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Liberians Hope Election Marks Turning Point

As official results are eagerly awaited, many Liberians are hoping Tuesday's post-war election will mark a turning point in their nation's turbulent and corrupt history. But, most observers and candidates agree it is just one of the important steps in a long process for the war-shattered West African nation to rebuild.

Voting day Tuesday was a celebration of democracy - huge crowds waiting patiently to cast their ballots under searing sun and occasional drops of rain.

For the top American official attending, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, it marked the first step to rehabilitation.

"This election is the first step of the Liberian people to return their country to democracy, prosperity and to create a stable country here," she said. "These elections definitely mark the end of the war in Liberia."

But for the leading presidential candidate, former soccer star George Weah, the more definitive turning point was when tens of thousands of civil combatants agreed to disarm, since the conflict ended two years ago.

"I was part of the disarmament team and when I spoke to them to disarm," said George Weah. "They were willing to disarm and the only thing I said to disarm for the country, to be stable for them, to be peaceful, because if they don't disarm, they are going to go back to war. Not the politicians, because were going to jump on the next flight to go and wait after they finish killing each other. We're going to come back, we will come to rule them. So they understand that message and that's why, today, they are all ready for this day. Liberia is ready to move forward."

A main presidential challenger, former Finance Minister Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, told VOA she believes the turning point will come when development finally arrives in a country with many natural resources, but only 200 kilometers of paved roads, no electricity or running water.

"We have always been underdeveloped, which means, over the years, we have not responded to the needs of our people adequately," said Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. "We have not had a strong development agenda. We had a country that was never developed to the point of our resource capability.

For U.N. Mission Spokesman Paul Risley, the presence of more than 15,000 peacekeepers allowed the peaceful transition to take place. He says security has been the key issue. But he says, in the future, ending corruption will be the priority for Liberia.

"It has been quite clear, in the past, that both officials of government and officials with special interests in Liberia have managed to continue to siphon off most of the money that has come to this country and development aid," said Paul Risley. "If a new, elected government is to have a significant impact on Liberia's future, it must put a stop to corruption and therefore be in a position to encourage the international community to provide both aid and investment."

For Monrovia businessman Emmanuel Miller, election day was crucial. He says the most-important thing is which candidate comes out as winner.

"I think Liberian needs a leader that the international community will be able to work with and - second of all - we need a leader with respect," said Emmanuel Miller. "We need a leader with integrity. We want a person that will have this country at his breast. In Liberian English, they say, 'your heart, my heart.' We want to see the person, that if Liberia is crying, they want to know why the Liberians are crying."

For her part, another Monrovia resident - Lidyah Conneh - places all her faith in the election process to save future generations from the chaos and destruction she has known and she continues to see.

"Now, in this country, the prostitution, the drug dealers, the rates are so high," said Lidyah Conneh. "We suffer for so long. We are just begging the people to shine their eyes and give the right vote for this country. That is why we give this election to the all mighty God. Only He can decide and I know, with His power, He is going to speak to His people. That is why nothing is impossible with God. He is going to help us."