Former footballer George Weah has been elected the 25th President of Liberia after securing 12 of the 15 counties in the country.
Former Chelsea star George Weah has tweeted his thanks to voters as he closes in on his bid to become Liberia’s next leader.
The 51-year-old, considered one of Africa’s greatest ever footballers, succeeds President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is stepping down after 12 years as the continent’s first elected female head of state.
This morning, Weah, who also played for AC Milan during a glittering career that saw him win the Ballon D’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year, took to Twitter to tell of his ‘deep emotion’ and ‘to thank you, the Liberian people, for honoring me with your vote today. It is a great hope.’
Vote counting started earlier today following a peaceful run-off election for a new president, pitting former international footballer George Weah against Vice-President Joseph Boakai.
Official results of Tuesday’s vote are expected in a few days, in what would be the West African country’s first democratic transition since 1944, according to electoral officials.
The ballot was delayed for seven weeks due to legal challenges lodged by Boakai’s Unity Party against the electoral commission over the conduct of the first round of voting, but many of the complaints appeared to have been addressed in the second round.
His rival, Boakai, 73, is seen as a continuity candidate and has won praise for his years of public service and image as a corruption-free family man, while fending off allegations he failed to tackle poverty while in government.
Weah topped the first round of voting with 38.4 percent while Boakai came second with 28.8 percent. That triggered a run-off as neither made it past the 50 percent needed to win outright.
Controversial VP—Charles Taylor’s wife
But the footballer has sparked controversy after naming Jewel Howard-Taylor, wife of cannibal warlord Charles Taylor, as his pick for vice president.
Charles Taylor is serving a 50-year sentence in Britain for war crimes committed in neighbouring Sierra Leone, but his presence has loomed large over the election.
Weah’s running mate Jewel Howard-Taylor began life in politics as first lady to former warlord leader Charles Taylor, but has since established a formidable political reputation in her own right.
Howard-Taylor was a surprise pick for vice-president on the ticket of the footballer turned politician, as many expected her to run for the top job herself.
Her National Patriotic Party (NPP) was formed in 1997 by members of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) – Charles Taylor’s rebel fighters – to allow him to run for president in hopes of ending a civil war that began in 1989.
She married Liberia’s most powerful warlord just before he was elected in 1997 by a population weary of conflict, and was granted a divorce in 2006, while Taylor was living in exile in Nigeria with another woman.
Howard-Taylor’s political career began in earnest when she was elected in 2005 as a senator in Bong County, the nation’s third most populous county, and has since built an image as a resilient hard worker in Liberia’s male-dominated politics.
‘The first thing I’ve done is to believe that I am able to make the changes I talk about,’ she told AFP in a recent interview.
‘I have made promises I have fulfilled in education, healthcare and infrastructure development, and so I hope over the past 12 years Jewel Howard has become her own person working for peace, working for prosperity and working for development,’ she added.
Her NPP party agreed to form a coalition with Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) in 2017, on the condition Howard-Taylor could run as vice-president.
No matter what she does to distance herself, Howard-Taylor’s proximity to Taylor remains a talking point, and in a nation where the ex-president is still revered by many, her presence seems to have been an asset for Weah.
Taylor is currently serving a 50-year sentence for war crimes in a British prison, although he was convicted of funding rebel groups in Sierra Leone, not the recruitment of child soldiers, killings, rape and pillaging of which he is accused at home.
Questions remain over how much Howard-Taylor knew of her husband’s crimes, as she was studying and working abroad during his rebel years before he was elected president.
She is now estranged from Taylor, though she has admitted staying in contact with the father of her two children.
Howard-Taylor has also opposed war crime prosecutions in Liberia, which has never prosecuted rebel leaders from crimes committed during its back-to-back civil wars between 1989 and 2003.
Source: Daily Mail