Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Liberians vote in presidential poll Nobel peace laureate and incumbent president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf pitted against a former UN diplomat and 14 others.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was one of three women awarded the Nobel Peace prize last week [REUTERS]
Liberians are voting in the West African state's second presidential election since a civil war, with international appeals for rival supporters to stay peaceful during the hotly-contested poll.
Tuesday's election pits the incumbent, Nobel peace laureate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, against former UN diplomat Winston Tubman and 14 others.
It comes as Liberia stands to gain billions of dollars in foreign investment in its mining sector and its potential emergence as an oil nation.
Passions have run high in a contest that some forecast will go to a second-round runoff between Johnson-Sirleaf and Tubman, and many voters recall how a dispute over the outcome of the 2005 election led to days of rioting in the capital Monrovia.
Johnson-Sirleaf may have won the Nobel but that may not be enough to persuade voters to re-elect her.
The 72-year-old Harvard-educated leader suffers from a rare paradox: her star has continued to rise internationally, even as her popularity at home has waned over claims that she has done too little to alleviate the nation's crushing poverty.
"One out of every three Liberians cannot feed themselves. They live in abject poverty. And they couldn't care less about the Nobel prize,'' said 60-year-old Charles Brumskine, one of 15 opposition candidates facing Sirleaf in Tuesday's election.
"There's a disconnect between how she is seen abroad and how she is seen here. Ellen will be lucky to get 10 per cent of the vote in tomorrow's election.''
Achievements and criticisms
Eight years into peace, Liberia has seen growing investment in its iron and gold mines.
Sirleaf's achievements include getting $5bn of the country's international debt wiped clean, allowing Liberia to establish a sovereign credit rating, a precondition for issuing bonds. Her government has built
clinics, schools and roads, though her critics say she has built too few. And despite the deep wounds inflicted by the civil war, she is credited with maintaining peace.
Still, unemployment remains rife, residents complain of a lack of basic services, high food prices, rampant crime and corruption. The average income stands at $300 a year - below the $1-a-day benchmark for extreme poverty.
Campaigning for the election has been mostly calm, though scuffles erupted between rival supporters in Monrovia during final rallies at the weekend.
The election is Liberia's first locally-organised presidential poll since the end of the 1989-2003 conflict that killed nearly a quarter of a million people.
Football glamour
Johnson-Sirleaf became Africa's first freely elected female head of state in the 2005 election that was organised by the United Nations. She defeated football sensation George Weah, who came in second and who lost the race in part because of his lack of formal education.
Weah, a former FIFA World Player of the Year, is again her main contender. However, in a move intended to silence critics he has agreed to run as the No. 2 on a ticket alongside presidential candidate Winston Tubman, who like Sirleaf was educated at Harvard.
Tubman told the Reuters news agency on Saturday he was certain he would win and issued a veiled warning that his supporters could make it "difficult to govern" for anyone else.
"We have expressed some concerns about innuendos about violence, encouraging people not to support the results of the election," US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told Reuters.
The United Nations said the return of homegrown mercenaries from a four-month civil war in Ivory Coast this year could be a threat. Several weapons caches have been seized, but there has been no evidence of plans to disrupt voting.