Dr Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, Member of the European Parliament, (2nd from left) was part of the European Union observer delegation in Monrovia, Liberia. The MEPs are pictured above here with the newly-elected President, Mr Joseph Boakai (3rd from left). Far right is the Spokeswoman of the President-elect/Photo: Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana

Liberia: We witnessed victory for democracy — Herzberger-Fofana, MEP

An EU observer mission witnessed the recent presidential election in Liberia. Dr Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, Member of the European Parliament who was a member of the mission, writes about what they witnessed in Liberia and her views on the future of the country

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The change of government took place in accordance with democratic principles and the laws in force in Liberia. Joseph Boakai won with 50.64% of the vote against the 49.36% garnered by incumbent George Weah, with a margin of only 20,567 votes, at the November 14 presidential runoff election.

President George Weah acknowledged his defeat and called on the population to remain calm. He asked his supporters to accept the verdict of the ballot box. In his address, he declared:  

“I stand before you tonight with a heavy heart but with the greatest respect for the democratic process that has defined our nation […]

“The Liberian people have spoken and their choice will be honoured and respected […] The CDC [Congress for Democratic Change, his party] lost the election, but Liberia won.  The real winners of these elections are the Liberian people. Now is the time to show elegance in defeat”.

This is how the President of Liberia, George Weah, announced the results of the elections for the presidency and vice-presidency of the Republic, which would have been assumed by Mrs Jewel Taylor. The President congratulated the opponent, the future Head of State, Mr Joseph Boakai.

Dr Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, Member of the European Parliament, and President George Weah in his office in Monrovia/Photo: Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana

The second round of Liberia’s presidential elections took place on 14 November 2023 and 2.4 million voters were called to the polls to elect their president for the next six years. Following the first round of the elections, only two candidates remained in the race: current President George Weah, 57, and ambassador Joseph Boakai,78, his opponent from the UP (Unity Party). Neither candidate had obtained an absolute majority to be elected. The race was therefore on for alliances with the 18 candidates eliminated in the first round.

The electoral campaign

The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) was invited by the Liberian authorities to observe the general elections. The EU EOM deployed 85 observers from the 27 Member States of the European Union, Canada and Norway to assess the entire electoral process in terms of democratic elections. The EU observers visited 326 polling stations in rural and urban areas in 15 counties and 63 of the 73 districts. A delegation of 7 members of the European Parliament joined the mission, including ourselves.

Many Liberians did not turn out for the second round. The turnout was 58.86%.  This was significantly lower than in the first round. According to observers, apart from a few scuffles, the campaign was generally calm.

Mr Jarek Dománski, head of the EU EOM, stressed that:

“Procedural irregularities were reduced during the second round thanks to a programme of electoral staff handovers organised by the electoral commission.”

However, during our visit to the opposition leader, Mr Boakai told us of irregularities, clashes and even gunfire against a convoy of his supporters. He showed us videos of the attacks and of people visibly injured.

In the local media, freedom of the press was respected. On social networks, however, misinformation, inflammatory and violent comments and hate speech were the order of the day.

The candidates

The campaign for the second round focused on the personalities of the candidates, with a lack of debate on specific policy issues.

Dr Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana in Monrovia/Photo: Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana

“Mister George”, the affectionate name of the current incumbent president, enjoys great popularity among young people as a former professional international football player and the only African to have won the Ballon d’Or, football’s most prestigious award.

However, he was a political new comer when he was elected six years ago. He led the country during Covid-19, which reduced his room for manoeuvre. His programme focused on education, household electrification, road building and hospitals. He had promised to focus on poverty reduction and to work for the development of a country that had been torn apart by a long war and undermined the democratic process.  President George Weah has faced harsh criticism. His compatriots accuse him of not having kept his promises and of being out of touch with the realities of his people.

His opponent, Joseph Boakai, on the other hand, has held numerous positions in the private and state sectors. From 2006 to 2018, he was the vice-president to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman elected head of state in Africa and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

He is the third democratically-elected president with 50% of the vote in a country with a population of around 5 million. However, his age, 78, was seen as a handicap, which is ridiculous. He is as old as the President of the United States and shares the same nickname “sleepy Joe”.

Mr Boakai inspires respect and has solid experience of the political world. The main thing is that the people have put their trust in him, as the election results prove. The future president has promised to fight corruption, improve the lives of the most disadvantaged, build roads and infrastructure, promote agriculture, attract investors and lower the price of basic foods such as rice.

Conclusion

More than a fifth of the Liberian population lives on less than 2.15 dollars a day, according to the World Bank. The challenges facing the newly elected president are high.  President Joseph Boakai will be sworn in in January 2024 and will take up his new duties on that date. He can count on the support of all his compatriots.

In his speech, outgoing President Georg Weah thanked all those who had contributed to the election campaign. He concluded his speech by saying.

“May God bless Liberia and may we continue to fight together for a better future”.

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