Sirleaf confident of victory in run-off after support from former warlord

 

Nobel Peace Prize-winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will be confident of winning next month's run-off for the presidency of Liberia after securing the support of the former warlord, Prince Johnson.

Having failed to win outright in the first round, the 72-year-old has been forced to make a deal with the controversial Mr Johnson, who admits responsibility for the killing of one of her predecessors, Samuel Doe in 1990.

The alliance raises further concerns over the gap between the Liberian President's gilded reputation abroad and her standing at home where she is accused of backing various armed factions during the country's ruinous civil wars. The ex-rebel leader Mr Johnson came third behind Ms Johnson Sirleaf and former UN diplomat Winston Tubman in last week's vote, taking a crucial 12 per cent of the vote and proclaiming himself the "kingmaker" in an interview with The Independent.

He has been strongly critical of Africa's only elected female president during the campaign, highlighting her past role in financing warlords, including Charles Taylor who is awaiting a verdict in a war crimes trial at the International Criminal Court. "If she got a Nobel for funding a war, I should get one for fighting it," said Mr Johnson.

Ms Johnson Sirleaf's decision to go back on her promise to be a single-term president has forced her to deal with corrupt interests and undermined reform efforts, analysts said.

Mr Johnson made it clear last week that he would back which ever candidate gave him more of what he wanted, which he said was ministries and jobs for his ex-fighters. He seemed to have thrown his backing behind President Sirleaf's main rival when he appeared at a press conference on Saturday with Mr Tubman's running mate George Weah to denounce electoral fraud and threaten to withdraw from the process.

However, less than 48 hours later Mr Johnson was publicly backing the President for re-election. "She is the lesser of two evils and she has only six years to go," he told the Associated Press. "I would prefer six years than to support anyone for 12 years."

If it holds until voting day on 8 November, the endorsement should be enough to win the President another term. She polled 44 per cent in the first round to Mr Tubman's 32 per cent.

The former warlord insists he is not a "war criminal" but a "liberator" and points to the grassroots support in his home county of Nimba as evidence that he was on the right side during the 14-year civil war. The area was among the worst-hit when President Doe, who came to power in a coup, fought back brutally against a twin insurgency led by Prince Johnson and Charles Taylor.

Mr Johnson was forced into exile in Nigeria after regional peacekeepers disarmed his rebel group and watched his rival Mr Taylor take power in 1997. But the man who videotaped himself interrogating and torturing President Doe returned from exile in 2004 and took a senatorial seat in Nimba a year later.

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