Liberia: Sirleaf Wins Disputed Polls

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was confirmed the victor of a run-off poll boycotted by the opposition, and vowed to reach out to her opponents and reconcile the divided nation.

Sirleaf’s re-election was seen as a foregone conclusion after rival Winston Tubman pulled out of the race and urged his supporters to boycott the polls over fears the process was rigged.

The National Elections Commission announced that with results tallied from 86.6 percent of polling stations, Sirleaf had won 90.8 percent of votes cast and Tubman nine percent.

Only 37.4 percent of the country’s 1.8 million registered voters cast their ballots, with many believed to have stayed away due the boycott call and violence on the eve of the poll, when police fired on a group of opposition protesters.

The Carter Center’s 52-person observer mission said the vote was “conducted transparently”, though: “Regrettably, the election was marred by an opposition boycott, violence on the eve of the election, and low voter turnout.”

The United States urged Liberians to “peacefully accept” the results.

“We’re obviously concerned and expressed those concerns about pre-election violence, and we continue to monitor very closely the situation on the ground,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president, is facing a tough second term with her nation more divided than ever after the tainted election process.

She has extended a hand of friendship to opposition parties, saying she hoped to put together an inclusive government as she had when she was elected in 2005, just two years after the end of a brutal 14-year conflict.

“I will reach out to all the presidential candidates,” Sirleaf told reporters in Monrovia.

Observers have said Sirleaf may face a battle for legitimacy, re-elected in an election in which the opposition did not participate, but the 73-year old grandmother has shot this down.

“The process is totally legitimate as it meets the requirements of our constitution.”

The poll had been billed as a chance for the war-scarred nation to cement its fragile democracy and hard-won peace eight years after the end of a long and savage conflict which left some 250,000 people dead.

The Carter Center said “the events of the past week show that important challenges to Liberia’s democratic consolidation remain.”

The first round election in the west African state on October 11 was greeted by great voter enthusiasm as some 72 percent of the electorate turned out to cast their ballots.

But when the results revealed Tubman trailed rival Sirleaf by almost ten percentage points, he cried foul and complained of irregularities.

“If there were fraud, would I not win? Overwhelmingly?” responded Sirleaf.

The political bickering turned bloody when Tubman called an unauthorized march after the close of the election campaign and protesters clashed with police who fired live rounds at them.

“I can confirm that several rounds were discharged by officers of the Emergency Response Unit. Given the volatile and fluid situation it was necessary to use some force,” police chief Marc Amblard has said.

Journalists saw two bodies with gunshot wounds to the head following Monday’s incident and Tubman says up to eight were killed.

The president said she would establish an independent commission to investigate the shooting.

Analysts have said her glowing international image could be dealt a blow after an election campaign highlighting her shady past and the support she received from notorious ex-warlord Prince Johnson.

“If he chose to support me I could not tell him no because he was not speaking for himself he was speaking for the wishes of his people,” Sirleaf told journalists.

She said she was determined to make Liberia a post-conflict success story and was confident of her ability to reconcile the nation — a key criticism of opposition parties.

She said while implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report released in 2009 has taken time, her new mandate would begin with a “palava hut” — a traditional meeting place for townspeople to settle differences.

“I myself will be one of the first ones to go to the palava hut because I have been named in the report.”

The report names Sirleaf among those who should be banned from public office for her ties to former warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor, whom she says she supported before the full extent of his atrocities became clear.

Sirleaf said while her first term focused on establishing peace and development, her second would tackle problems such as job creation with unemployment running at a staggering 80 percent. – ANP/AFP

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