Judgement day for Nobel laureate

Liberia votes on whether to give peace prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf a second term as president

Monrovia

Liberians queued from before dawn yesterday to pass their verdict on a president who is lionised abroad but has faced strong opposition at home to her bid for a second term in office.

Nobel Peace laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will discover today whether she has won the single-round victory she campaigned for or faces a run-off next month against a united opposition.

The campaign has been marked by mass rallies and exuberant crowds, but on polling day the atmosphere was more sombre.

In the dilapidated capital Monrovia, voters waited up to five hours to cast their ballot amid a tropical rainstorm.

George Stephen, a civil servant, said he would be voting for the "same old government" even though he fielded complaints about it daily from fellow Liberians. "The most important thing is peace," he said.

The country's recovery from the war that ended in 2003 remains fragile. The national budget amounts to little more than £64 a year for each Liberian and progress on restoring the devastated infrastructure has been slow. There is little formal employment and literacy rates in rural areas are in single figures.

Voters were asked at polling booths yesterday if they could read and many had to admit they could not.

In Red Light, a rundown neighbourhood on the outskirts of the capital, Pastor Tosher Brown said the vast crowds drawn by the president's main rival Winston Tubman and his running mate and football hero George Weah may not mean much at the ballot box.

"Most people have two jackets," he smiled. "And you never know which they will be wearing when they vote."

In the beachfront shantytown of West Point, people have been paying to have their T-shirts printed with the opposition CDC party initials and frustration at the government is tangible.

"We live in a slum, for God's sake, and they have put up $4m [£2.6m] of billboards," complained 55-year-old Andy Ponpon. "They should spend that on citizens." To win the first round, the 72-year-old incumbent would need more than half of the vote, despite running against 15 other candidates.

Dan Saryee, director of the Liberian Democratic Institute, said the opposition would be a "serious threat" when they rallied behind a single alternative in the expected run-off.

"If there's a one-round win, something strange is going on," he said. "A one-shot win could be a trigger for violence as people strongly believe it is impossible."

Fresh in people's minds is the conflict sparked by last year's elections in neighbouring Ivory Coast, in which hundreds of Liberians fought as mercenaries.

The UN has 11,000 peacekeepers in Liberia, many of whom were on patrol yesterday.

Ellen Margaret Loj, the UN's top official in the country, said the atmosphere was good and voting appeared peaceful at polling stations.

Liberians remain reluctant to contemplate unrest in a country getting used to peace.

At Monrovia's Lutheran Church yesterday, lines of voters snaked over white stars painted on the ground to mark mass graves from a 1990 massacre.

Othello Gsingbeh, the 60-year-old church janitor, remembers the day that 600 people were slaughtered, many of them his friends.

"It's a happy day to cast a vote on this ground," he said. "What happened here must never happen again."

Voters give their verdict

Emmanuel Myers, 42

Things seem to have gone well. I called a few of my friends around the country and everyone said the vote has been peaceful. After what we've experienced, I think the next chapter will be fine. My son, who is 20, is more interested in sports than politics. But with a sportsman like George Weah running for president, he has shown some interest in the election.

Joseph S Korvah, 19, Student

This is the first time I've been able to vote so I don't have anything to compare. I haven't seen any fighting; just people discussing quietly or waiting patiently. It's encouraging. I don't have much experience of politics but in the last few years we've seen a lot of building projects going on, so I think the government has been good. It seems like they are doing something.

Lorpu Johnson, 38, with her two-year-old daughter, Samre. Works at the Ministry of Finance

I'm feeling very fine about the vote. So far it's been peaceful. The most important issue for me is building a better future for our children. Any woman who is educated will be able to sustain a family. Liberia has good female role models and I pray that there will be many more.

Elizabeth Sayeh, 40, with six-year-old Ellen Sirleaf Sayeh

I like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. That's why, after the last election, I named my daughter after her. She was born in 2005. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has done many great things for women, for Liberia. She is our mother.

Theresa Doe, 30

Ellen does not do anything for the children's future. You can't afford to send a child to school. It's true that she's a woman and I'm a woman but she's a Congo (member of the Americo-Liberian elite). Now it's time for the native people to rule. Ellen did nothing.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Development Engineer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading manufacturer of fl...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Operative - Oxfordshire / Worcestershire - OTE £30k

£12000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Field Sales Operative is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders