This election is a welcome relief for the international community and neighbors who have had to “baby-sit” this ailing, war devastated nation for the last 14 years.
In the United States, in a common scene repeated all day, friends, relatives, political analysts and well wishers have been calling, emailing, text-messaging one another, scouring the internet and major news media for any tidbit of information on the outcome and voting trends.. Of course it is difficult to glean any of this information due to the non-existence of machinery for early returns and exit polls.
Unconfirmed reports from local poll analysts indicate that what was seen in the large turn out by supporters of individual candidates at political rallies during the campaign season may not necessarily transcend into votes because many of supporters did not register to vote. If this phenomenon is true then this may spell a big disappointment for some candidates since turning out the vote is key to winning.
The National Elections Commission (NEC) reports that over 1 million Liberians were registered to vote, not including residing those in foreign countries and refugee camps.
The mood among voters range from celebration, to hope to concern. However, the general feeling is that voters hope the elections will mark a new page in the country's brutal history. Out of 22 presidential hopefuls that include former soldiers and wealthy lawyers, former AC Milan striker and millionaire soccer star George Weah and former World Bank economist Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf are seen as the frontrunners. Weah and Johnson-Sirleaf had campaigned on promises to rebuild Liberia's shattered infrastructure and restore basic services such as running water and electricity.
In an interview with a renowned Liberian human rights and media activist, Mr. Isaac Bantu, he expressed concern and disappointment that some of the warlords were allowed to contest the elections and specifically named Messers Alhaji Kromah and Sekou Damante Conneh. He branded them as “war criminals” who were responsible for recruiting child soldiers and committing atrocities against civilians.
Mr. Bantu also questioned the credentials of another candidate Mr. George Weah to undertake the administration of the country emerging from civil war. The noted Liberian media giant further expressed optimism that Liberians will make the right choice to enable them benefit from basic and necessary amenities for the improvement of their lives.
So far, it appears that the voting was peaceful and orderly. The United Nations and international elections observers including President Jimmy Carter have commended the level of peaceful campaigning which was initially marred by violence. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on "all Liberians to participate in large numbers and in a peaceful manner in this historic election".
A second round will take place between the top two presidential candidates, if no-one secures 50% of the vote. If a second round is needed in the presidential race, it is expected in November.
The new government will be faced with huge challenges and high expectations, especially the chronic corruption and economic decline, crippled health and agricultural sectors and judicial reforms. A welcome development is the adoption of the Governance and Economic Management Programme (GEMAP) by the current transitional government. GEMAP is designed to have expatriate financial oversight of monitor the utilization of the country’s finances for better accountability.
Election officials have said they will release results as they come in. They have 15 days to count the votes the lead observer for the U.S. government, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Ms. Jendayi Frazer called on candidates to accept results, win or lose.
And so the while we applaud the holding of a peaceful elections, But it is worth noting that more progress has to be made in areas such as a reconstituting the national army and police, repatriation of refugees and the prosecution of those liable for war crimes.