MONROVIA (Reuters) - Liberia's Supreme Court on Monday ruled to halt a presidential run-off vote scheduled for Tuesday until the electoral commission investigates allegations of fraud in the Oct. 10 first round.
Former footballer George Weah was set to run off against Vice President Joseph Boakai in Liberia's first democratic transfer of power in over 70 years as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf steps down after two terms.
But preparations for the second round were halted last week when the Supreme Court announced it was examining a complaint by the Liberty Party of third-place candidate Charles Brumskine alleging widespread irregularities during the poll.
The Supreme Court's order for a full investigation into the complaint suggests the delay could be longer than just the few days that many had expected. No new date has been given for the vote.
"The NEC (National Elections Commission) is stopped and prohibited from conducting the run off election until the complaint filed by the petitions is investigated by the NEC," the Supreme Court ruling said.
Addressing the Supreme Court last week, Brumskine cited "gross irregularities" in the first round. His party has complained of the late opening of polls, the absence of queue controllers and fraud by NEC officials.
The NEC has denied wrongdoing and said the election was largely fair. Observers from the European Union and the Carter Center say they saw no major problems with the first round vote.
Still, a growing chorus of parties have expressed doubt in the vote, including Boakai's ruling Unity Party, which in an extraordinary statement last week accused Johnson Sirleaf, one of its own members, of trying to influence the vote.
She denied any wrongdoing, with her spokesman calling the accusation "hate speech".
"This is good for Liberia, and this is a manifestation that we have come a long way in our country and that’s what we asked for - an opportunity to be heard," said Benjamin Sanvee, chairman of the Liberty Party.
The delay has increased tension in Liberia, an iron ore and rubber producer, where many are eager for change after 12 years of Johnson Sirleaf rule. Her tenure has cemented peace after a long civil war but many ordinary Liberians say it did little to alleviate widespread poverty.
Over the past week, armed guards were deployed to the Supreme Court and NEC but some Liberians have expressed relief that the court was taking the fraud allegations seriously.
Neither Weah's CDC party nor the Unity Party had any immediate comment on the delay.
(Reporting by Alphonso Toweh and James Giahyue; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Aaron Ross and Alison Williams)