Deadly clashes last night between opposition supporters and riot police in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, have raised fears today's elections could be overshadowed by more violence, with the presidential challenger warning the country could tip into chaos
The incumbent President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, is poised for re-election, but at least one person was killed and several others injured after hundreds of protestors from Winston Tubman's CDC party squared up to security forces and UN peacekeepers, hurling stones and calling for a boycott of today's second-round vote. At the CDC party headquarters, the epicentre of the violence, the body of a young man lay in a pool of blood yesterday and four others screamed in pain with what looked like bullet wounds.
Mr Tubman, who is Ms Johnson-Sirleaf's only challenger in the run-off, withdrew from the race last week claiming "massive fraud" on the part of the national election committee – even though 800 international election observers pronounced the first round on 11 October free and fair.
Analysts say it is a ploy intended to stain the legitimacy of the election and create a credibility problem for the president. "It's motivated by the fact [Tubman and his party] think they don't have a chance," said the International Crisis Group's West Africa Director, Gilles Yabi.
Any lingering hopes Mr Tubman may have nursed of victory evaporated soon after the initial ballot, when third-placed challenger Prince Johnson – a notorious warlord once caught on video ordering the torture of a political rival – threw his weight behind Ms Johnson-Sirleaf's candidacy, bringing with him 12 per cent of the vote.
Mr Tubman, a 70-year-old Harvard-trained lawyer who was once a UN envoy, cried foul and called for a delay to the run-off. "Something was done to the figures, they were doctored, they were changed, they were altered. That is our belief," Mr Tubman claimed. "The impact on the region would be huge if we were to descend into chaos again."
Mr Tubman's stance and the accompanying rhetoric, in which he has invoked the spectre of Liberia's civil war-has drawn criticism from abroad, with the UN calling his actions "deeply concerning" and the head of the African Union observer mission saying pointedly that: "Political leaders must be prepared to win or lose."
Ms Johnson-Sirleaf, a recipient of the Nobel peace prize, said: "I know nobody in this country, no matter what the rhetoric, really wants us to go back to war."