October 13, 2005

Early results suggest run-off in Liberia election

By Nick Tattersall

MONROVIA (Reuters) - Early results from Liberia's first
post-war elections showed on Thursday that soccer star George
Weah and former Finance Minister Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf may face
a second-round run-off.

Two days after Tuesday's landmark presidential and
parliamentary polls, results trickled in agonizingly slowly
from a vote intended to draw a line under the West African
country's brutal 14-year civil war.

As each piecemeal result was announced by local radio,
residents in the crumbling capital Monrovia sent up loud
cheers, women danced on the streets and taxis honked their

With official results in from only 278 of the 3,070 polling
stations, former AC Milan striker Weah lead the field of 22
presidential hopefuls with 23.7 percent of the vote, ahead of
Harvard-trained economist Johnson-Sirleaf with 14.9 percent.

"With the current trend, it is likely that there will be a
second round," National Elections Commission chief Frances
Johnson-Morris told reporters.

Electoral officials have said a final result could take
between three and seven days. If no candidate gains more than
50 percent, a run-off will be held no more than two weeks

If 66-year-old grandmother Johnson-Sirleaf wins, she would
become Africa's first elected female president.

"I am sure there will be a second round. The race is just
not clear. We keep seeing different people rising," said Simeon
Tyler, a 34-year-old security guard. "It will be very difficult
for anyone to get over 50 percent."

Some newspapers reported Johnson-Sirleaf in the lead,
others put Weah ahead and still others said the contest would
go to a second round.

Electoral chief Johnson-Morris cautioned voters against
proclaiming a victory too soon.

"People ... are thinking a person has won, but we still
have a long way to go," she said. "We know the public are
anxious ... I can understand, most of our people are

Liberians hope the polls will cement stability two years
after a war that killed a quarter of a million people, uprooted
almost a third of the population and left the country's
infrastructure in ruins.


Weah, 39, is expected to do well in Monrovia, where he grew
up and his well-funded campaign has drawn huge crowds. His
support in the rest of the country is untested as he has no
established party machine behind him.

Some question whether the soccer star has the
qualifications and political experience to be president. His
supporters retort that Harvard-trained professionals such as
Johnson-Sirleaf have done little to help ordinary Liberians in
the past two decades.

Both have said they would work together whoever wins and
have pledged to make reconstruction their priority, restoring
running water and mains electricity.

The shadow of exiled former President Charles Taylor, who
triggered the civil war in 1989 and is seen as the mastermind
of several West African conflicts, hangs over the polls.

A prosecutor for a U.N.-backed court in Sierra Leone, where
Taylor is wanted for war crimes, said last week he had evidence
the former warlord was supporting candidates.

One of the presidential hopefuls represents Taylor's
National Patriotic Party.