Ex-warlord boosts Sirleaf's vote bid

2011-10-19 08:44

Monrovia - Ex-warlord Prince Johnson, who came third in Liberia's presidential polls, on Tuesday announced he would back Nobel peace laureate and incumbent president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in a run-off election.

The former rebel leader said he feared being prosecuted for war crimes if the main opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) candidate won the vote and implemented the recommendations of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"I have decided to join the Unity Party because the CDC officials have said that they will do everything to implement the TRC recommendations," Johnson told AFP.

"Because I do not want to go to The Hague [where the International Criminal Court is based] I prefer dealing with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who is also indicted by the TRC."

The ICC has no investigation under way into Liberia, but a separate Special Court for Sierra Leone is trying Liberian former warlord and president Charles Taylor in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

However, Winston Tubman, who came second with 31% of votes and will face off against Sirleaf in a second round of voting on November 08, said he still believed he could win Johnson over to his side.

"I am still talking with him, and I believe that he will give us his support. The negotiation is going on well. He has not yet told us that he is not coming to us," he told AFP.

Key player

Before the elections Johnson said he would support the CDC in an eventual second round, and on Tuesday he said: "I am adaptable ... I can change at any time."

Johnson emerged as a surprise kingmaker after October 11 elections, which Sirleaf won with 44%, with 97% of votes counted. Her re-election bid could receive a significant boost from Johnson's 11.8% of the votes.

Alvin Wright, analyst and lecturer at University of Liberia, told AFP last week that the result of the run-off would boil down to negotiations, and neither party would hesitate to "negotiate with the devil" to win.

"When it comes down to it really you're looking at the negotiation skills of both parties - who is going to come and sit at the negotiating table to give him what he wants? Don't forget he's a key player, he holds the balls right now to say whether Unity Party can get into the chair or whether CDC can unseat Unity Party."

Sirleaf, who made history when she became Africa's first elected female president in 2005, jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize shortly before the October 11 election for her work in rebuilding the country and boosting women's rights.

While a darling of the international community, she has faced criticism at home for her failure to implement the TRC report which highlights her shady ties to Taylor and suggests she be banned from office.

The same report names Johnson - a former rebel leader who was infamously filmed ordering his men to cut off the ears of dictator Samuel Doe - among those who should face prosecution.

Sirleaf says she initially backed Taylor's efforts to overthrow Doe - which sparked the country's first civil war in 1989 - but became his fierce opponent when the full extent of his atrocities became clear.

Fragile democracy

Johnson, a former lieutenant of Taylor who broke away to form his own rebel faction, told AFP in a recent interview that "Madame Sirleaf was our strong supporter".

While Sirleaf initially promised to serve only one term, she has said she needs more time to continue rebuilding the "broken country".

The second post-war elections are seen as key to cementing a fragile democracy which still relies heavily on an 8 000-strong UN peacekeeping mission.

The United Nations and observers praised the first round vote as smooth and peaceful, however opposition parties including the CDC threatened to pull out of the process, claiming the vote had been tampered with.

Tubman has since confirmed he would take part in the second round election.

Claims of fraud raised tensions in the country still emerging from 14 years of back-to-back civil wars claiming a quarter of a million lives that finally ended in 2003.