Monrovia – Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Monday urged peaceful elections ahead of the vote to replace her after 12 years in power, exhorting citizens to respect the outcome regardless of the winner.
Tuesday’s elections will represent the first democratic transfer of power in the small west African nation since 1944, and with no clear frontrunner the stakes are high.
“Go to the polls peacefully,” Sirleaf said in a short speech broadcast on state television, seated behind a desk. “We all must respect the outcome of the election as declared by the National Elections Commission.”
Sirleaf has largely absented herself from the campaign trail, even though her Vice President of 12 years standing, Joseph Boakai, is running to replace her as she completes the constitutional maximum of two terms.
Boakai’s biggest rival is footballing superstar turned politician George Weah, whose party contested the 2005 and 2011 election results in court, before ultimately accepting them.
A Sirleaf adviser who requested anonymity told AFP the president did not want to be seen as “interfering” with the vote.
Sirleaf, 78, also hailed Liberia’s progress from a nation left in the ashes of war in 2003 to what she described as “one of the most vibrant democracies in the west Africa region” today.
“For the first time in three generations we will be transferring presidential authority democratically and peacefully from one elected leader to another,” she noted.
Liberia was founded by freed slaves from the United States in 1847, but has suffered a series of coups and dictatorships that culminated in back-to-back civil wars between 1989 and 2003.
The nation was then hit by the Ebola crisis in 2014, which killed more than 4 800 people and devastated the nation’s fragile health system.
Sirleaf also urged voters to look beyond the strong regional and ethnic ties that have dictated voters’ choices in years past.
“The future of the country is in your hands, no one is entitled to your vote, not because of party, ethnicity, religion or tribal affiliation,” she said.