Liberia: Nation Counts Votes With Sirleaf Set for New Term

Votes were being counted Wednesday in Liberia’s presidential run-off which has left Nobel Peace Prize Ellen Johnson Sirleaf poised for a second term and the opposition crying foul.

The election had been expected to consolidate peace and confirm Liberia’s democratic credentials, but a boycott call by challenger Winston Tubman and a deadly shooting poisoned the west African country’s second post-war vote.

Initial results were due on Thursday but Tubman has already made it clear he would not recognize them, after charging that the first round was riddled with irregularities favoring the incumbent.

“Reconciliation, sorting and counting of votes cast commenced immediately following the close of polls and the process is still ongoing,” read a statement from the electoral commission.

Tubman charged that the deadly shooting during a rally he called Monday was an attempt to assassinate him, but the police ridiculed his claim and his protests have earned him little sympathy from the international community.

“You would have to be monumentally stupid to make an attempt to assassinate not only Mr Tubman, but any political figure. It wasn’t the plan then, now or tomorrow,” Police Inspector General Marc Amblard told AFP.

The police chief said Tubman’s party had blocked an investigation into Monday’s shooting incident, which left at least four opposition supporters dead after tension between protestors and riot police flared.

Tubman said: “I am of the belief that they (police) were acting under orders, and those orders indicated they were ordered to eliminate me. I was a target of sniper fire.”

Liberian newspapers Wednesday still focused on what some have dubbed “Bloody Monday”, carrying blood-splattered pictures of victims on their front pages.

“Eight years after the war, Liberians are yet to have a collective and clear understanding of the causes of the conflict and … the way forward to a peaceful future,” read an analysis by the Public Agenda daily.

One policeman was injured on Tuesday night in New Kru Town after stepping in when a group of youth stoned National Electoral Commission officials attempting to retrieve ballot boxes.

But Tuesday’s vote appeared to have passed off without major incident, amid a low turnout that was in stark contrast with the 72 percent of registered voters who enthusiastically cast a ballot in the October 11 first round.

Some snubbed polling stations because Tubman’s boycott call effectively handed victory to Sirleaf, already a favourite to win after leading the first round and securing the support of the third man, former warlord Prince Johnson.

Sirleaf, 73, was awarded a share of the Nobel Peace Prize days before the first round, in which she won 43.9 percent of the vote to Tubman’s 32.7 percent.

In a country still reeling from back-to-back civil conflicts that left 250,000 dead between 1989 and 2003, others stayed home because Monday’s shooting at the rally raised the spectre of violence on polling day.

A radio and television station owned by Tubman’s running mate, 2005 runner-up and former football star George Weah, and three other radios were shut down after the shooting over government accusations of inciting hatred and violence.

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists expressed outrage at the closure and Amnesty International said the shooting should be investigated.

But US President Barack Obama before the vote dismissed Tubman’s fraud concerns as unfounded and scolded him over his boycott call, warning gains by Liberia “must not be set back by individuals who seek to disrupt the political process.”

Tubman, a 70-year-old Harvard-trained former diplomat, had threatened to boycott the run-off if the election commission chairman did not step down. The poll chief resigned but Tubman was not convinced.

A darling of the West, Sirleaf is more controversial at home, where she has faced criticism over failed reconciliation efforts and what some see as a shady past. – ANP/AFP

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