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Liberia

After narrow victory, Boakai set to review resource contracts

Spiralling prices sunk Weah's bid for a second presidential term but strengthens faith in elections

Due to accede to Liberia's presidency in January after beating incumbent George Weah by less than 2%, Unity Party candidate Joseph Boakai's election victory gives electoral politics a boost in a region with four military governments. Weah is also winning plaudits for his swift and graceful concession speech on Friday when 98% of the results were published.

Within days, Boakai has warned he will launch a comprehensive review of the country's natural resource contracts. But he will have to manage the politics carefully as his Unity Party lacks a majority in the two-chamber legislature.

The opacity surrounding Liberia's oil and mining contracts was cited by voters as a key reason why they would vote against President Weah's bid for a second term in last month's elections.

Yet many of the same problems had emerged under the presidency of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf when Boakai was her vice-president. They commissioned the London-based accounting firm Moore Stephens (now Moore Global) to review 68 resource contracts worth US$8 billion.

It found that the negotiations had been conducted properly in just two of the contracts. The problems included a lack of competitive bidding, lapses in procurement procedure, involvement of opaque third-parties and missing documents.

Boakai's early announcement of his plans for government shows a high level of confidence and preparedness despite what had been a closely fought election campaign.

The margins were tight in both rounds of voting. Turnout in the second round on 14 November fell to 66% from 78% in the first round on 10 October. Weah's total vote dropped by 10,000 to around 794,000 while Boakai attracted most of the votes taken by minor parties in the first round.

Widespread public frustration at the government's failure to boost living conditions over the past five years appears to have been decisive in getting Boakai over the line (AC Vol 64 No 21, Weah and Boakai brace for second round & Vol 64 No 23, Weah-Boakai election race tests 20-year peace settlement).

Weah's Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) has won most seats in the House of Representatives and Senate but will not have an outright majority in either chamber.

Weah conceded defeat on 17 November after the electoral commission reported that Boakai had garnered 50.89% of the vote to Weah's 49.11% from more than 99.5% of the polling stations. Weah's concession, the speed of which has surprised pundits in Freetown and abroad, has been welcomed by the United States and the European Union.

Following allegations of vote rigging and manipulation by CDC officials ahead of the second round, US State Department officials had repeated their threat of withdrawing visas from government ministers and officials.

'The CDC has lost the election, but Liberia has won. This is the time for graciousness in defeat, to put national interest above personal interest,' said Weah.

The conduct of the polls has been praised by international observers. 'Election Day was calm and we noticed organisational improvements of the process since the first round,' Jarek Domański, the Deputy Chief Observer of the EU's mission, reported.

'Procedural irregularities were reduced in the run-off also thanks to a refresher training programme for the polling personnel organised by the National Elections Commission,' the EU EOM added.



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