Weah, the 39-year-old AC Milan soccer player-turned-presidential-hopeful, has a lead over Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated economist. But election rules require a runoff if none of the 22 candidates gains more than 50 percent of the vote. Official results from 278 of 3,070 polling stations show Weah with 23.7 percent of the vote compared to Johnson-Sirleaf's 14.9 percent.
In the streets of the capital city Monrovia on Thursday, Liberians eagerly awaited results from Tuesday's election as U.N. helicopters delivered ballot boxes from remote villages. Election officials caution that only a small portion of the votes has been counted and that a final result could take up to a week.
"People are not understanding this procedure. They are thinking a person has already won, but there is still a long way to go," said National Elections Commission chief Frances Johnson-Morris. "With the current trend, it is likely there will be a second round."
These elections were the first since the end of a brutal 14-year civil war started by exiled former President Charles Taylor that killed a quarter of a million people and left the West African nation politically unstable and its infrastructure in ruins.
International observers hailed the peaceful elections as a step in the right direction. Morris estimated the voter turnout at 70 percent among Liberia's 1.3 million registered voters.