Nobel Peace Prize Winner Faces Electoral Boycott

The low voter turnout at Tuesday's run-off election in Liberia was preceded by violent clashes. Opposition leader Winston Tubman refused to participate in the vote, so there was no rival candidate for incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first democratically elected female head of state. Host Michel Martin discusses the vote's impact on Liberia's post-civil war recovery with journalist Ledgerhood Rennie.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Coming up, we'll hear about the role music has played and perhaps continues to play in the political discourse in America.

But first, we go to Liberia. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the current president, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October, but this month, the question is whether she can win a second term as Africa's first democratically elected female head of state.

Liberians headed to the polls yesterday to cast their ballots in a runoff election between incumbent Sirleaf and opposition leader Winston Tubman. Tubman has refused to participate in the voting, claiming electoral fraud in the first round. The low turnout at the polls was preceded by violent clashes on Monday after police fired at an opposition march. The United Nations has reported there were two deaths.

For more on this, we've called upon journalist Ledgerhood Rennie. He's deputy director general of the Liberia Broadcasting System. We caught up with him in the capital, Monrovia. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

LEDGERHOOD RENNIE: Thank you very much, Michel.

MARTIN: Do we know what set off the violence on Monday?

RENNIE: Well, all official reports said the Congress of Democratic Change, which is the main opposition party, had set off to have a rally that was not sanctioned by the government. On the laws of Liberia, before such political rallies are held, the parties are asked to seek a permit from the government through the minister of justice.

And so because they didn't do, the police had gone in to ensure that the rally wasn't held and then it led to running battles between supporters of the Congress for Democratic Change and that of the police forces of Liberia.

MARTIN: Now, Mr. Tubman, the opposition candidate - Winston Tubman has said he might seek an annulment of the runoff and that he's not participating. What are his reasons?

RENNIE: Well, the Congress of Democratic Change contends that the vote of October 11 wasn't free, fair and transparent. They have claims yet to substantiate, but they have made their claims known to the National Elections Commission and National Elections Commission have called on (unintelligible), you know, to sort of look at some of the claims they had. But up to now, such matters have not been resolved.

And Winston Tubman believes that the vote wasn't credible and, hence, he and his party was not going to honor the November 8 vote. And so that's why they're standing by and saying that they're going to seek the annulment of the vote.

MARTIN: Was there any independent or outside confirmation of his claims or any confirmation or investigation of his claims by any independent party?

RENNIE: As far as I know, none of the claims put forth by the Congress for Democratic Change - that's the opposition party - has been validated by any international or independent observers. What we have been hearing from the independent observers, which includes the Carter Center, the United States government and including local observers, that the vote passed off as free, fair and transparent.

MARTIN: Well, it does appear, then, that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is headed for a second term. Does it appear, though, that her mandate will be undermined by the refusal of the opposition to participate in the voting?

RENNIE: Given the fact that, you know, the vote itself has got a lot of international acclamation, including that of the United States President Barack Obama, who just issued a statement on Liberia just a day or so ago asking Liberians to turn out in numbers to vote and saying that those who obstruct the democratic process in Liberia would be held accountable by the international committee.

It would seem to me that international legitimacy won't certainly be on Ellen Johnson's side. I don't see where she's not going to get the legitimacy needed to continue her developmental agenda in Liberia.

MARTIN: And then, to that end, what is her agenda for her second term? Obviously, there are many challenges still facing the country, recovering, you know, from very long civil conflict. Has she enumerated a specific agenda?

RENNIE: Well, speaking as she cast her vote yesterday, to local and international media, she did say that her main focus this second term will be providing job opportunities and skill opportunities for and building the skills of the young people of Liberia, who are the majority of the population. And she also wants to continue building the infrastructure of Liberia, a road network, the electricity grade. So that is what she says would be her major goal during the second term there.

MARTIN: And finally, before we let you go - and thank you for talking with us at such a busy time, you know, for you. Was her winning the Nobel Peace Prize - it was certainly sort of a great honor for her, but how is it being perceived in Liberia?

RENNIE: If you talked to the ordinary people that yet to come to terms what that actually means for Liberia and Liberians. They're happy, yes, that a president has been recognized internationally for her efforts in woman advocacy and peace issues. But at the same time, too, the bottom line is, in a country where people are still trying to find the basics of life, it's going to be difficult to sell such a prize to them as their own.

MARTIN: Journalist Ledgerhood Rennie is the deputy director general of the Liberia Broadcasting System. We caught up with him in Liberia's capital, Monrovia. Mr. Rennie, thank you so much for speaking with us.

RENNIE: Thank you very much.

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