Liberia's incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has increased her lead in the country's presidential election, but is still short of the 50 percent majority needed for an outright victory.
Election officials said Friday that Ms. Sirleaf now leads with more than 45 percent of the vote, up from about 44 percent the day before. Her closest rival Winston Tubman has garnered less than 30 percent so far. With about a half of the ballots counted, former rebel leader Senator Prince Johnson remains in third place, with about 11 percent of the vote.
If none of the candidates wins an outright majority, there will be a second round run-off between the top two finishers November 8th.
Election observers from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) say the vote was largely free, fair and devoid of violence with high voter turn-out, a timely start to polling, and a smooth process for counting ballots.
Voter Charles Chenoweyth says it is now up to the electoral commission to deliver a vote in which all Liberians will have confidence. "The Liberian people want a free, fair and transparent result. Now we have already undergone the free aspect of the elections, because all Liberians voted freely. Now they are waiting to see the fairness of it and how transparent it will be," he said.
Election observers from the Carter Center say it was a remarkably transparent vote that is a “positive sign of Liberians' commitment to democratic development.” The group noted some irregularities, including inconsistencies in determining the legitimacy of contested ballot papers.
But its initial assessment of the poll says none of those procedural miscues were significant enough to affect the overall integrity of the vote, which is Liberia's second since the end of a 14-year civil war.