Liberians have turned out in force for the country's general election. Twenty candidates are competing to replace Africa’s first woman president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. DW's Abu-Bakarr Jalloh reports from Monrovia.
"The world is watching us, let's make them proud of us," President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said in video statement Tuesday as Liberians woke up to cast their ballots in the country's general election.
Voters have described the event as crucial to the Liberia's future. It's the first time since the country's founding 175 years ago that a democratically elected president is handing over power to a democratically elected successor.
Around 2 million voters were eligible to cast their ballots at over five thousand locations across the country. Most polling stations opened on time, with voters forming long lines from early in the morning amid significant police presence.
Many young people, predominantly first time voters, said they were voting for change, better education, improved infrastructure and peace. "I voted for change because I want Liberia to be one of the best," said 19-year-old Martha. "We want someone who can build this country for us."
"I am voting for the first time because I want better leader for this country and because the education system is very tough and school fees are going up," said 18-year-old Maggie Grey. Twenty-one-year-old Jonathan Cooper said he was voting "for a change of mind, a state of mind and a free Liberia for a better tomorrow."
Twenty candidates are on the ballot, among them is political newcomer Alexander Cummings. The former Coca-Cola executive surprised many with a large youth supporter base, many of whom chose to back him based on his business experience.
Cummings told DW after casting his ballot that he was satisfied by how the voting was carried out and was optimistic he would make it into the second round. "Liberians will choose a new, better and brighter future," he said. "I am happy to be exercising my franchise rights and I look forward to a favorable result tonight and tomorrow."
Logistical and observational difficulties
Minor irregularities were reported in polling stations where some voters could not find their names in the voter registry. "Part of the challenge is when you are dealing with a country that has many rural areas, it took a while to get some of the ballots out," said chief observer of the National Democratic Institute, Gary Peters, who is a United States senator. "There are over 100 canoes that were involved in that process. It is going to take some time for those results to come back."
After what happened in Kenya, when international observer missions gave the election a clean bill of health but the country's supreme court nullified the polls, the European Union's chief observer Maria Arena said their mandate was different this time around. "We are not here to say the election is free and fair, we are here to observe and give perhaps some advice to improve the system," she said.
Many Liberians believe that because President Sirleaf is reluctant to support her party's candidate, Joseph Boakai, there would be less political interference from the ruling government. But in an exclusive interview with DW, former warlord and presidential candidate Prince Johnson issued threats to Sirleaf to stay away from the electoral process.
"The only thing Sirleaf can do in this election is to cast her ballot as a Liberian and go home," said Johnson, who is now a church preacher in the capital, Monrovia. "If she does anything in this election she should expect a civic reaction."
Sirleaf is stepping down at the end of her two-term mandate to pave way for a "young candidate" to lead the country.