Early poll numbers released on Wednesday for Liberia’s presidential race showed incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ahead of her main rival, former U.N. diplomat Winston Tubman, by about 16,000 votes. Sirleaf is the first democratically-elected female leader in Africa and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. Analysts predict the race will be close to the end.
The Liberia Media Center, a local media association, released unofficial partial results on Wednesday, based on a total of 220,000 votes that had been counted, Reuters reports. Ex-rebel leader Prince Johnson was a distant third in the race, the LMC said. Official preliminary figures will be released on Thursday. If no candidate captures a 50 percent majority, the two front-runners will go into a run-off vote scheduled for early November.
The election is the second since a vicious civil war, lasting from 1989 to 2003, killed more than 200,000 people and left the political system in shambles. About 1.8 million Liberians registered for Tuesday’s election, and if all goes well, it could set the stage for billions of dollars in investment in the nation’s mining, energy and agriculture sectors. So far, there have been no reports of irregularities or incidents of violence, an improvement from when Sirleaf’s election to office in 2005 brought about days of rioting in the capital of Monrovia.
Rivals have attempted to appeal to voters by pegging the Harvard-educated Sirleaf as an out-of-touch Ivy Leaguer who can’t serve the needs of the impoverished nation, where the unemployment rate peaked at 85 percent in 2003.