Liberia presidential election: What to know as George Weah runs again | ET REALITY

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A former soccer superstar won the presidential election in the West African nation of Liberia in 2017 by promising to fix the country’s economy, build more roads and tackle endemic corruption.

But six years later, the aura surrounding President George Weah has faded, as a result of criticism that he has spent too much time abroad and not sufficiently addressed corruption.

Now, as voters in Liberia go to the polls on Tuesday to determine whether to re-elect him or, as one of his main opponents said, give him a red card, Weah’s prospects are uncertain.

The presidential election in this coastal country of 5.5 million people is another test for the future of representative government in West Africa. Mutinous soldiers have seized power in several countries in the region in recent years, presidents have clung to power in contravention of their countries’ constitutions, and elections elsewhere have been marred by irregularities.

Last month, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced visa restrictions for people who “undermine democracy in Liberia” by encouraging violence or trying to rig elections. Blinken did not specify who was affected by the restrictions or how many people were targeted.

Three people were killed in clashes during the campaign, and at Weah’s final rally on Sunday outside the capital, Monrovia, police dispersed the crowd with tear gas as supporters and opposition members threw stones at each other.

Some 2.4 million people have the right to vote. Preliminary counts are expected within days and official results later this month. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held in November.

Weah, 57, who grew up in the slums of Monrovia, ran in 2017, taking advantage of his status as a former soccer star who played for some of Europe’s top clubs. He remains the only African player to receive the Ballon d’Or, the award for the best soccer player in the world, which he won in 1995.

On Monday, at a bustling mobile phone repair shop in downtown Monrovia, voters debated whether Weah deserved a second term.

“He’s doing well: bringing development, building roads, paying exam fees for people to go to school,” said Sandra Giddings, who sells office cleaning products, listing major achievements cited by Weah’s camp.

Sitting next to her while she waited for her phone to be repaired, Abisha Louah, an IT engineer, had the opposite opinion. “We haven’t really seen the tangible results,” she said, referring to the lack of job opportunities for young Liberians and the failure to address corruption.

Weah has been criticized by his opponents for spending too much time outside the country. Last year he was absent for almost two months, in part to watch his son Timothy play for the United States in the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

In 2022, the US Treasury imposed sanctions on three Liberian officials for corruption, including Weah’s chief of staff. Weah promised an investigation but has not followed through. He has not been personally accused of corruption.

Liberia’s economy remains fragile, still recovering from a 14-year civil war that ended in 2003 and left 250,000 dead, and an Ebola epidemic between 2013 and 2016 that killed thousands more.

The country relies heavily on iron ore exports and agriculture, but more than 80 percent of Liberians are food insecure, according to the world Bankand like in neighboring countries, commodity prices have skyrocketed in the last two years.

Weah faces 19 other candidates, but there is really only one main rival: Joseph Boakai, a veteran of Liberian politics who was vice president from 2006 to 2018 and who came second in the last election.

But Boakai, 78, has been criticized for the alliance he made with a senator, Prince Johnson, a former warlord who has threatened a popular revolt if he believes the election has been rigged.

Liberian elections are normally decided in a second round, but the two main contenders, Weah and Boakai, have predicted they would win in the first round, raising fears of unrest and violence.

“The ruling party may not be willing to accept defeat because it feels entitled to a full 12-year government,” Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei, director of a Monrovia-based research center, said of the party’s hopes. Weah. to secure another six-year term.

“And the opposition thinks that it is their moment, that they have the right to return to power,” he added.

For many Liberians, the responsibility for holding a peaceful contest will ultimately fall to Weah’s ruling party and the main opposition party.

“They need to calm down their followers,” Isaac Siaker, a 42-year-old beverage wholesaler, said Tuesday as he prepared to vote in Monrovia.

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