and transparent process, it’s now up to Liberians to decide who their new leader will be. The electoral commission has up to two weeks to announce the new leader of this West African country.”