Without argument President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has never been entirely clear during or even before the entire duration of the campaign exercises about who she would prefer to see as her successor—as a result many Liberians would be wondering which of the candidates President Sirleaf might have given the nod to, when she entered the polling center at her hometown of Julijuah, Bomi County.
President Sirleaf’s choice would be considered by many as one of the best, if not the worst, secret kept in the history of the country, though according to pundits, she has been giving ‘lip support’ to her Vice President, Joseph Nyuma Boakai. The President seemed to have been playing a “twins’ mother” role throughout the electoral process and has never been direct in words and deeds about who she would support.
Almost 2.2 million people were registered to vote in the election, though the turnout seemed to be impacted by few irregularities in the process. Campaigning was dominated by promises to tackle poverty, corruption, and guarantee stability not just in the country, but the MRU and the West African region.
Polls were scheduled to have opened as early as 8 a.m. on election day and President Sirleaf was one of the early voters in her hometown, where she voted in the past two elections of 2005 and 2011.
The President told reporters upon voting that she was glad to have voted someone to succeed her. “At least the talk shows will stop,” she said.
The President said her efforts as the leader of the country are leading to a smooth transitional process and voting someone who will work and build on her legacy should be the prime responsibility of every Liberian.
“I feel good because I managed the process to get to this day so I have to feel good about today, but don’t forget that I have three more months,” she said with laughter.
Though she did indicate who she voted for, the President warned the electorates to not vote based on tribalism or religion.
Ma Ellen might have cast her vote for generational change! “Your vote is about you and your family — not party, ethnicity,” she said.
In a broadcast to the nation on Monday night the eve of the elections, President Sirleaf urged people to vote peacefully. “For the first time in three generations we will be transferring presidential authority democratically and peacefully from one elected leader to another,” she said.
“We must respect the outcome of the election as declared by the National Elections Commission. The world will be watching, let’s make them and make ourselves proud.”
As they have done since the war, women camped out by the side of one of Monrovia’s busiest roads on Monday, praying for peace. However, this is the first election that Liberia is managing without the help of the United Nations.
A total of 20 presidential candidates are running to succeed the 78 year-old President who is stepping down at the end of her two terms, the term-limit guaranteed by the Constitution.
Provisional results are expected to come as early as Wednesday and the final results, according to NEC might take up to two weeks. To avoid a run-off, the winner of the presidential race must get 50% plus one vote. With so many candidates running, the chance of a second round is incredibly high.
When asked what they would remember the outgoing President for, many of the voters highlighted keeping the peace and freedom of speech.
Abel Wheayou at the Paynesville Central Academy (PCA) said, “Regardless of whatever wrong President Sirleaf may have done in Liberia, she did her best to keep the peace. It’s easy to judge and insult our leaders, but let us all look back and think of the challenges associated with running a broken country.”
The Youth Factor
Liberia has a population of at least 60% youth, and they turned out in huge numbers on Tuesday to vote. One in five of Liberia’s registered voters is doing so for the first time, according to the NEC. A key issue swaying the votes of the young people is economic situation in general — especially the lack of jobs and educational opportunities.
“There are no jobs for young people in this country and it is sickening for us,” Emmanuel Johnson, who is voting for the second time, said at the 72nd Barracks polling center. “We too deserve a better life like everyone who was born in this country. We have turned out today for our voices to be heard because the older people have marginalized us for too long. Youth only get opportunities as a result of patronage and this is not how it should,” he said.
For Hellen Caulker, there is a need for a paradigm shift in national leadership. “We need a new corps of leaders who have the young people at heart… someone who will provide opportunities to the youth regardless of who he or she is, where his or her parents from and what their social statuses are.
“We need change – some of us are looking for jobs, some people are looking for money to continue their education, but they don’t have money,” she said.