Monrovia, Liberia | AFP | Liberians turned out in force on Tuesday to choose a successor to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in a contest set to complete the country’s first democratic transition of power in more than 70 years.
A calm day of ballot casting with long lines across the nation gave way to counting after polls closed, capping a campaign hailed for vibrant and violence-free debates and rallies in the small West African nation.
Frontrunners include footballing icon George Weah, incumbent Vice President Joseph Boakai, longtime opposition figure Charles Brumskine and former Coca-Cola executive Alexander Cummings.
Also waiting in the wings with potentially significant vote shares are telecoms tycoon Benoni Urey and former central bank governor Mills Jones.
“I would think the turnout was very high,” commented Jerome Korkoya, Chairman of the National Elections Commission (NEC), speaking around 1530 GMT.
“If you are in a queue by 1800 hours you will be allowed to vote,” he said for those still waiting in long lines.
Some voters who appeared at the wrong polling place or were registered more than once were unable to cast their ballot, he admitted, without putting a figure on those affected.
The first official results could be released as early as Wednesday afternoon, an NEC official told AFP.
“It’s been very peaceful and organised,” Joe Pemagbi, an electoral observer for the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, a civil society group, told AFP.
“The turnout has been really huge, really commendable, and the electoral commission have been responsive to whatever challenges people have raised,” Pemagbi added.
The vote is a crucial test of Liberia’s stability. Sirleaf, Africa’s first female elected head of state, is stepping down after a maximum two six-year terms in which she steered the country away from the trauma of civil war, but, say critics, failed to tackle its poverty.
The nation’s 2.18 million registered voters made their choice from a crowded field of 20 presidential candidates — although just one of them is a woman — and elected 73 seats in the lower chamber, the House of Representatives.
“Whatever the result I will accept it,” Boakai said after casting his vote in the suburb of Paynesville, while Weah, surrounded by cheering supporters, declared his “love for this country will make me a good president.”
Back-to-back civil wars, the 2014-16 Ebola crisis and slumped commodity prices have left Liberia among the world’s poorest nations, while corruption remains entrenched.