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  • Liberian presidential candidates, soccer legend George Weah (L) and Vice President Joseph Boakai

    Liberian presidential candidates, soccer legend George Weah (L) and Vice President Joseph Boakai | Photo: Reuters FILE

Published 26 December 2017

Polling stations will open at 8:00 a.m. amid fears that the turnout could be adversely affected by the holiday season since many people travel this time of year.

Former international soccer superstar George Weah and Vice-President Joseph Boakai are facing off as Liberians begin the process of choosing a new president.

Liberian Supreme Court to Rule on Presidential Runoff

Liberians head to the polls to choose a leader in a closely contested runoff between the two candidates after seven weeks of delays caused by a legal challenge brought against the electoral commission by Boakai.

Polling stations will open at 8am in the election which analysts have said are too close to call. There are also fears that the turnout could be adversely affected by the holiday season since many people travel to celebrate with family members at this time of year.

"Because of the election, we will not really enjoy Christmas this year," 27-year-old Emmanuel Johnson explained. "We cannot feast now because we have to go vote tomorrow. We have to postpone the Christmas celebration to another date."

On Monday, trucks carrying National Electoral Commission (NEC) voting materials were transported to the capital Monrovia under heavy police presence.

"For three days now I have not closed my eyes; we are making sure that nothing goes wrong because this election is a crucial one," a policeman told AFP.

Boakai had accused the NEC of fraud and grave incompetence.

The next leader of the West African nation, the successor to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, will be decided by Liberia's 2.1 million eligible voters.

Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first elected female leader, is set to step down after serving 12 years.

Africa’s first elected female leader, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf  Photo: Reuters FILE

In the first round of voting on October 10, Weah claimed 38.4 percent of the votes while Boakai took 28.8 percent. Both candidates have already made declarations of emphatic victories ahead of the crucial second round.

The runoff was triggered since neither Weah nor Boakai managed to win 50 percent of the vote, which would have handed either candidate an automatic victory.

The beloved 1995 world soccer player of the year, Weah, draws huge crowds and has a faithful following among the youth demographic – one-fifth of Liberia's electorate, aged 18 to 22.

"You know I've been in competitions: tough ones, too, and I came out victorious, so I know Boakai cannot defeat me," Weah told AFP. "I have the people on my side."

Fifty-one-year-old Weah – who is endorsed by popular warlord-turned-preacher Prince Johnson – made a public appearance in the company of Johnson Sirleaf, sparking rumors of an existing feud between the outgoing president and Boakai.

"George Weah is in a stronger position than in 2005," said Ben Payton, head of Africa research at England-based risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft. "Many voters are eager for change and therefore less likely to cast their ballots for the incumbent party."

The first-round winner's connections with the office of the presidency run even deeper, as Jewel Howard-Taylor – ex-wife of former president Charles Taylor, who's currently serving 50 years for war crimes – is his vice-presidential pick. Weah also polled well in Bong County, where there's a strong affinity for Taylor.

Liberians Head to Polls for First New Leader in 70 Years

Meanwhile, 73-year-old Vice-President Boakai is viewed as a 'continuity candidate' and has won praise for his involvement in public service, which spans four decades.

Boakai said on Sunday that he was "very, very confident" of winning: "Victory is mine."

Although Liberia enjoyed peace, post-civil war stability and survived a devastating Ebola outbreak during Sirleaf's tenure, the outgoing president is accused of failing to combat poverty and corruption. As a result, Boakai is also plagued with the burden of being her deputy.

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