Liberians Begin Voting as Johnson-Sirleaf Seeks Second Term

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who was elected Africa’s first female president, has been working to rebuild a country devastated by a 14-year civil war that ended in 2003, leaving an estimated 250,000 people dead. Photographer: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images

Liberians began voting today, deciding whether to give Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf a second term in the presidency amid promises to create jobs and boost investment.

Liberians lined up in rainy weather for at least two hours before voting stations opened at 8 a.m. in the capital, Monrovia.

“There are no reported incidents of violence or any form of disruptions,” Bobby Livingstone, director of press for the National Elections Commission, said by phone.

Johnson-Sirleaf, 72, faces 15 candidates including Winston Tubman, 70, a lawyer whose running mate is George Weah, a soccer star who won the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1995, and 60-year-old lawyer Charles Brumskine. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote a second round of balloting will be held.

Announcement of results will start tomorrow with the final outcome given Oct. 26, said James Fromoyan, chairman of the elections body, in a statement broadcast on radio stations Oct. 9. Voters are also choosing 15 junior senators and 73 lawmakers, he said.

Closing Borders

Johnson-Sirleaf, who was elected Africa’s first female president, has been working to rebuild a country devastated by a 14-year civil war that ended in 2003, leaving an estimated 250,000 people dead. The economy is forecast to expand 6.9 percent this year, outpacing the estimated sub-Saharan African average of 5.2 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund. The former banker was named a joint winner of the Nobel prize on Oct. 7 for her work in promoting women’s rights.

The voting period may ignite tensions in the country where “there are over 100,000 former combatants who do not have a livelihood,” Joseph Lake, an analyst with London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, said in an interview on Oct. 6.

After a disputed election in neighboring Ivory Coast last year, hundreds of former Liberian fighters crossed the border as mercenaries in a violent conflict that killed as many as 3,000 people, according to the International Criminal Court.

Liberia closed its land borders yesterday until results are announced, said Immigration Commissioner Chris Massaquoi.

“We have not done this to instill fear in any citizen,” he said by phone. “There is every reason for us to be able to institute those measures to protect our territorial borders and our citizens in order to avoid any disruption during the electoral exercise.”

Infrastructure, Jobs

Candidates have promised to improve infrastructure and create jobs in a country where 15 percent of the workforce is formally employed, according to the U.S. State Department. It ranks 162nd out of 169 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index, which measures development indicators including education and income.

Since taking office in 2005, the country has attracted more than $16 billion in investments and “we are now able to create jobs for the next six years for the people of Liberia if we win the elections,” she said in a Sept. 23 statement on the presidency’s website. She promised to create at least 20,000 positions a year, according to the statement.

Johnson-Sirleaf “has been quite successful in negotiating large mining contracts,” Lake said. “Unfortunately, the impact of the foreign investment her government has been able to attract has yet to be felt. The perception of corruption is widespread and there has been a relative lack of progress in terms of job creation.”

Iron Ore, Oil

ArcelorMittal, the world’s biggest steelmaker, started iron-ore shipments on Sept. 27. OAO Severstal, Russia’s largest steelmaker, is developing the Putu iron ore mine in a $2.5 billion investment and Chevron Corp., the second-largest U.S. oil company, will start exploration drilling off the Liberian coast in the fourth quarter of this year.

“Johnson-Sirleaf has a lot of international support but Liberians do not find her as strong a president as she is being portrayed outside the country,” Titi Ajayi, a research fellow with Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said by phone from Dakar on Oct. 5. “There are allegations of corruption and criticism that she didn’t do enough to fight it.”

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