World News

Liberia’s Vice President Concedes Election: ‘It Has Never Been About Me’

Posted December 29, 2017 4:41 p.m. EST
Updated December 29, 2017 4:42 p.m. EST

MONROVIA, Liberia — After allegations of election fraud and a delayed runoff that raised fears about a constitutional crisis, Vice President Joseph Boakai of Liberia accepted defeat in the country’s presidential election Friday and offered his support to the new government.

“I congratulate the winner, Ambassador George Manneh Weah, and pray that God will guide and guard him as he takes upon the onerous responsibility of steering the affairs of our nation,” Boakai said outside his party’s headquarters in Monrovia.

By conceding the race to Weah, a former international soccer star, Boakai helped pave the way for the first democratic transition of power in the West African country in more than 70 years. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is stepping down after two terms as Africa’s first democratically elected female president.

The National Election Commission announced Friday that Weah had won with 61.5 percent of the vote. Turnout was low, with around 56 percent of registered voters casting ballots, in part because the election was scheduled for the day after Christmas.

Crowds of people gathered at the headquarters of Weah’s party, the Congress for Democratic Change, to hear the new president-elect Friday evening, but the event was postponed because of the rowdiness of the crowd.

Earlier in the day, Boakai traded confrontation for conciliation in making what he said was a decision for the good of the country, and dismissing the idea of challenging the results in court.

“I reject any temptation of imposing pain, hardship, agony and uncertainty on our people,” he said, alluding to past conflicts in Liberia’s transitions of power. “My name will not be used as an excuse for one drop of human blood to be spilled in this country.”

“It has never been about me, it has always been and should always be about Liberia,” he added, urging Liberians to reconcile.

Weah is expected to take office in January.

When preliminary results pointing to Weah’s victory were announced, Liberians took to the streets and cheered. Many returned to the streets after Boakai’s concession speech.

Weah, a senator who also ran for president in 2005 and for vice president in 2011, placed first in a crowded field in the first round of voting, winning 38.4 percent of the votes. Though his support was stronger than most analysts had expected, it was not enough to win outright.

As the date of the runoff approached, Boakai and his supporters in the governing Unity Party asserted that Sirleaf had interfered in the election, accusations that she denied. The vice president and the third-place candidate, who won just under 10 percent, took their case to the Liberian Supreme Court, delaying the final vote by two months.

The election’s peaceful conclusion was seen by some as a milestone for the fledgling democracy, which was founded almost two centuries ago by freed American slaves but has not seen a peaceful transition of power since 1944.

Ibrahim al-Bakri Nyei, 30, a doctoral student in Liberian politics, came of age during a 14-year civil war that left 250,000 dead and the nation’s infrastructure destroyed. On Friday, he said he was “very proud.”

“It builds my confidence in the future of my country that I will also have the opportunity to participate in the democratic process,” he said, adding, “If members of my generation are to ascend to power, it should not be through the barrel of a gun.”

With an ailing economy and a young population yearning for jobs and a decent education, Weah, whose only experience in government has been his three years as a senator, has many challenges ahead of him.

Nyei, for one, will be watching closely.

“We will look very keenly to see how the next government upholds the rule of law, upholds freedom of expression and fundamental human rights,” he said, “to ensure this democratic process is not reversed.”