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Liberian Civil Society Leader's Bid For Presidency Hindered By Corruption Allegations

In the last of a series of reports on some of the candidates running in next week's presidential election in Liberia, VOA's West Africa bureau profiles civil society leader Togba Nah Tipoteh. Mr. Tipoteh is running on a campaign pushing for good governance. But his dark horse bid for the presidency has been hindered by allegations of corruption.

Togba Nah Tipoteh is campaigning for reform, following two years under a transitional government widely accused of mismanaging efforts to rebuild Liberia, after its prolonged and bloody civil war.

At the Monrovia headquarters of Mr. Tipoteh's Alliance for Peace and Democracy, supporter W. Austin Jalh says he has confidence in the appeal of his candidate to the Liberian people.

"We have a sound economist, who has been working with the international scene for a long time, who has credibility, who has good character," he said. "When it comes to good governance, when it comes to fair play in society, when it comes to human rights record, he has a good track record."

Though considered a long shot for victory when Liberians go to the polls next week, Mr. Tipoteh has been a fixture on the political scene for more than three decades. His programs to strengthen Liberia's judiciary and prioritize education have roots in the progressive movement he helped create.

As a Dakar-based West Africa expert for the research organization the International Crisis Group, Mike McGovern explains, beginning in the 1970's, Mr. Tipoteh was at the forefront of a struggle against more than a century of political dominance by the country's Americo-Liberian minority.

"He was one of the people who actually began building the foundation for challenging the assumption that Americo-Liberians were the people who would run the show, more or less, as they chose, and the rest of the Liberian population would pretty much take what they were given," Mr. McGovern said.

Americo-Liberian rule ended in 1980, with the bloody coup that ushered into power army sergeant Samuel Doe. Originally a member of Mr. Doe's government, Mr. Tipoteh soon resigned citing human rights abuses by the military regime as his reason for leaving.

He continued to work for the protection of human rights and the promotion of democracy, even as Liberia slipped into a cycle of civil war that would last nearly a decade and a half.

His decision to remain in the country during much of the fighting, and even after losing his first election bid to rebel leader Charles Taylor, says Mr. McGovern, sets him apart from many of the candidates currently in the race for the presidency.

"For a lot of that time, he was in Liberia, including under the Taylor administration, which gives him a certain amount of bragging rights, you might say, because most of the other candidates, if they were not actually involved in the war, they were out of the region entirely, most of them in the United States," he said.

But, Mr. McGovern says, Mr. Tipoteh has had trouble translating his longstanding role as a civil society leader into popular political support.

"I think his support is largely from that, kind of, old school progressive movement," explained Mike McGovern. "The problem is that there are other candidates, who have links to that movement, namely Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. And, to be perfectly honest, it seems that most of the people have gone over to Ellen's side."

But a split supporter base has not been the only obstacle to Mr. Tipoteh's presidential aspirations.

Mr. Tipoteh was the chairman of the board of directors for Monrovia's port authority, under the transitional government that was established to run the country after President Taylor was forced into exile in 2003.

He was suspended from the position by the head of the interim the government, Gyude Bryant, amid allegations involving the disappearance of port authority funds.

Mr. Tipoteh has denied any wrongdoing and has called upon his accusers to make public any evidence they might have against him.

But Liberian political analyst David Targbe says the allegations have tarnished Mr. Tipoteh's image as a crusader for democratic governance.

"That has caused a serious impact on his campaign and his bid for the presidency," he said. "And now people are questioning his credibility. When the allegations were made against him, he said they were politically motivated."

Mr. Tipoteh will be among more than 20 contenders on the presidential ballot. The elections, set for October 11, will serve as the first round of a presidential poll. Liberians will also be electing members to a new parliament.