The second round of the presidential elections in Liberia is held today, November 14th. The ones competing in the run-off will be the outgoing president George Weah and the challenger Joseph Boakai, who obtained 43.8 and 43.4 percent of the votes respectively in the first round on October 10th. According to observers, the thin margin of votes that separated the two candidates in the first round – only 7,126 votes out of almost two million – and the absence of a strong third candidate should favor a particularly balanced competition. The ballot represents a sort of referendum on the actions of the party in power, the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC). Many were in fact disappointed by Weah’s performance, in particular with regards to widespread corruption, the high rate of youth unemployment, inflation and general economic difficulties. Supporters of the ruling party, on the other hand, argue that the new law in force from July 2022 represents proof of the administration’s fight against corruption.
Weah, running for a second term, remains the clear favorite in the presidential race, and during the election campaign he said he was confident of obtaining absolute victory in the first round. The outgoing president confirmed as his “running mate” his current deputy, Jewel Howard-Taylor, ex-wife of former president Charles Taylor, president of Liberia from 1997 to 2003 who is now serving a 50-year prison sentence of the United Kingdom for crimes against humanity committed in the Sierra Leone civil war. In touting his first-term successes, Weah listed the free tuition program for undergraduates at public universities, established in 2018; the payment of taxes for public school students; the increase in access to electricity and, at the same time, the reduction of its costs from 38 cents to an average of 15 cents per kilowatt. The administration has also initiated several road construction projects across the country. Despite this, Weah’s critics argue that corruption – already widespread in the country – has further spread under his presidency, and that the state of the economy and the increase in food prices that led to the protests in June 2019 and December last year are indicators of the failure of his government. In his manifesto, Weah promised to reduce the out-of-pocket payment of medical expenses through a compulsory social health insurance system and also promised to provide “off-the-grid” solar energy for public hospitals and secondary schools. The former football star also promised to create sustainable jobs by formalizing artisanal and small-scale mining and providing prosecutors with training on sexual and gender-based violence.
On the other hand, his main challenger Boakai has decades of experience in Liberia’s public sector and enjoys widespread recognition in the country, now aiming for the presidency under the banner of the Unity Party. The 78-year-old previously served as agriculture minister from 1983 to 1985 and vice-president from 2006 to 2018, under President Johnson-Sirleaf. This year Boakai formed an alliance with the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction (MDR), founded by former warlord – later senator – Prince Johnson. As a result, Boakai chose MDR Senator Jeremiah Koung as his running mate. The MDR had already formed an alliance with Weah’s CDC in 2017, supporting him in the second round of the elections and thus being decisive for his election. The alliance however dissolved in 2022, amid Johnson’s complaints about a lack of job opportunities for his “his people”. For many observers, therefore, Boakai’s second attempt at the presidency is a revenge with Weah after the two faced each other in the run-off elections of 2017, which Weah then won. Drawing on his experience, Boakai has made agriculture a key issue in his campaign, promising to increase domestic rice production and establish three agricultural machinery centers in the country. The former minister also promised to pave highways connecting county capitals and those linking Liberia to other countries in order to improve cross-border trade, and to work with parliament to establish a specialized court to expedite cases of corruption and economic crimes and to support the private sector in developing programs for the recycling of solid waste into the production of renewable energy.
The electoral campaign was characterized by strong tensions. Ahead of the first round in October, the United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) said it was “concerned” about possible violence, recalling that at least two people died and 20 others were injured during the clashes that took place in recent weeks between supporters of the ruling party, CDC, and the opposition Unity Party. The clashes occurred in the Foya district, while “outbreaks of violence” also occurred in the counties of Nimba, Montserrado and Grand Cape Mount. In view of the vote, and to prevent possible irregularities in the electoral operations, in August the European Union decided to send an electoral observation mission led by Andreas Schieder, member of the European Parliament. The EU has already sent election observation missions to Liberia in 2018, 2012, 2007 and 2002, as well as an election follow-up mission in 2022. The team will be made up of ten election experts who arrived in Monrovia on 27 August, while On September 5, another 20 long-term observers joined the mission to be deployed across the country to monitor the election campaign. Subsequently, another 40 observers strengthened the mission by being deployed throughout the country. The EU election observation mission will remain in Liberia until the electoral process is completed.
This article is originally published on .agenzianova.com