Political campaigns in Liberia officially closed at midnight (1 a.m. Nigerian time) on Sunday ahead of the country’s crucial presidential and House of Representatives elections billed for Tuesday. The West African country heads to the polls with 20 candidates in the race for the top job, as incumbent President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf prepares to step down after two terms in office. This would be the first time for the transfer of power from one democratically elected president to another in the country since 1944.
A News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) team covering the exercise in Monrovia, the nation’s capital, reports that most of the candidates headed to various churches for prayers on the last day of campaigns. After service, some of the candidates and their supporters hit major roads and streets on a last-minute push to sway voters.
Johnson-Sirleaf’s aspiring successors included her two-term Vice President, Mr Joseph Boakai; football icon, George Weah; prominent businessman, Mr Alexander Cummings and veteran opposition figure, Mr Charles Brumskine. Also in the race is Prince Johnson, a former warlord and key player in the First Liberian Civil War between 1989 until 1997. Ms MacDella Cooper, a philanthropist and founder of the MacDella Cooper Foundation, which is devoted to improving the lives of children and women in Liberia, is the only female presidential candidate.
Many political observers believe the election is a two-horse race between Vice President Boakai and Weah, who lost to Sirleaf in a run-off in the 2005 presidential polls. Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) trailed Boakai, who is running on the platform of the ruling Unity Party (UP), in opinion polls conducted by the Liberia Holding Consortium in June, July and August. However, another survey by the International Political Polls in August favoured Weah with 25 per cent against Boakai’s 21 per cent.
Cummings, a former Executive Vice President of Coca-Cola, who joined the race 18 months ago, is reported to have become a big force with his door-to-door campaign strategy. The major issues in this election are sustainability of peace and stability, corruption, infrastructure and economic development. Johnson-Sirleaf is lauded by many here for restoring and sustaining peace in a country ravaged by two civil wars spanning 14 years. Her government has also improved the country’s collapsed infrastructure, including the hydro electricity dam and roads, in addition to pushing for investment in the economy. But those achievements are challenged by allegations of corruption and nepotism by her critics.
A total of 986 candidates are listed by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) of Liberia to compete for the 73 seats in the House of Representatives elections. The country operates a bi-camera legislature comprising the House of Representatives and Senate with 30 members. The Senatorial elections would be held in 2019.
There are 2.1 million registered voters in this election, according to the NEC, out of a total national population of 4.5 million people. They will vote at 5,390 polling stations in 2,080 polling centres across 15 counties into which the country is divided.
According to political commentators, Tuesday’s general elections are another major test for the country after 12 years of uninterrupted peace and stability under Johnson-Sirleaf.
Liberia has been through turbulent times in recent years characterised by two civil wars and an outbreak of the devastating Ebola virus disease in 2014. Meanwhile, 148 international observers from 10 organisations including African Union, ECOWAS, The Carter Foundation, and the National Democratic Institute, are already in the country to monitor the exercise. They will be joined by 1,920 local observers drawn from 24 organisations across the country, according to the NEC.