Liberians are preparing for a run-off election Tuesday between former soccer great George Weah and former Finance Minister Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The first round last month was peaceful, but there are worries of unrest concerning this second round.
A scuffle broke out during the weekend in darkened streets without electricity in Monrovia, as newly trained Liberian police pushed supporters of George Weah away from the headquarters of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
The two are competing to become the 23rd Liberian president, and first since U.N. peacekeepers came in two years ago to end a quarter century of civil war and political turbulence.
Across the street, supporters of Mrs. Sirleaf chanted "go to school," in reference to the widely popular Mr. Weah, who has had little formal education. He has said highly educated leaders from the past have created a failed state, and that he will bring practical sense to the executive mansion. Many of his supporters are young, poor, unemployed, illiterate. They hope Mr. Weah can bring electricity, running water, roads, schools, and hospitals they have never had.
The former center forward won a little more than 28 percent in October, but has since garnered the support of many of the failed first round presidential candidates.
Supporters of Mrs. Sirleaf, a grandmother who got nearly 20 percent of the first-round vote, say they fear Mr. Weah's supporters will riot, if he does not win.
Mrs. Sirleaf has gotten the support of many descendants of freed American slaves, known as Americo-Liberians, as well as university graduates, female political leaders, and some associates of former president Charles Taylor, who is living in exile in Nigeria.
The head of the 16,000 strong U.N peacekeeping mission, Alan Doss, says his soldiers and police will deal decisively with any problems. "We are geared up to deal with any eventuality, and we would respond appropriately to any effort to disrupt the hard-won peace and stability that this country has known now for some time," he said. "So, I would urge everybody again, as indeed the two candidates have done, they have made public declarations, that they will do their best to ensure this election is peaceful and conducted in a non-violent way."
The head of the electoral commission, Frances Johnson Morris, has been trying to keep the process transparent, making clear to Liberian journalists covering their first intimidation-free and fair poll how a second round works. "Each candidate starts afresh. There are no carry-ons, there are no credits," she emphasized. "So anyone, this is an entirely new election we are going to have. The previous vote totals do not carry over to this election. They do not. I heard people that they have already 28 percent and 19 percent, and so they are only looking for a certain amount to make up to the 50 percent. That is not true. That is false. This is a new election we are going to altogether. Everybody is going with zero ballots."
The first round was peaceful, but marked by slow voting and vote-counting. Mrs. Morris says second round results could take up to two weeks, as well.
She called Grand Kru county in eastern Liberia "grand walking" county, because there are barely any roads, and she said results would be especially slow coming from there.
More than 200 international and 4,000 Liberian observers will be monitoring.