Liberians vote to bolster peaceful democracy in presidential poll

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Liberians voted on Tuesday in an election expected to mark the first democratic transfer of power in over seven decades in a country haunted by a civil war that ended nearly 15 years ago.

Outgoing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, is praised for maintaining peace since taking over after the end of the West African country’s 14-year conflict in which child fighters were used.

Liberia’s policy of prioritising reconciliation over justice, however, has meant that prominent figures responsible for the violence that killed a quarter of a million people are still present on the political landscape.

There is no clear front runner but Prince Johnson, a former rebel leader who finished third in the last election in 2011, is among 20 candidates on the ballot.

The ex-wife of warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor, now imprisoned in the UK for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone, is the running mate of another favourite – former soccer star George Weah.

“I am just voting for peace. We want peace right now,” said James Marthics, a voter in Paynesville, a suburb of the capital Monrovia.

Residents queued before dawn at polling stations in Monrovia, some bringing small wooden chairs with them, and formed queues as vendors sold them soft drinks and palm wine.

Materials including ballot boxes arrived late in some locations and some people struggled to find their names on voter rolls. State broadcaster ELBC reported a party chair in LofaCounty was detained for distributing money to voters.

Elections commission head Jerome Korkoya said some individuals were arrested for trying to vote more than once, but he said voting went smoothly overall.