Historic Nail-Biter: Liberia Awaits Results of Pivotal Election Showdown

--- The winner of the election will be whomever Liberians think offers the best chance of combating a multitude of issues, including poverty, corruption, and safety concerns.

As Liberia anxiously awaits the final results of its historical first election, preliminary data suggests a nail-biting contest between incumbent President George Weah and former Vice President Joseph Boakai. 

The National Elections Commission has begun to announce the official results as both candidates have so far demonstrated strong performances in their respective strongholds, making it a closely contested race.  Analysts are now emphasizing that each candidate's performance in areas traditionally loyal to their opponent could determine the outcome of the race.

If Weah were to lose the election, it would mark a historic moment in Liberian politics, making him the first president in the nation's history to be denied a second term. Boakai, on the other hand, would become the second presidential candidate to return a former ruling party to power since 1878 when the True Whig Party achieved this feat.

A potential victory for Weah would be groundbreaking, with him becoming the first candidate in Liberian history to defeat the same political opponent twice. In the 2017 runoff, Weah secured a decisive win against Boakai, with a 61.5% to 38.5% margin.

However, the dynamics have shifted in 2023, with Boakai putting up a formidable fight, securing 43.44% in the first round compared to Weah's 43.83%. This razor-thin margin led to a runoff, as neither candidate reached the constitutional requirement of 50.1%.

Data from the National Elections Commission further underscores the widespread discontent with the Weah administration, revealing that approximately 57% of Liberians voted for opposition candidates in the first round. 

This signals a significant shift in public sentiment since the 2017 election as the Weah administration, which came to power with promises to tackle corruption and improve livelihoods, faced criticism for its failures to deliver on these commitments.

In response to accusations of mismanagement, he has cited external factors such as the coronavirus pandemic and the consequences of the Russia-Ukraine war for the economic challenges faced by the nation. 

However, he has asked voters for more time to see the results of his first-term promises, to root out corruption and improve livelihoods. A survey by Gallup, released hours after the runoff elections on November 14, shows that just a slim majority approves of the President's term, but a downward trend could spell trouble for him.

The election, which is a referendum on Weah’s leadership in 2018, comes as his approval rating has dipped. In the latest Gallup poll, conducted just before the October election, 54% approved of the President's job performance, down from 65% in 2022, making him somehow the favorite to retain power.

Weah’s government has been hit with corruption charges throughout his term, including imposing U.S. sanctions on his chief of staff and other officials for reports of misappropriation of state assets and bribery. 

Most Liberians (81%) see corruption as widespread throughout the government, but this figure is largely in line with the average since 2007, suggesting the problem is far more entrenched in the government beyond just Weah’s administration.

However, Boakai hopes to capitalize on Weah's drop in approval rating, which led to him framing his campaign as a mission to rescue Liberia from a declining state under Weah's administration. 

He remains confident in his achievements, pointing to initiatives like the introduction of free tuition for university students as evidence of progress.

Boakai, who served as the vice president to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first elected female head of state, contested the runoff elections after securing the endorsement of three of the four best-performing candidates. 

The runoff election, which was Liberia’s fourth post-war presidential election, and the first one without the presence of a United Nations mission that previously had provided support to the National Elections Commission, comes as Gallup's poll survey revealed that 56% of Liberians feel their standard of living is getting worse; while 74% report not having enough money for food in the past year and 32% felt safe walking alone at night in 2022, among the lowest in the world.

The winner will likely be whomever Liberians think offers the best chance of combating a multitude of issues, including poverty, corruption, and safety concerns. According to Gallup, Liberians believe that living standards are getting bad and getting worse as slightly over a third of Liberians (37%) in 2023 are satisfied with their standard of living, down from 41% in 2018 when Weah took office. Moreover, it has been revealed that just 43% feel their standard of living is getting better, compared with 56% who feel it is getting worse.

“Material shortages and poverty have weighed upon Liberia for decades, with food and shelter being primary concerns,” Gallup said. “Nearly three in four Liberians (74%) say there were times in the past 12 months when they did not have enough money for food, while 60% struggled to afford shelter.” “These concerns have likely driven many Liberians to consider life outside the country. 

The latest Gallup data show that 76% of Liberians say they would move permanently to another country if given the opportunity, one of the highest levels Gallup has recorded in the world since 2007,” the survey shows. Liberia, according to the Gallup survey, ranks among the least secure countries in the world, with residents ranking the country as unsafe on a variety of measures.

Just a third of Liberians (32%) felt safe walking alone at night in 2022, far below the sub-Saharan African median of 51% and among the lowest in the world, the survey noted. It added that a high number of Liberians also reported having money or property stolen (53%) or being assaulted or mugged (29%) in the past year; while illegal drug use and trade have afflicted the country in recent years as well, with a UNFPA Liberia report estimating that 20% of youth use narcotic substances.

“These factors find Liberia ranked at the bottom of Gallup’s Law and Order Index for 2022 with a score of 49, while the global score stood at 83. Uncertainty in the local police force depressed the country’s score, with Liberians being far less confident in their local police (45%) than the median of 60% across all of sub-Saharan,” Gallup said.