Liberia run-off: Tubman threatens boycott
Monrovia - Liberians prepare to vote on Tuesday in a run-off presidential election shrouded in uncertainty as opposition candidate Winston Tubman threatens to boycott the poll over fears the process will be flawed.
The presidential poll is seen as a litmus test of Liberia's fragile democracy and hard-won peace in the eight years since the end of a 14-year civil war in which some 250 000 were killed.
Opposition claims of fraud and irregularities in a first round of voting on October 11 have raised tensions in the country, which still relies heavily on an 8 000-strong UN peacekeeping force (UNMIL) for security.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 73, of the ruling Unity Party (UP) has the upper hand heading to the run-off, after winning 44 percent in the first round, falling short of an absolute majority.
Tubman, champion of the Congress for Democratic Change, came second with 32.7%, a blow to the Harvard-trained lawyer who had hoped to secure a strong victory in the first round with the crowd-pleasing former football star George Weah as his running mate.
While observers praised the polls as peaceful and transparent, Tubman said the process was flawed, citing pre-marked ballots, tampering with ballot boxes and incompetence by the National Elections Commission.
A UP office was torched and a local radio and television station seen as pro-opposition had its offices set ablaze shortly after the opposition threatened a boycott, setting the war-ravaged nation on edge.
Tubman demanded NEC chairperson James Fromayan's resignation as a condition for his participation, however since the poll chief stepped down on Sunday he has not lifted the boycott.
"The CDC has decided not to take part in the election and we are maintaining our position until some mechanisms are put in place to make sure the process is transparent. These mechanisms have not been put in place," Tubman told AFP on Friday.
The NEC's new chair, Elizabeth Nelson, said in a statement Friday that 54 complaints had been received after the first round, and all but 16 had been disposed of. She urged both parties to "fully participate in the contest".
Sirleaf, who made history in 2005 when she became Africa's first elected female president, received a boost just days before the first round when she jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in women's rights.
The 73-year-old grandmother is credited with significant progress in social development, slowly bringing water and electricity back to the capital and charming foreign investors and creditors who wrote off billions of dollars in debt.
The economy has picked up and massive investments have been made in mining, agriculture and oil exploration, but unemployment hovers around 80% and poverty and corruption remain major challenges.
Sirleaf's detractors highlight her shady ties to warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor, whom she admits to supporting in the beginning of the war, until the extent of his atrocities became clear.
A South African-styled Truth and Reconciliation Commission report named her on a list of people who should be banned from public office for 30 years, but has gone ignored.
Also mentioned in the report is notorious ex-warlord Prince Johnson, who captured military dictator Samuel Doe and was infamously filmed ordering his men to cut off his ears.
Johnson emerged a surprise kingmaker with 12% of votes in the first round, and has endorsed Sirleaf in the run-off, saying he doesn't want to risk prosecution for former crimes if a victorious CDC pushed ahead with implementing the TRC report.
"We are not embarrassed because an endorsement is not support for past actions of anybody. Our platform is of reconciliation and progress," said Unity Party national deputy campaign manager Eugene Nagbi.
Fourth-placed candidate Charles Brumskine who won 5.5%, has also thrown his weight behind Sirleaf's re-election bid, as have several smaller parties.
Some 1.8 million Liberians have registered to vote in the election.