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Who Will Succeed Liberia’s President Sirleaf?

Liberia is heading to the polls on October 10 with twenty candidates on the ballot paper. The list includes a fashion model, a football icon, a warlord and a host of businessmen and career politicians.

Liberia has been through tumultuous times in recent years: from two brutal back-to-back civil wars to an outbreak of the devastating ebola virus disease. Both incidents left the country in ruins and its population severely depleted. The upcoming general election is set to be another major test for the troubled nation, as it seeks to manage its own security for the first time since the United Nations peacekeeping mission pulled out completely two years ago.

The long list of candidates vying for the country’s top job are not your average politicians; including a former warlord infamous for torturing and killing a sitting president, a world class football star, a former fashion model – who shares a child with said football star – as well as a host of career politicians and businessmen.

President Sirleaf’s desire for a younger successor

An internal rift between President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Joseph Nyumah Boakai – her two-term vice president, who is seeking to replace her – came to light when she did not attend his campaign rally. Sirleaf claims she did not attend the event due to preparations for the United Nations General Assembly meeting in late September.

“The president has on numerous occasions admitted supporting the vice president,” said ruling United Party (UP) stalwart and campaign team member Nowah Gibson, who does not believe speculations that Sirleaf does not wants Boakai as her successor. “We trust what she says until she reverses her decision, which she hasn’t done.”

Veteran politician Boakai served as agriculture minister under warlord Charles Taylor before becoming vice president on the UP’s ticket when the party’s candidate Sirleaf beat football star and political newbie George Oppong Weah in a run-off.

Many young Liberians hoping for political change claimed the election was stolen from Weah, who had won the first round but failed to garner the constitutionally required 50 percent plus one minimum to win the presidency.

New faces, new political maneuvers

Stalwarts of the ruling UP accused Sirleaf of not only backing Liberty Party (LP’s) candidate, lawyer Charles Brumskine, but also of pumping significant amounts of money into his political campaigns. The allegations were supported by the political realignments of some senior UP politicians with close ties to Sirleaf.

The defection of businessman Musa Bility and the UP’s Harrison Karnwea to LP dealt a serious blow to the ruling party. But President Sirleaf did not publically criticize any of the defectors. “When you have an organization of such nature, you will have people with diverse views,” said Gibson in response to the defections.

The 66-year-old leader of LP, Brumskine is considered the most popular opposition politician in the country. He challenged Sirleaf in her 2011 second-term bid but failed to make it into the top three. “I think our chances are better,” said Kla-Edward Toomey, a spokesman for Brumskine’s Liberty Party. “This election is divided between two ideological grounds: that is change versus continuity. From all indications the larger population is yearning for change and are looking towards the opposition.”

Despite allegations of corruption and nepotism involving her three sons, Sirleaf went on to win the elections in a single round, followed by former diplomat Winston Tubman and former warlord Prince Johnson, who took the second and third places respectively.

In that same poll, Weah positioned himself as a running mate under Tubman. “2011 elections were marred by fraud,” said Kwame Weeks, a spokeman for Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) party. “When you talk about politics in Africa it is totally different. There is manipulation, there is vote rigging and the playing field is never leveled.” The political atmosphere at the time did not look good for Sirleaf, who had placed fighting corruption at the epicenter of her 2005 election campaign.


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