Incumbent Unopposed In Liberia's Presidential Runoff

In Liberia, the second round of the presidential election is set for Tuesday. The incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, came out ahead in the first round. She was to face former Justice Minister Winston Tubman, but he has withdrawn. The development raises questions about the election's legitimacy.

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In Liberia, people will be voting tomorrow in a runoff election to choose their new president. The opposition candidate has withdrawn from that race though and is calling for a boycott of the vote, leaving the incumbent unopposed. And that development raises questions about the election's legitimacy at a time when many people still remember their country's brutal civil war. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected Africa's first female president in 2005. Harvard-educated and this year's joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Johnson-Sirleaf is praised for being a progressive reformer by her admirers in the West. But her critics at home say she has failed to deliver on pledges to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity.

In an interview with NPR, she said she underestimated the challenge of rebuilding postwar Liberia. But she likened it to a jigsaw puzzle that requires diligence.

ELLEN JOHNSON-SIRLEAF: We're putting the pieces together. Give it a few more years. There's going to be a beautiful work of art.

QUIST-ARCTON: In a nationwide radio address Saturday, Johnson-Sirleaf encouraged voters to go to the polls and to ignore the boycott being urged by her opponent, Winston Tubman.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO ADDRESS)

JOHNSON-SIRLEAF: Do not succumb to fear and intimidation. Do not allow any politician to hold our country hostage. Do not allow Mr. Tubman to falsely claim boycott because he fears defeat.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

QUIST-ARCTON: The runoff was called after the October 8 first round of voting failed to give either candidate an outright majority, though Johnson-Sirleaf gained most votes. Tubman, another Harvard graduate, says he's pulling out of tomorrow's second round because the election process favors the president. He argues that as it emerges from civil war, Liberia needs a new leader.

WINSTON TUBMAN: My main message to my country is to say in order to remove our country from the damaging and dangerous path that it is in, we need to remove the incumbent government. We need to take power. We need to unite the country. And this is what we're striving to do.

QUIST-ARCTON: Tubman's supporters include many who back his running mate - the popular former Liberian soccer international George Weah. These young men are selling stacks of cell phone credit at the airport outside the capital, Monrovia. They complain they don't have essential services and can't find the jobs Johnson-Sirleaf promised, so she must go, says George K. Weah - no relation.

GEORGE K. WEAH: I hope for a better change. We get about 25 percent of Liberians enjoying this country's resources and 75 percent not enjoying the resources of the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)

QUIST-ARCTON: But Liberia's president has her supporters, like this mother of three. Coretta Carneh runs a little eatery in noisy, battered downtown Monrovia.

CORETTA CARNEH: Right now what we want to see is a better Liberia. But I know definitely that I'm not going to sit there to wait for them to come and feed me or put food on my table for my kids or to even give them free education.

QUIST-ARCTON: The challenges facing Liberia remain monumental as the West African nation sheds its war image and struggles to stabilize and progress.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News.

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