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Liberia

Clashes mar run-up to national elections

Race for the presidency tightens after two opposition contenders joined forces ahead of the 10 October vote

The mood in President George Weah's camp, which had been expecting an easy run for a second term, has soured since his main rivals Joseph Boakai and Prince Yormie Johnson formed a united front to oppose him in the presidential and legislative elections on 10 October.

Early reports across the country on 10 October say the voting was peaceful and well-managed. But the electoral commission has come under a hail of criticism for its lack of transparency, especially its reluctance to publish the voters list ahead of the elections.

A series of clashes have reinforced fears of wider violence should one of the contenders feel cheated as the results come in.

George Weah started this year as the clear favourite despite a lacklustre first term marked by corruption and unkept promises of economic recovery.

In late September, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Washington would impose travel bans on those believed to be responsible for 'undermining democracy in Liberia', including manipulation or rigging of the electoral process, the use of violence to prevent people from campaigning and voting, and interference with media coverage. 

Accusations of corruption against the Weah government, from local and regional activists as well as international has weakened its standing but it has done little to respond – either in judicial or policy terms.

The US sanctioned three officials, including Weah's chief of staff Nathaniel McGill, accusing them of misappropriating state assets (AC Vol 63 No 17, Washington weighs in on Weah).

Violent clashes between supporters of the opposition Unity Party and the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) last month left at least two people dead and 20 others injured in Foya, Lofa County. Both parties have issued statements condemning the violence, urging restraint by their supporters. 

But the clashes have continued, according to local monitors. They warn that Weah is trying to use incumbency, particularly state control of institutions, to secure a victory in the first round (AC Vol 64 No 5, Weah stays in pole position).

The alliance between 78-year-old Boakai and Johnson could challenge the incumbent's calculations. If they can push Weah's vote below 50% in the first round, they believe they will prevail in a grand anti-Weah alliance in the second round. Much will depend on the final numbers and the position of other contenders in their field.

More widely, Weah has come under fire from opposition politicians for his failure to set up an economic and war crimes court. This, the corruption claims and spiralling food prices have weakened his appeal to voters.



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