NewsWest AfricaLiberia's former football star takes an early electoral lead

Mon,11Dec2017

Posted on Friday, 13 October 2017 10:09

Liberia's former football star takes an early electoral lead

By Robert Clarke in Monrovia

rsz sipa ap22116685 000002Arsene Wenger, the manager of Premier League club Arsenal, was the victim of fake news on Thursday morning. "I would like to congratulate one of my former players, who became president of Liberia, George Weah," Wenger said at a press conference.

 

Wenger fell victim to fake news, but he could soon be proven right. George Weah – whose career crossed paths with Wenger while playing his football at Monaco in France – is leading the pack to replace the continent's first elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Preliminary results showed Weah in the lead in most of the country's 15 provinces with 20% of the vote counted. Joseph Boakai, the country's vice-president, was in second place, data from the electoral commission showed.

If no candidate gets above 50% of the vote, there will be a second round match between Weah and Boakai. In such an event, last-ditch efforts to rope in other candidates will ensue.

Kingmakers

The two candidates with the next largest vote shares are Charles Brumskine, a lawyer who was briefly head of the senate under the former President Charles Taylor, and Alexander Cummings, who served as an executive for US companies Coca-Cola and Chevron.

Cummings has made it clear that he wants a business-first administration, and is ideologically close to Boakai, who himself was also a businessman before heading into politics. That will help in areas like Maryland county, where Cumming's ANC amassed 31.5% of the vote.

Brumskine has struck deals before, to gain cabinet positions. While he will be disappointed at his overall score, he took half the votes in his political base of Grand Bassa. With rumoured support from exiting president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, he will probably swing behind Boakai.

Will that be enough to put Boakai in front of Weah? Much will depend on the rural areas. Weah has no natural vote reservoir in the hinterland, with most support coming from the youth in the urban areas. Boakai will lean on vote-rich Nimba County, as well as his home country of Lofa.

Many thought Weah's decision to pick Jewel Taylor, the wife of Charles Taylor as a running mate would split the vote. The question now is whether Weah's campaign links to the former warlord will prevent more people rallying to his candidacy.

Boakai will lean heavily on his running mate for the second round, the current speaker of parliament Emmanuel Nuquay, who is from Liberia's biggest ethnic group. If Nuquay can deliver Margibi county and the Bassa belt, Boakai should be pushed over the top. The problem is that Weah is currently ahead in Margibi the first round.

The next few weeks between the two rounds will see frantic political horse-trading. There has already been huge money spent on this election. The race to pick up the votes of the smaller candidates, such as another former warlord, Prince Johnson, who can deliver votes in Nimba.

Whoever wins, a page will have been turned in Liberia's history for the 'American-Liberians', a cultural elite who trace their heritage back to those who returned to Liberia as freed slaves.

They have been criticised for consolidating power at the expense of the indigenous. Both Boakai and Weah are indigenes.



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