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International Monitor: Liberians Vote in ‘Building Block’ Election

Liberians line up to vote in the capital Monrovia. Photo by Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images.

Updated Oct. 17: Liberia’s presidential election heads to a runoff on Nov. 8. Incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf needed a majority of the vote to avoid a runoff but received only 44 percent.

Original Story:

Rainy weather didn’t discourage Liberians from going to the polls Tuesday to vote for a president, vice president, and members of the House and Senate, though final results could take days.

“This morning, the inclement weather didn’t seem to stop people from coming out to vote. We saw long lines of people patiently waiting to vote. We’re very encouraged by that,” Alex Bick, director of the election observation mission for the Carter Center, told us by phone from the capital Monrovia. The Carter Center and Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa have a combined 55 observers in the field monitoring voting and ballot-counting.

Vote counting was expected to go well into the night, and the National Elections Commission is expected to start issuing official results on a rolling basis starting Thursday, he said.

The field of presidential candidates included incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who just days ago won the Nobel Peace Prize, and 15 other contenders, including a former U.N. diplomat, former warlord and soccer star.

Word about Sirleaf’s peace prize was still trickling into rural areas, due to relatively poor communications infrastructure in Liberia, according to Bick. “I think knowledge of this award will take some time before it seeps in and people are able to assess its significance for Liberia.

“For most Liberians, the key issue is to judge the current government’s performance and the potential for the other parties to offer something different,” he said.

This year’s elections mark another significant step in Liberia’s path toward democracy, following a period of civil war from the late 1980s until 2003 when a comprehensive peace agreement was signed.

In 2005, Liberia held its first democratic elections under the terms of the peace agreement. And this year, elections were run exclusively by the National Elections Commission for the first time, and were based on the 1986 constitution, meaning the results will be a democratic and a constitutional government, said Bick.

Although his organization had gotten some preliminary reports of “procedural irregularities,” Bick said, for the most part elections proceeded well and Liberians were enthusiastic about them.

If no one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the two leading candidates will go to a runoff on Nov. 8. Polls leading into the vote showed no clear winner.

“We’re very hopeful that this election comes off well and can be a building block in Liberia’s transition from this long period of war into a prosperous and stable country in West Africa,” said Bick.

Special correspondent Kira Kay reported from Liberia in the lead-up to the election on the country’s efforts to maintain democracy and stability:

Photo of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf by Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images.

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