Liberia counts votes in presidential runoff as many hope for change

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Liberians started voting early on Tuesday in a runoff election between President George Weah and former vice president Joseph Boakai, who were neck-and-neck in the first round of voting but below the 50% needed to secure an outright victory.

Former soccer star Weah won 43.83% of the vote, against Boakai’s 43.44% – a razor-thin margin that has raised expectations of a closely fought second round.

A Reuters reporter saw queues of people at five polling stations in the capital Monrovia.

“We want to thank all the Liberians who left their bed this morning. Stay on the line and vote,” the head of the national elections commission, Davidetta Browne-Lansanah, told state radio.

Weah has asked voters for more time to make good on his first-term promises to root out corruption and improve livelihoods. The West African nation is still suffering the fallout from two civil wars between 1989 and 2003, and the 2013-16 Ebola epidemic that killed thousands of people.

Meanwhile Boakai has campaigned on the need to rescue the nation from what he calls mismanagement by Weah’s administration, which has been dogged by graft scandals.

Both Weah and Boakai have received endorsements from candidates who lost in the first round.

A key point will be who the 6% of voters whose ballots were invalidated in the first round favour in the run-off.

Although generally peaceful, the electoral period saw a few clashes between rival factions, and any alleged irregularities in the second round could potentially fuel unrest.

The economy grew 4.8% in 2022, driven by gold production and a relatively good harvest, but more than 80% of the population still face moderate or severe food insecurity, the World Bank said in July.