Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says an opposition boycott of Tuesday's run-off election will not undermine the legitimacy of her second term. Partial election results released Thursday show the president holds a huge lead and is assured of victory. Election observers from the U.S.-based Carter Center say the vote was largely free and fair.
President Sirleaf says that low voter turnout for the run-off does not affect the vote's legality.
“The process is totally legitimate as it meets the requirements of our constitution," she said.
Speaking to reporters Thursday at Monrovia's Foreign Ministry, the president said she is not concerned by opposition claims that the large numbers of voters who stayed away from the polls weaken her mandate.
“The numbers themselves will give us a mandate," Sirleaf said. "And I think what we do to bring the Liberian people together will strengthen that mandate.”
The opposition Congress for Democratic Change party boycotted Tuesday's vote because they say electoral commission workers stuffed ballot boxes and changed vote totals in last month's first round of balloting to give President Sirleaf the lead.
The president says if she wanted to steal the election, she would have won outright in the first round instead of having to go to a run-off.
“It's so common for somebody to call fraud when you don't win," she said. "And that is what has happened. We are satisfied. There has been no fraud. That has been confirmed by all our donor partners. They are interested in the transparency and free and fairness of this election because they financed it. And they are not going to put up their money to have fraud.”
In its preliminary report on the election, observers from the Carter Center say it was conducted in “general accordance with Liberia's legal framework and its international obligations for democratic elections.”
The observer mission's leader, the former Nigerian head of state Yakubu Gowon, says the opposition party's claims of fraud are without foundation.
“The CDC's decision to boycott the run-off was based on their unsubstantiated assertion that the first round was significantly flawed," said Gowon. "The boycott denied the Liberian people a genuine choice within a competitive process.”
The CDC's presidential candidate, former Justice Minister Winston Tubman, has said he will not accept the results from this vote, which are certain to re-elect the president because of his party's boycott.
Tubman's running mate, the former football star George Weah, says he has no confidence in Carter Center observers because he says they wrongly rejected his claims of vote fraud in the last presidential election.
“2005 the same Carter Center told us, 'Accept any results.' In 2005 they said it was free and fair," said Weah. "And we brought all of the tally sheets, all of the same evidence we had. They said, 'Yes. It is there. But it is not enough to override the decision. So no matter what we say here, we will only be repeating ourselves.”
Weah says election observers have let down Liberian voters by helping legitimize what he calls President Sirleaf's “fraudulent victory.”
“One day the Carter Center maybe will go for retirement, and we will have another center that believes in democracy and independence and they will speak the truth," he said. "So we are hoping for that. I hope that day will come.”
At least two opposition members were killed Monday in a demonstration that was broken up by riot police firing tear gas and live ammunition. Three opposition radio stations were closed following that violence, including one owned by Weah.
President Sirleaf says the radio stations were closed because they were broadcasting messages of hate. She says she regrets the loss of life in Monday's demonstration and the incident will be investigated.