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Green Light is Given for Tuesday Liberia Election


Peacekeepers, election officials and international observers in ruined Liberia say they are ready for Tuesday's post-war election to replace two-year transitional leader Gyude Bryant. 1.3 million people are registered to vote, including tens of thousands of people still displaced by decades of fighting and political turbulence.

The leading observer is former President Jimmy Carter who has been involved in peace efforts and monitoring in Liberia since fighting began in the lightly populated West African nation more than 15 years ago.

He told VOA what he expects from this poll.

"A good, safe, honest, fair, open and successful election," he said. "The Carter Center has been involved in Liberia since 1989 and we have a long time, a permanent observation group there who have been preparing for this election. We will be having some people there after the election is over and we have a large delegation for the election."

Ten million dollars from the U.S government is enabling observers to be deployed across the country.

And the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Liberia is spending between $30- and $40 million to organize the election, according to spokesman Paul Risley.

"Nearly two million ballots have been delivered to 1,300 polling places across Liberia. It is still very much the rainy season in Liberia and in a country with only 200 kilometers of paved roads this is quite a challenge," said Mr. Risley. "We are using helicopters, and trucks, and even a boat to bring ballots to the polling places prior to the Tuesday election."

Election commission spokesman Bobby Livingstone says in the hardest to reach places, where there are no roads, porters will be carrying election material on their heads to make sure everything arrives at polling places on time.

"Those areas that are no good areas for vehicles, so porters will be hired to carry those materials on their heads to different locations or polling centers," he said. "Those arrangements have been concluded. At every polling center on elections day. They will open on time, we are very confident of that."

Mr. Livingstone says he is more concerned about voter turnout.

"We are only hoping that the voters will turn out. I think that is the only thing we should really be concerned about. Liberians may have what some of them have called voter apathy in that they may not even be motivated to cast the ballot. You will see someone who is 50-years old, he will tell you [he has] ... voted [just] once," said Mr. Livingstone. "So we are hoping that this time around with the level of civic education we have conducted that the people will be motivated, the 1.3 million-plus people that registered will show up to vote."

Displaced people who have yet to return to their homes will be able to vote in the presidential poll, in which 22 candidates are competing, but not in the congressional vote.

More than 700 candidates, including the wife of exiled former warlord and President Charles Taylor, Jewel Howard-Taylor, and another former warlord, Prince Johnson, are running for seats in a new two-chamber Congress.

Supporters of the apparent leading presidential candidate, former soccer star George Weah, have expressed concern over the existence of hundreds of thousands of extra blank ballots, but election officials have said this is a standard procedure where extra ballots are needed as a precautionary back-up. They have pledged the vote will be free and fair.