Africa's first and only female president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf handily won re-election Thursday in Liberia in a run-off poll boycotted by the opposition. After the vote she vowed to reconcile the divided nation.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf faces a difficult term
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 would be rigged.
The National Elections Commission announced that with results tallied from 86.6 percent of polling stations, Sirleaf won 90.8 percent of votes cast and Tubman won nine percent.
Last week, Tubman called on his supporters to boycott Tuesday's presidential runoff, and many polling stations closed early due to the dismal turnout. By early morning, many had no lines outside. By afternoon, poll workers were seen dozing, some laying their heads on tables next to near-empty ballot boxes.
Turnout hovered around 33 percent of registered voters, not even half of the 71 percent who turned out for the election's first round.
The Atlanta-based Carter Center headed by former US President Jimmy Carter said the boycott had marred the vote.
"The opposition's decision to boycott the runoff was based on their assertion that the overall election was significantly flawed. These claims remain unsubstantiated," the group said in a statement.
Winston Tubman refused to take part in the election
Most analysts and country experts believe that Tubman would have lost Tuesday's election if he had participated. His Congress for Democratic Change party got around 33 percent of the vote in the first round last month, compared to around 44 percent for Sirleaf. She later won the endorsement of the third-place finisher, who had just over 11 percent.
"If you look at the figures, you can see that Tubman [was] almost certainly going to lose. He is 12, 13 points down in the polls," said Stephen Ellis, the author of a history of the Liberian civil war and researcher at the African Studies Center Leiden in the Netherlands.
Sirleaf is facing a tough second term with her nation more divided than ever after the tainted election process.
She has extended a hand 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. What I will offer them is not yet known because I haven't really focused on organizing the government," Sirleaf told reporters in Monrovia.
Analysts have said Sirleaf's 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.
Unemployment is rampant in Liberia
"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.
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.
The nation's fragile peace has been mostly held together by the presence of thousands of United Nations peacekeepers still stationed in Liberia eight years after the war.
The country's civil war erupted in 1989 and continued on and off until 2003. As many as a quarter of a million people were killed and the country was destroyed.
Author: Michael Knigge (AP, afp)
Editor: Nancy Isenson