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Incumbent Liberian President Leading in Early Returns


Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is also Liberia's president and presidential candidate of the Unity Party, votes at a polling station in Feefee in Bomi County, Liberia, October 11, 2011.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is also Liberia's president and presidential candidate of the Unity Party, votes at a polling station in Feefee in Bomi County, Liberia, October 11, 2011.

First results from Liberia's presidential election show incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf leading her 15 rivals.

Reporting results from just over 16 percent of more than 4,000 polling stations, Liberia's National Electoral Commission says President Sirleaf has more than 44 percent of the vote. Former justice minister Winston Tubman has more than 26 percent, while former rebel leader and current Senator Prince Johnson is running third with about 13 percent.

Vote counting is expected to continue through the weekend, and complete results may not be known for some time as the electoral commission has until October 26 to make a final count. If none of the candidates wins an outright majority, there will be a run-off election between the top two finishers November 8.

This is Liberia's second post-civil war election but the first that has been run entirely by Liberians after the United Nations supervised the 2005 contest. U.N. peacekeepers remain in place for this vote, but U.N. mission spokesperson Yasmina Bouziane says the election itself is up to Liberians to decide.

"The National Electoral Commission is the one that is responsible for the conduct of these elections, implementation and all," said Bouziane. "And they are the ones who will verify and certify. Nobody else has the mandate to verify or certify. And the United Nations does not either, neither do the observers."

Election observers from the Economic Community of West African States say the vote was largely free, fair and devoid of violence. In its preliminary report, the ECOWAS observer mission says "on the whole, the elections were conducted under acceptable conditions of freedom of voters and transparency of the process."

The regional alliance noted high voter turnout, a timely start to polling, and the professional conduct of electoral officials.

Its preliminary report also highlighted a smooth process of vote counting and the "effective and unobtrusive presence of law enforcement" at most polling stations.

Electoral shortcomings identified by ECOWAS observers include insufficient voter education and the slow pace of voting at some polling stations with a large number of registered voters.

Election observers from the Carter Center say the vote was "peaceful, orderly, and remarkably transparent" calling it "a positive sign of Liberians' commitment to democratic development."

"Poll workers performed very well, conducting themselves in a tireless, impartial and professional manner. The credibility and transparency of the voting and counting processes was greatly enhanced by the presence of party agents, in particular the widespread presence of agents from the two main parties in all counties," noted former Nigerian ruler Yakubu Gowon who headed The Carter Center mission to Liberia.

Electoral irregularities noted by the Carter Center include polling places where the secrecy of the ballot was not strictly maintained and where some ballot papers were folded improperly. But the group says none of those procedural miscues were significant enough to affect the overall integrity of the vote.

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