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Former Rebel Leader Endorses Liberian Incumbent For President

Liberian warlord-turned-presidential candidate Prince Johnson campaigns in the village of Demeh in Bomi County, in the West African country September 14, 2011.

Liberian warlord-turned-presidential candidate Prince Johnson campaigns in the village of Demeh in Bomi County, in the West African country September 14, 2011.

In Liberia's presidential election, the third-place finisher has endorsed incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Tuesday. She will face former justice minister, Winston Tubman, in a run-off in November.

Former rebel leader Prince Johnson is not a traditional politician. Although grateful for his endorsement, the Sirleaf camp is not likely to use his actual announcement in a campaign commercial.

“Well, the thing is that, if you have two evils, you choose the lesser one. She is the lesser of two evils. And she has only six years to go. I would prefer six years to supporting anyone for 12 years,” Johnson said.

Senator Johnson has spoken publicly of using his third-place endorsement to gain positions in a new government. He acknowledges President Sirleaf has made no promises.

“Well, she hasn't offered anything, but what we are most interested in is power sharing," he explained. "What percent will be given to our people. We have to provide jobs. We have to be sure of the former combatants, the former soldiers."

So why did Johnson endorse President Sirleaf and not former justice minister Tubman, with whom he joined Saturday in denouncing election results and calling for a fresh vote?

The senator says it is because Tubman supporters wants him tried for war crimes.

“That camp doesn't reflect reconciliation. It is a camp of the southeasterners," Johnson said. "I don't see people from Nimba. I don't see people from Bong County. I don't see people from Cape Mount. Many of those in that camp have been advocating for war crime codes against us."

Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for war crimes charges against Johnson for his time atop a rebel group that captured and tortured the former president Samuel Doe.

Johnson says he did not endorse Tubman because Tubman's running mate, the former football star George Weah, refused to join a Johnson-led ticket because of his inclusion on the TRC list of war crimes.

“When I was in need of a vice standard bearer to work with me as we planned to run for the presidency we talked to George Weah, Ambassador Weah. He refused to be my second simply because I am on the TRC list. And he went to join Winston. He refused to join me,” noted Johnson.

President Sirleaf was also on the TRC list for helping to fund Charles Taylor rebels at the start of the conflict. The commission recommended that she be barred from politics for 30 years. The TRC report has been presented to parliament, where there has been no action.

In a nationwide address late Monday, President Sirleaf congratulated Liberian voters for discipline and tolerance. She thanked local religious leaders and international observers for calling on all political parties to refrain from acts that might threaten the peace.

“We condemn acts of violence and destruction and call upon all Liberians to refrain from violence and threats as we prepare to - once again - exercise our political franchise by voting in a run-off election which we are certain will be equally free, fair, and transparent,” Sirleaf said.

President Sirleaf won 44 percent of the vote. Tubman carried just over 32 percent. And Johnson won less than 12 percent. So a Johnson endorsement might give the president the majority she needs in a second round.