Liberia: Run-off election campaign ends

2011-11-07 10:15

Monrovia - Liberia's tense election campaign ended with little fanfare on Sunday, overshadowed by an opposition boycott of a presidential run-off vote which has heightened fears for a fragile peace.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made her way around the capital flanked by ex-warlord-turned Senator Prince Johnson and other party leaders but failed to whip up the massive crowds and party atmosphere of the first round.

A Unity Party helicopter dropped thousands of election pamphlets across the city. At one stop, in the populous Red Light market district, the recent Nobel Peace Prize winner praised her country's eight years of peace.

"I know that nobody in this country, no matter what the talk or rhetoric, nobody really wants us to go back to war," she said.

Her rival Winston Tubman's call for Tuesday's polls to be boycotted has raised tensions in a country ravaged by a brutal 14-year conflict which left some 250 000 dead and the move has been widely condemned abroad.

A small crowd gathered at the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) for a "peace vigil" in support of Tubman but the party was mostly absent from the streets on the last day of campaigning.

Tubman claims the first round, in which he placed second with 32.7%, was flawed by voting irregularities, and refuses to take part until he is satisfied the process will be transparent.

Prince Johnson, a notorious former warlord who was filmed ordering the torture of military dictator Samuel Doe, won 12% in the first round and has thrown his support behind Sirleaf, a boost to her 43.9%.

Fragile democracy

Addressing the crowd on Sunday, Johnson said Tubman, a former United Nations ambassador, "should not do anything to bring trouble to this country. He must take charge of the CDC and make sure they are brought under proper discipline".

The election has been billed as a chance for the country to cement its fragile democracy and the international community has condemned Tubman's boycott call.

"We are very concerned. It's a bad signal ... political leaders must be prepared to win or lose," the head of the African Union observer mission, Speciosa Wadira Kazibwe, a former Ugandan vice-president, told reporters.

The United States on Saturday said it was "deeply disappointed" by the boycott call, as the October 11 elections "were fair, free and transparent".

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said in a statement that the statement that "the first-round election was fraudulent is unsubstantiated".

West Africa's political bloc Ecowas said it "deeply regrets the retrogressive tone" of Tubman’s statement, and urged all involved "not to miss this historic opportunity of consolidating democracy and peace in the country".

The boycott led to a bitter war of words between rivals on Saturday as each called press conferences to condemn the other.

Sirleaf accused Tubman of holding the country hostage by calling for a boycott.

"He has told people to violate the constitution ... When you start violating the constitution, where do you stop?" Sirleaf said.

Tubman responded: "To call for a boycott is a constitutionally guaranteed right ... an expression of my free speech."


Unity Party supporter Lucy Moore said that just two days before the election, she was both happy and sad.

"Happy because I know we are going to win no matter what. Sad because we are going alone to the polls."

Ciafa G Clarke, 29, an economics student and Tubman supporter told AFP that if the vote went ahead, "the vast majority of the people will not recognise the regime".

UN leader Ban Ki-moon on Saturday urged the rival sides to maintain calm and "not to resort to violence despite political disagreement and to ensure that the peace in Liberia is maintained".

Liberia, Africa's oldest independent state, was founded by freed American slaves in 1847 and is still scarred by the 14-year civil war which shattered infrastructure and the economy.

Sirleaf, who is hailed abroad for her role in rebuilding the nation, has said she wants a second term to rebuild the "broken country" which is still heavily reliant on an 8,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission.