Political campaigns in Liberia enter their final stages this week, ahead of next week’s presidential elections, as incumbent President and Nobel Prize Peace winner, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf prepares to step down, after two terms in office.
The much anticipated October 10th elections will be Liberia’s third post-war presidential and legislative polls, marking the first time a democratically elected president will hand over power to a similarly leader.
Twenty presidential candidates will be competing in this year’s elections, including vice-president, Joseph Boakai, former footballer George Weah amongst others.
Many have lauded Sirleaf for helping Liberia slowly regain its political standing following the two civil wars that spanned 14 years, by restoring order and holding peaceful democratic elections.
Despite’s Liberia’s abundant raw materials, and as Johnson-Sirleaf sought investment for an economy devastated by war, critics complain reforms have been slow.
Liberia’s economy has taken a big hit from a slump in commodity prices since 2014, and from the Ebola epidemic analysts say many Liberians are looking for a president who will help boost the economy.
“From all indication, the Liberian people want change. I mean a change for the better. Because looking at the 12 years of service of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, we observe that there was some gains, especially for maintaining peace,” said political analyst Kerkula Kamara.
Sirleaf made history in 2005 when she was declared Africa’s first female president. At the time, Johnson-Sirleaf faced the uphill task of rebuilding a country shattered by 14 years of war.
The then-67-year old had gone from waiting tables while at Harvard, to being a government minister in Liberia, to working as an economist in exile after she’d criticised the military regime of the 1980s.
But critics say Sirleaf’s legacy may be overshadowed by opponents who accuse her of corruption and nepotism. She has appointed several family members to senior government posts, but denies any favouritism.
The country held presidential debates for the first time to enable candidates spell out their plans for Liberia.
Analysts say though that challenges such as lack of preparedness and voter awareness may hamper elections.
“This year we have many young people who will be voting for the first time, and I don’t see much awareness carrying on. It’s going to be that people will vote, here will be many invalid votes,” said Kamara.
Despite the numerous challenges that a new president will face, many voters are hoping for a government that will overturn the economy and maintain peace in the country.
“By gathering them together in discussion is good. But for me, I ask that this time, let them do less talking and do more work,” said Monrovia resident, Euwina Gerome.
“I’m optimistic that these elections are going to be very peaceful, even though there were one or two isolated cases of violence, but in the overall I strongly believe that will definitely gonna be a peaceful elections,” added another resident Malcolm Joseph.
Johnson-Sirleaf took office in 2006 and promised to take Liberia, Africa’s oldest independent republic still recovering from the 1989-2003 civil war, away from debt and rampant corruption.