By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network
NEW YORK | MONROVIA | 20 November 2023 (IDN) — “I stand before you tonight with a grateful heart and with the utmost respect for the democratic process that has defined our nation.”
With those words, star athlete and Liberian President George Manneh Weah began his concession speech, ending six tumultuous years in the country’s highest office.
“As we acknowledge the results,” he continued, “let us also recognize that the true winners of these elections are the people of Liberia. Through your peaceful and orderly exercise of your constitutional right to vote, you have once again demonstrated your commitment to the democratic principles that bind us together as a nation.”
“Ambassador Joseph Nyumah Boakai is in a lead we cannot surpass,” he said. “Therefore, a few minutes ago, I spoke with President-elect Boakai to congratulate him on his victory.”
According to Liberia’s National Elections Commission (NEC), it was mathematically impossible for incumbent Weah of the Congress for Democratic Change to clinch victory, having secured only 785,778 votes against his main rival Boakai of the Unity Party’s 814,212 votes – a difference of 28,434.
Boakai is a 78 year old political veteran, former director of the state-owned Liberian Petroleum Refinery in 1992 when the civil war raged. Although he was not implicated in any scandals, he was accused of turning a blind eye to corruption in government. Other focused on his age, calling him “Sleepy Joe” for falling asleep during a public event.
This time around, the focus was on grievances with Mr. Weah’s rule, calling out Weah for his lavish lifestyle and being out of touch with Liberian society. According to the World Bank, half of the country’s population survives on less than $2 a day.
The November 14 run-off election was the tightest election in two decades and the second transfer of power since the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. During her administration, a U.N. mission was assigned to keep the peace over the course of Liberia’s 14 year civil war that claimed 250,000 lives.
A swearing in ceremony is scheduled for January.
The presidential campaign hinged on accusations that Mr. Weah tolerated corruption in government, failed to manage soaring living costs, deliver jobs or stamp out drugs.
While promising to set up a war crimes court, Weah later argued that looking backwards at old crimes would not be the best way to achieve development.
But the need for a court is urgent, a survivor of the horrific civil war massacre told the BBC. “Some people are already telling me that since there’s no justice, we should take up arms and start waging war against the people. They believe if we did that, in the future we would get lucrative jobs and live the best lives because they are seeing the example,” he told the BBC.
Recent polls in neighboring Sierra Leone and Nigeria were also beset with controversy. Incumbent President Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone won re-election but his main challenger, Samura Kamara, rejected the results, citing “glaring irregularities and violations of established electoral procedures.”
In Nigeria, the two major opposition parties cited vote rigging and widespread violence while seeking a rerun of the vote. Prize-winning novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie added her voice, writing a withering criticism of the election process, which was published in the New York Times. Their objections were overruled and candidate Bola Tinubu was declared the winner.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Dept. struck a note for non-violent compromise. “This is a time for graciousness in defeat,” said spokesman Matthew Miller, “a time to place our country above party, and patriotism above personal interest . . . Let us heal the divisions caused by the campaign and come together as one nation and one united people.” [IDN-InDepthNews]
Photo: Liberia’s outgoing President George Weah (left) and President-elect Joseph Boakai. Source: GNI
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