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Liberia’s President Concedes Election Defeat in a Knife-Edge Vote

Liberia’s president, George Weah, conceded defeat on Friday evening in his bid for a second time period, after a good runoff in opposition to Joseph Boakai, a 78-year-old political veteran, in an election that was thought-about a check of democracy within the West African nation.

Mr. Boakai, who had served as vice chairman for 12 years below the previous president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, defeated Mr. Weah, a 57-year-old former soccer star, by a razor-thin margin.

The nation’s nationwide election fee stopped in need of declaring a winner on Friday afternoon, however introduced that with greater than 99 % of the ballots counted, Mr. Boakai held 50.89 % of the votes, and Mr. Weah 49.11 %. It was the nation’s tightest election in twenty years, and a rematch of the election in 2017, when Mr. Weah handily beat Mr. Boakai.

Mr. Weah mentioned in a radio deal with broadcast late on Friday night that whereas his celebration had misplaced the election, “Liberia has gained.”

“It is a time for graciousness in defeat, a time to position our nation above celebration, and patriotism above private curiosity,” he mentioned.

His phrases marked a notably peaceable transition of energy at a time when many different West African nations have endured a spate of coups, getting old leaders clinging to energy and elections tormented by allegations of vote rigging.

In Nigeria and in Sierra Leone, impartial observers have solid doubt on the outcomes of presidential contests this 12 months. In Niger and Guinea, juntas rule regardless of worldwide efforts to restore civilian authoritiess.

That is the primary time for the reason that early 1900s that an incumbent president of Liberia has not been re-elected after serving one time period. The swearing-in ceremony is scheduled for January.

The election, first held on Oct. 10 with the runoff on Tuesday, was the primary one managed solely by Liberian authorities with out worldwide funding or help for the reason that nation emerged in 2003 from a ruinous civil battle.

Mr. Boakai plans to talk publicly on Saturday, his spokesman mentioned. The candidate informed Reuters on Friday evening, “Firstly, we wish to have a message of peace and reconciliation.”

The presidential marketing campaign hinged on accusations that Mr. Weah tolerated corruption in authorities circles and didn’t ship jobs and growth, regardless of the nation’s financial rebound after the pandemic.

One voter within the capital, Monrovia, mentioned that he had solid a poll for Mr. Boakai due to his promise to crack down on drug abuse and corruption.

“It’s unthinkable that you’d see younger individuals getting hooked on medicine, and the president doesn’t have any thought sort out it,” mentioned the voter, MacPherson Darweh, who’s 45.

Mr. Weah “doesn’t have a way of belonging and doesn’t even understand how the nation has been ruled and run,” Mr. Darweh mentioned. “He nonetheless thinks he’s a soccer participant working round city.”

Liberia, a rustic of 5.5 million individuals, declared independence within the nineteenth century — a century forward of most African nations — with a democratic political system that was modeled on that of the US.

However the nation was racked by civil wars from 1989 to 2003 that left about 250,000 individuals useless.

The Ebola epidemic between 2013 and 2016 additionally killed 1000’s, leaving the nation in a precarious state and prompting the United Nations to take over group of the nation’s elections — till this 12 months.

Liberia’s economic system grew by 4.8 % in 2022, based on the World Financial institution, primarily pushed by mining and a comparatively good agricultural harvest. However greater than 80 % of the inhabitants is meals insecure, the World Financial institution mentioned in July, and costs of primary meals merchandise and gas have skyrocketed over the previous 12 months, with over half of Liberians dwelling beneath the poverty line, on $1.90 a day.

A staff of observers from the Financial Neighborhood of West African States on Wednesday congratulated Liberians for “the widely peaceable conduct of the elections up to now.” The European Union mentioned in a press release that Tuesday’s runoff was “calm” and “effectively organized,” and there have been “organizational enhancements” in comparison with the primary spherical.

Law enforcement officials in riot gear patrolled the streets of Monrovia, the Liberian capital, because the vote proceeded, whereas polling staff counted ballots late into the evening by lamps and flashlights due to energy cuts, which have turn into frequent within the nation.

Mr. Weah and Mr. Boakai had completed nearly neck and neck within the first spherical of the election, with neither passing the 50 % threshold required to be declared the outright winner. Mr. Weah had a slim lead, by simply over 7,000 votes.

Mr. Boakai, a political veteran in Liberia, served as agriculture minister within the Eighties, and director of the state-owned Liberian Petroleum Refinery in 1992, when the civil battle raged. Though he was not implicated in any corruption scandals, as vice chairman he was accused by his critics of turning a blind eye to corruption within the authorities.

On this 12 months’s election, he appeared to achieve traction by portraying himself as a secure pair of arms to steer the nation in a brand new route. He targeted on grievances with Mr. Weah’s rule, criticizing his opponent for his lavish life-style and for being out of contact with Liberian society.

However Mr. Boakai’s opponents targeted on his being almost 80 years previous, and nicknamed him “Sleepy Joe,” accusing him of napping throughout a public occasion.

The election was a rerun of the vote in 2017, when Mr. Weah defeated Mr. Boakai by a comparatively massive margin, capitalizing on his standing as a sports activities famous person and political outsider who claimed he may higher the lives of peculiar Liberians.

Final time round, Mr. Weah’s story of ascent to the head of world soccer after rising up in a Liberian slum had resonated with younger individuals in a nation the place 60 % of the inhabitants is below 25.

However his picture as an advocate for the poor cracked below the load of graft scandals, a failure to cope with the drug disaster and hovering dwelling prices. Underneath his authorities, Liberia has fallen 20 locations on a corruption index compiled by Transparency International, rating 142nd final 12 months out of 180 nations.

Final 12 months, the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on three Liberian officers, together with Mr. Weah’s chief of employees, Nathaniel McGill. An investigation promised by Mr. Weah has but to materialize.

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