Liberians Carefully Choose a New Leader

Tuesday’s presidential elections are the second since the country’s brutal civil war ended in 2003.

Posted: 10/11/2011 02:12 PM EDT
Filed Under Africa Political

Liberians went to the polls Tuesday in the first locally run presidential election since civil war ended in 2003 to determine the fate of their newly peaceful nation.

In total, 807 international and 4,383 local observers and security officers are on hand to watch the election and maintain peace. In 2006, the elections were run by the United Nations in efforts to ensure peace and fairness would prevail given the country’s blistered political past. Now, with this election run by Liberian officials, the country is attempting to show the world that it has moved past its differences.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of the Unity Party and Winston Tubman of the Congress for Democratic Change lead the presidential candidates, and despite Sirleaf’s international political superstardom and her recent Nobel Peace Prize win, analysts say that the race will be tight. The outcome of the race will likely determine whether the country can hold on to its tenuous peace and fledgling economic growth or be plunged back into the instability of the past.

James Victor Gbeho, president of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) commission, which has sent 150 people to observe the election, urged Liberians to maintain peace during the voting process.

"I wish to urge all candidates and leaders of political parties to prevail upon their supporters to conduct themselves in a civil and disciplined manner in the remaining days of the electoral process, especially during voting and the post-voting period," he said.

Sirleaf and Tubman both boast a broad support base in the country and the outcome of the race may reflect Liberians’ true opinion about Sirleaf’s tenure that has been equally praised and vilified.

She has been criticized for backtracking on her initial declaration that she would only serve as president for one term — an attempt to distance herself from the many sub-Saharan African leaders that have stubbornly held onto power for decades. However, Sirleaf says her work in repairing the war-torn country is not yet finished.

"You cannot rebuild a broken country in six years," Sirleaf told AFP at a rally on Sunday. "This country was totally destroyed. Dysfunctional institutions, destroyed infrastructure, no laws. So it took us time to rebuild and we have made a lot of progress...we still have a few things to do and that is why we want to make sure we are re-elected.”

However, aside from her record as president, opposition supporters say Sirleaf’s actions in backing warlord and former President Charles Taylor during the country’s civil war are inexcusable and represent her inability to fairly rule the country.

Kenyan newspaper the Daily Nation reports that her opponent, Tubman, is calling her Nobel prize win and its timing a conspiracy to help her win the election.

“It is the international community that believes that she helped to end the war, but this is not true," he said. "This is even making most Liberians and electorate angry because it is not true and so is going to lose many votes.”

Additionally, Sirleaf has also come under fire for ignoring the decision by Liberia's post-war Truth and Reconciliation Commission that she should be banned from public office for 30 years for her support of Taylor, who is on trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague for war crimes charges in neighboring Sierra Leone.

In addition to maintaining political and social stability, analysts say that a successful election will bode well for the country in its efforts to attract lucrative foreign investments.

According to Reuters, the head of Liberia's National Oil Company, Christopher Neyor, predicted an offshore oil find is likely and said major oil companies like Exxon Mobil, France's Total and Brazil's Petrobras have all made inquiries with the nation about possible prospects for drilling.

Liberia is Africa’s oldest independent nation and was established in 1847 by freed American slaves.


(Photo: Luc Gnago/Reuters)

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