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Runoff Presidential Elections Likely in Liberia


As results from Tuesday's presidential elections in Liberia begin to trickle in, it appears increasingly likely that none of the candidates received more than 50 percent of the vote and there will be a runoff election between the top two contenders, former soccer star George Weah and former finance minister Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. If so, the runoffs will offer Liberian voters a choice of contenders with vastly different backgrounds.

Over the din of traffic, debate can be overheard about George Weah, or "The King," as some call him, against Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf - "Mama" to her supporters.

The two top candidates have many differences, the most obvious of which is their age. Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf is 66, with a long career as a politician, civil rights activist and World Bank economist on her resume. Mr. Weah is just 40 and only a few years removed from a brilliant soccer career.

Young Monrovia resident Helen Nah says the youth of Liberia identify better with Mr. Weah.

"Yes, we're voting for the young person now because we feel that he's another new person that's coming into the race, that he'll make a change," said Helen Nah.

But, she says Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf has benefited from being a woman.

"Most women voted for Ellen because she's a lady who's fighting for gender equality," she explained. "So most women stand for Ellen."

Even though women largely outnumbered men during Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf's rallies, men were also visible, dancing to her feminist anthem, "I am woman, hear me roar." Accountant Richard Suah was among them.

"Africa needs a woman president not just Liberia, and we are ready, because we suffer, we are suffering," he said. "The woman has struggled; she's the Mandela of Liberia. She has suffered, she has been beaten, she has been jailed for us, so why not?"

The educational background of both leading candidates may also be a campaign issue. While Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf is a Harvard university graduate, Mr. Weah is a primary school dropout.

Newspaper publisher Philip Wesseh says some of Mr. Weah's detractors say he does not have what it takes to lead a nation.

"People on the other side say George Weah does not know books and those who support George Weah say we don't care because he doesn't have a degree, we are caring because we feel that he loves his country," Mr. Wesseh said. "So you have two sides of the coin, one against George Weah which goes, we cannot take you because you don't have a degree. Those who are supporting Mr. Weah say no it's not a matter of degree, it's a matter of love."

Whether the backing of Mr. Weah by former combatants in the bloody civil war will hurt the ex-soccer star is also a matter of some conjecture. Steven K. Masseh, who supports Mr. Weah, says, this won't hurt his candidate.

"I will tell you that things are fine, there's no war, nothing is going to happen to this country, no youth are going to take up arms again," he said. "We are tired of war. Anybody in the election, we are going to support that person but nobody should carry the propaganda saying that all the people supporting George Weah, they are so and so uneducated people, they are so and so ex-combatants, I want to tell you it's false."

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