Counting has begun after Liberia's presidential run-off between former football legend George Weah and Vice President Joseph Boakai. It paves the way for the first peaceful transfer of presidential power since 1944.
Liberians went to the polls on Tuesday to pick a successor to Nobel Peace laureate President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 72, Africa's first female head of state, who is retiring after two six-year terms.
Some 2.2 million people were eligible to vote in the elections at more than 5,300 polling stations between 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. local time (0600 and 1800 GMT). Election workers said turnout was lower than the October 10 vote.
The run-off vote, originally scheduled for November 7, was delayed for seven weeks after Vice President Joseph Boakai filed a complaint of fraud and incompetence against the electoral commission following his first-round loss to former international footballer George Weah. The complaint was rejected by the Supreme Court.
Boakai, the leader of the ruling Unity Party, received just 28.8 percent of the October 10 vote compared with 38.8 percent for Weah, who represents the Coalition for Democratic Change. The result triggered a run-off between the two because neither made it past the 50 percent needed to win outright.
"It is great day for Liberia — a test day for democracy," said Boakai after casting his vote in Paynesville. "We will accept the results provided they meet all the standards."
Results are expected to be released over the next few days, although the electoral commission has two weeks to give final results.
Both contenders have already announced that they are confident of winning, although they have also both been accused of presenting little in the way of concrete pledges beyond promises of free education and increased investment in infrastructure and agriculture.
Weah has the edge over Boakai among young voters because of his popularity as a sportsman — a considerable advantage in view of the fact that a fifth of the electorate is aged between 18 to 22. However, he has faced some criticism for his long absences from the Senate, where he has served since 2014.
Boakai, on the other hand, is seen as a candidate who can ensure continuity and has been commended for his four decades of public service.
The winner will take over a country whose economy has been weakened by sinking commodity prices for rubber and iron ore and whose currency is on a downward spiral. Liberia has also struggled with the aftermath of the Ebola crisis from 2014 to 2016, with more than 4,000 people nationwide dying of the disease.
Tuesday's poll holds out the hope for the first peaceful transfer of presidential power in the country in more than seven decades. The country was wracked by back-to-back civil wars between 1989 and 2003 and remains one of the world's poorest nations.
rs, tj/rc (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)