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Liberia - Stor optimisme fra begge pæsidentkandidater!

LIBERIA: Soccer star or economist? The nation decides

IRINnews.org, 8. november 2005

Begge kandidater lyste af optimisme under tirsdagens afsluttende valgrunde om posten som Liberias nye præsident. Befolkningen håber på at vinderen af valget kan berede vejen ud af den elendighed som 14 års borgerkrig har resulteret i. Infrastrukturen er slidt ned og ødelagt, der mangler lærere i skolerne, og alle stiller store forhåbninger til netop deres kandidat, selvom der ikke er de store forskelle på deres politiske programmer.

Soccer millionaire George Weah arriving to cast his ballot - ©  Claire Soares/IRIN
MONROVIA, 8 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - Star soccer striker George Weah lined up on Tuesday for the most daring goal he's ever attempted – becoming president of war-battered Liberia.

His opposition? Former finance minister Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Liberians hope that the presidential run-off, the first in the West African nation's history, will turn the page on 14 years of civil war and give them a leader who can turn the lights back on, get the water running, and provide education and healthcare for all.

Weah, who grew up playing football barefoot in shantytown streets before going on to play for European heavyweights like AC Milan, won 28.3 percent in the first round on 11 October, a far cry from the 50 percent plus one vote needed to avoid the run-off.

"I won the first round and I'm hoping and praying that I win again," a smiling Weah, decked out all in white, told reporters, after casting his ballot in the outskirts of the capital, Monrovia.

Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated economist and political veteran, came second in the 22-strong field, capturing 19.8 percent of the votes.

This time around, she hopes to attract enough people who voted for the eliminated candidates to take first place.

"I am feeling very good, I am confident," she told IRIN by phone on her way back from voting in Tubmanburg.

On the potholed streets of Monrovia, there was little sign of the euphoria that engulfed the October polls, the first since the civil war ended. Lines were short outside the churches and schools doubling as polling stations, and the mood was subdued.

"I am expecting a little bit lower turnout," said Max van den Berg, the head of the European Union observer mission.

Liberians wait in line to choose their president on Tuesday - ©  Vlaire Soares/IRIN
Sirleaf, who would be Africa's first elected female president if she won, had her own explanation for the smaller queues.

"Liberians are not accustomed to run-offs. This is the first one in their history, and people are saying 'We voted once but we have to do it again?'," the 66-year grandmother said.

The challenges facing whoever becomes the next president of Liberia -- where the majority of the population is unemployed and illiterate –- are immense.

Roads and bridges need rebuilding, schools and clinics need teachers and doctors, thousands of people who fled their homes need to be helped to return, and international donors are calling for a serious crack down on corruption.

Voting for peace and prosperity

But as some blue-hatted soldiers of the 15-000 strong UN peacekeeping force looked on, Weah was clear about what was at the top of his list, should he make history and become the first top footballer to become head of state.

"My first priority will be peace… bringing people together," the 39-year-old said.

Many of his supporters believe he is the only person who can unify the nation.

"He's a real son of Liberia," said teacher Duleh Wisseh, referring to Weah's indigenous roots. "He will lead our country not rule over it."

Liberia was founded in 1847 by freed American slaves and resentment with the ruling Americo-Liberian elite eventually boiled over into coups and conflict.

Aside from this, Weah's high school drop-out and political novice status also strikes a chord with many of the one-time child soldiers, deprived of an education when they were whipped out of school and sent to the front line.

"He's not going to give us the old political talk. He's not part of the old guard like Ellen. He's going to give us change," said 19-year-old Prince Roberts, who was recruited as a fighter for former president Charles Taylor when he was just eight.

But supporters of rival Sirleaf scoff at the notion that Weah can bring economic prosperity to a nation that has the diamonds, timber and iron ore to make it one of the region's most prosperous nations.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf at home on polling day - ©  Claire Soares/IRIN
"Only Ellen has the credentials and the experience to lead this country," said Walter Robinson, who sells gasoline from old mayonnaise jars. "George needs to go to school. This is no time for learning on the job."

Election officials will start counting votes from the 3,070 polling stations dotted around the heavily-forested country as soon as polls close.

But the final result is not expected for some days, and some diplomats have called for calm after a tense end to campaigning.

"The tone of campaigning in the last week has gone sour. There's been mudslinging and some uncalled for utterances," said Abdulsalami Abubakar, a former Nigerian military ruler and lead mediator in Liberia's peace process, who met with the presidential contenders on the eve of the polls.

"That gives us some concern and we want to make sure that it doesn't get out of hand," he said. "Both candidates must be ready to accept whatever result will eventually emerge."

© IRIN - This article appeared originally on IRIN News.org and is published by engelund.dk according a general agreement. To view the original article, please click here.
IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) is a project of UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
[This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]


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Opdateret d. 11.11.2005