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Sirleaf Hopes to Become Africa's First Elected Female President


Supporters of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, one of two candidates for president in Liberia, have organized a concert to close out her campaign ahead of Tuesday's second round. Mrs. Sirleaf, a former finance minister, is hoping to pull off an upset against retired soccer star George Weah. If she succeeds, she will become Africa's first elected female president.

Rallies for Mrs. Sirleaf, a grandmother of six, known affectionately as Mama Ellen, have been dominated by the cries of women.

One supporter, Laurine King, says she had a spiritual dream in which Mrs. Sirleaf defeats the apparent favorite in the second round, George Weah.

"I had a dream that Ellen became president of Liberia. In this dream, it was like other people were going where they saw the crowd and seeing George Weah as the messiah," she said. "But then, in this dream I saw everybody, when the people went to cast their vote, in my dream, when they saw this, it was like a special direction that was given to them by God and they were choosing and putting their fingerprint and checking Ellen for president. And at the end of results, they announced Ellen as president."

In an interview with VOA from her beachside home in Monrovia, Mrs. Sirleaf says alliances she has reached with a wide range of political leaders, including senator elects, and effective campaigning make her confident of victory.

"I think my chances are excellent," she said. "We're going for the people. We're trying to tell the people what our vision is and what our plans are for the development of the country and I think that's winning us a lot of support and so were very optimistic."

She says her victory could also ignite a women's revolution across Africa.

"Women in Liberia would be making history. In fact, the Liberian people would be making history as the first democratically elected African women president. And women all over Africa are just waiting," added Mrs. Sirleaf. "They're just anxious,they want to see this happen because it will open the doors for women and enable them to compete at all levels in society even more effectively than they're competing now. That's going to make it much easier. Just think of the kinds of reform that I would be leading to make sure there are equal opportunities for women."

If elected, she says her priority during her first 100 days in power would be to improve working conditions for market women, such as repairing the roofs of markets so women no longer have to sit in the rain.

But some male supporters of Mr. Weah say a woman should not be allowed to become president. In some rural areas, male-dominated traditions remain very strong.

One Liberian man who supports Mrs. Sirleaf is Mr. Farcarthy, a university graduate. He says men will make a mistake if they vote on the basis of gender.

"I am of the opinion that whatever a man can do, a woman can do. And Mrs. Sirleaf happens to be one of the best technocrats we can boast of in this country. At this particular point time, we want to call on all Liberians who can rally their support around her to give her the support if she's the best person to do the job."

During the second round of campaigning, Mrs. Sirleaf acknowledged she had made some political mistakes, including belonging to past governments that failed the people of Liberia. She has also expressed regret for initially supporting former President Charles Taylor when he was a rebel.

She was very disappointed that a debate against Mr. Weah was cancelled, hoping she could draw attention to her extensive resume as a long-time political activist and economist.

Mr. Weah, who has little formal education but strong support among many Liberians because of his years as a soccer star, said he was too busy campaigning to debate with Mrs. Sirleaf.