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Liberia heads to competitive runoff between Weaha and Boakai

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Liberians will vote on Tuesday in a runoff election between President George Weah and former Vice President Joseph Boakai after a fiercely fought first round in which neither was able to score over 50% of the vote to secure an outright victory.

Former soccer star Weah led the first round, gaining 43.83% of the vote, and Boakai had 43.44%.

The razor-thin margin between them, and the absence of a strong third candidate, means the second round will also be very competitive, said Maja Bovcon, senior Africa analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.

“The remaining votes from the first round are scattered among 18 candidates that are now out of the race. The final victory will go to whoever manages to garner the support of the largest number of the eliminated candidates,” Bovcon said.

The runoff is a rematch of the 2017 second round in which Weah, surfing on a wave of popular support, defeated Boakai with 61.54%.

He won on the promise to tackle corruption and improve livelihoods in the West African nation that is still emerging from two civil wars between 1989 and 2003, and the 2013-16 Ebola epidemic that killed thousands.

But some voters have become disenchanted over Weah’s failures, particularly on corruption, high rate of youth unemployment, food inflation, and general economic hardship.

He fired his chief of staff and two other senior officials after the United States imposed sanctions on them for corruption.

Weah has blamed the coronavirus pandemic and the consequences of the Russia-Ukraine war for failure to deliver on economic targets.

ENDORSEMENTS FOR BOTH

Ahead of the runoff vote, both candidates have received endorsements from losing candidates from the first round.

Weah has received the backing of Alexander Cumming’s CCP party, although Cummings himself has remained neutral.

“I voted for Cummings in the last elections but this time, I’m giving my vote to George Weah,” said Martin Sumo, a Cummings supporter.

Boakai has secured the endorsement of three of the four best-performing candidates who were eliminated in the first round.

Political analyst Bovcon said collectively, the share of endorsements Boakai has received would still fall short of the 50% threshold required to secure victory. A big unknown swing factor was the nearly 6% of votes that were invalidated in the first round.

Edward Appleton Jr., who came third in the first round with 2.20% of the vote, endorsed Boakai on Tuesday, saying in a speech that “Liberians are searching for leadership that will deliver results.”

The first round of the election was largely peaceful although sporadic clashes were reported and two people were killed in election-related violence.

Bovcon said the second round could be tense.

“In their scramble to secure votes, the two candidates are more likely to stoke division or dispute the results, which could result in unrest on the streets,” she said.

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