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November 07, 2011

Voting Underway in Liberia as Opposition Boycotts Poll

by Scott Stearns

Voting is underway in Liberia's presidential run-off between incumbent Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and former justice minister Winston Tubman.  The president is poised to win re-election in a poll that has been marred by an opposition boycott, and a clash between police and protesters that killed at least two people.

Voter turnout in the capital was light for this run-off.  

During last month's first round of voting, large crowds gathered outside polling stations long before they opened. Most of the classrooms Tuesday at the G.W. Gibson High school were empty, with poll workers resting their heads on desks.

Getting out the vote

Solomon Abu Massah came out to vote and encouraged other Liberians to do the same.

"It is necessary, and it is my right to vote. And actually, I am putting my country first. With the help of the international community, nothing  will happen in our country, so that is why I am free to come and vote. And I am even asking other Liberians out there to come and exercise their right," said Abu Massah.

Gifty Sadee came to vote for President Sirleaf because she said she would not be intimidated by the opposition boycott.

"I came out to vote today because I know it is my right to vote, and I voted for who I know can lead this country," said Sadee. "I had no fear because I know that international security is here and nothing will happen."

UN peacekeepers keep watch

U.N. peacekeepers guard the National Electoral Commission, where a banner reads: "This election is not a war."

Peacekeepers remained outside the headquarters of the opposition Congress for Democratic Change overnight, following Monday's deadly violence between protesters and riot police.

When a police van arrived at opposition headquarters Tuesday, it was met by an angry crowd shouting "No Police." Nigerian peacekeepers asked the police to leave, and they did.

Wilson Boakar is boycotting the vote because he said President Sirleaf is trying to steal this election after sending riot police to kill her opponents.

"You see that the turn out is very poor because our people are mourning. After all, Liberian people have died. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf just won a Nobel Peace Prize," said Boakar. "Someone who won a Nobel Peace Prize should understand that the price of power would not supersede the interest of peace."

Violence erupting

Because of Monday's violence, Mary Gongar said the president's opponents do not feel safe enough to vote.

"I can not vote because Ma Ellen brought war on us, sent the troops to come and kill us. So I am not in peace to go vote," she said.

After the rioting, Liberian police closed three opposition radio stations, including Kings FM, which is owned by Tubman's running mate, former football star George Weah.

Alexander Beahdieh, the news director of Kings FM, said, "At about 11 o'clock last night, the police authorities, armed men, the ERU personnel marched onto the station, shut the station down, put our reporter on gunpoint and then ordered him to sign a paper that, according to them, they took from the Justice Ministry. This is terrifying. We are now running for our lives. We are afraid because we can be picked up at any time by security forces."

National police spokesman George Bardue told VOA the radio stations were not closed arbitrarily. He says police were acting to enforce court orders issued late Monday to preserve public order.

Tubman is boycotting the vote because of what he says is electoral fraud. President Sirleaf says the boycott is unconstitutional because it encourages Liberians to give up their right to vote.