Liberians head to the polls on Tuesday (10 October) to elect a successor to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who will step down after 12 years at the helm of Africa’s oldest republic.
Over two million Liberian voters will participate at the general election to choose a president out of 20 candidates and 73 lawmakers out of the 986 aspirants.
Among those jostling to succeed Sirleaf, Africa’s first democratically elected female president, are football icon George Weah, incumbent Vice President Joseph Boakai, longtime opposition figure Charles Brumskine and former Coca-Cola executive Alexander Cummings, who are considered front-runners. Former warlord Prince Johnson, notorious for capturing and torturing President Samuel K. Doe, while recording it on camera, is also contesting.
While ordinary Liberians are grateful that peace has held through Sirleaf’s two terms in office, living standards in Liberia remain poor for most and have become the focus of the campaign.
Liberia has been through tumultuous times in recent years: from two brutal back-to-back civil wars to an outbreak of the devastating ebola virus disease, which have further impoverished the country.
Liberia’s most famous son and former world footballer of the year, Weah of the Congress for Democratic Change, attracts huge crowds of youth supporters in a country where a fifth of the electorate is aged 18 to 22, but is criticised for issuing vague promises and for his long absences from the country.
Some also question his choice of vice president, Jewel Howard-Taylor, the ex-wife of former President Charles Taylor, who is currently serving time in Britain for war crimes committed. He is rumoured to be issuing orders by phone from his jail cell. Weah denies contact with him.
President Sirleaf is rumoured to be backing Brumskine, Liberty Party candidate, and not Boakai, who has been her deputy for 12 years and is running on the platform of the ruling United Party. The 66-year-old Brumskine is considered the most popular opposition politician in the country. He challenged Sirleaf in her 2011 second-term bid but failed to make it into the top three.
The elections of a president, vice president and members of the House of Representatives are a “crucial test for the democratic process in Liberia,” Maria Arena, chief observer of the European Union, told journalists in Monrovia last week.
“A peaceful transition from one elected president to another is important not only for Liberia but also as an example for the region,” she said.
The election is a major test for the nation, as it seeks to manage its own security for the first time since the United Nations peacekeeping mission pulled out completely two years ago.
Liberia practices the two-round system of voting for its presidential election.
This requires the winning candidate to secure an absolute majority of votes (50% + 1) or proceed to a run-off between the two candidates with the most votes.
The candidate with the absolute majority in the run-off wins the election.
The legislative election is done using the first-past-the-post system of voting. This means the voter casts a single vote for the candidate of their choice. The candidate who receives the most votes is declared winner. This system does not require a run-off in the legislative election.
The final results of the elections will be announced on 25 October. If there is no winner, a run-off will be held exactly a month after.