Boycott threatens Liberian polls
Monrovia - A poll boycott call by the opposition set Liberia on edge three days before run-off presidential elections, as incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf accused her challenger of violating the constitution.
Sirleaf looked headed for a one-woman show in Tuesday's polls, as she called on Liberians to disregard the boycott, and elections officials insisted the vote would go ahead despite Winston Tubman threatening not to recognise the outcome.
Much is at stake in the election, which is seen as a litmus test of the country's still-fragile democracy eight years after the end of a bloody civil conflict which left some 250 000 dead.
"Mr Winston Tubman has called on Liberians to give up their franchise, their right to vote. He has told people to violate the constitution... When you start violating the constitution, where do you stop?" Sirleaf said in an address to the nation made from the presidency headquarters.
'Poised to make history'
She hailed a first round of voting on October 11, which was "validated by 4 800 domestic and foreign observers as free fair and transparent - not marred by a single act of violence" and urged Liberians to disregard the boycott.
"We are poised to make history, to not succumb to fear and intimidation, to not allow any politician to hold our country hostage, to not allow Mr Tubman to claim 'boycott', when what he is doing is forfeiting the right to the finals because he fears defeat," said Sirleaf.
Tubman claims the first round, in which he placed second with 32.7 percent, was flawed by voting irregularities, citing pre-marked ballots and incompetence by the National Election Commission.
Despite securing the resignation of polls chief James Fromayan, Tubman, candidate of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), maintains he is still not confident the process will be transparent.
"We officially inform the Liberian people and the world that the CDC cannot participate in the November 8 ballot," Tubman said on Friday, calling on all Liberians to stay away from the ballots.
"Any government coming out of the November 8 process will be without a national mandate to govern and will not be recognised by the CDC."
Sirleaf, 73, said that according to Tubman's reasoning "the election is only free and fair if the CDC wins, but fraudulent when they lose."
The president has the upper hand heading to the run-off, after winning 44% of votes cast in the first round, and has managed to secure the support of key smaller parties for the second round.
Monrovia bustled on Saturday but there was no sign of the party atmosphere which preceded the first round and no campaigning was evident as political bickering cast a pall on the election run-up.
Police checkpoints went up around the city on Friday night after Tubman's announcement.
"I do not think that the boycott of the CDC should be taken lightly because this is a party that has hundreds of thousands of partisans," said political analyst Alvin Wleh, of the University of Liberia.
"So, if they decide not to recognise the government, it could affect our young democracy."
Acting national elections chief Elizabeth Nelson told AFP the election will go on as planned despite the boycott.
"We are under constitutional mandate to hold the run-off on the second Tuesday of November. We are going to do just that," she added.
'Choice between hope and fear'
There are 921 foreign observers in Liberia, compared to 800 in the first round after the Economic Community of West African States boosted their numbers. There will also be 4 598 local observers.
In her address, Sirleaf, who made history in 2005 when she became Africa's first elected female president, harked back to the country's anguished past, which left the nation's economy and infrastructure shattered.
"This election is about a choice between hope and fear; between the unlimited potential our future holds and the ugly aspects of our past ... a past where politicians put their own self-interest ahead of the interests of the nation."
Tubman has called his supporters to his headquarters Saturday, for a "national vigil for peace and transparent elections."