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Liberia Certifies Election, Clears Way for Second Round

Campaigning can begin for a second round presidential runoff vote in war-shattered Liberia on November 8, as official results from the first round were certified in Monrovia. Former soccer star George Weah will face off against economist Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Meanwhile, final results indicate a fractured new Congress.

Twenty-two candidates ran in the presidential race, and a first round winner would have needed more than 50 percent of the vote to win.

But the combined results of the top two candidates did not manage that total. Mr. Weah, who garnered about 28 percent of the first round vote, will face Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf who got nearly 20 percent.

Local journalist David Targbe says as the new campaign season begins Thursday, the two are trying to win the support from the losing candidates.

"What is now going on is that political parties are meeting, having their own meetings to decide which of the two parties, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and George Weah to give their support to," explained Mr. Targbe. "Already Varney Sherman has declared his support, the Coalition for the Transformation of Liberia headed by Varney Sherman and others have given their support for the George Weah presidency in the second round of voting."

Mr. Sherman finished fifth overall, but first in the western Grand Cape Mount county. Others supporting Mr. Weah include former rebel leader and failed candidate, Sekou Conneh, who got less than one percent.

Meanwhile, Mr. Targbe says Mrs. Sirleaf has gotten support from Jewel Howard Taylor, the wife of former exiled President Charles Taylor.

"She said that Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as she sees her is the right person, is the best option for Liberia coming out of several years of war and she said Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf has all the qualities, she is experienced, she is well educated, and so she can make a better president and deliver Liberia from the ashes of war," he noted.

Mrs. Taylor easily won a Senate seat in Bong County, but other members of her party are supporting Mr. Weah.

Meanwhile, several women who won seats in the new Congress for Mr. Weah's party said they would support Mrs. Sirleaf for the presidency, adding to the confusion among party lines.

Other elected senators include former rebel leader, Prince Johnson, who ran as an independent in Nimba County.

Out of the 30 seats in the new Senate, Mr. Sherman's coalition did the best, getting seven seats. In the 64-seat Congress, Mr. Weah's party came out first with 13 seats, doing well in Monrovia, but overall just a fraction ahead of other parties.

Turnout was nearly 75 percent. Voting in the first round was free, fair and peaceful, but U.N. spokesman Paul Risley says the second round carries more risk.

"I would say there is a great risk as we go into the next two weeks of a very brief campaign period but certainly the U.N. and the international peacekeepers and police force here are very much on alert and will be quite quick frankly to put down any attempts to disrupt the election," said Mr. Risley. "I think it is everybody's concern now that there are only two candidates that some aspects of the voters in Liberia will become more polarized and thus, in some ways, the danger of some sort of election related violence or disruption is much greater now than it was prior to the 11th of October."

This week, peacekeepers had to quell a riot by former soldiers demanding demobilization pay. Many ex-combatants support Mr. Weah, and expected him to win in the first round, and other politicians have expressed fears that if the former soccer star does not win, there could be violence.