George Weah

Demola Ojo with agency reports

Former football star George Weah, 51, and Vice-President Joseph Boakai, 73, held commanding leads in provisional presidential election results announced yesterday in Liberia.

Weah and Boakai lead the 20-candidate field to succeed Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in what would be Liberia’s first democratic transfer of power in more than 70 years.

Weah, a former world, African and European footballer of the year, received 39.2% of nearly 1.2 million ballots cast in nearly three-quarters of polling places, leading Boakai who had 29.6% of the vote, the commission said. Charles Brumskine, a lawyer, was a distant third with 9.7%.

The country’s electoral body had registered 2.18 voters for the Presidential and legislative polls in the country of 4.5 million people.

A candidate needs more than 50% of the votes for outright victory If no-one achieves that, a second round will be held in November, which is increasingly looking likely between the two leading contenders.

The final certified results from last Tuesday’s poll must be announced by October 25, although provisional results from the remaining precincts are expected in the coming days.

The commission said that ballots would be re-cast in two polling places in Nimba County due to irregularities, although that measure only concerns a few thousand votes.

Brumskine has said the vote was marred by fraud and that he would request a re-run of the vote. However, he has yet to produce evidence of cheating and international observers said they saw no major problems.

NEC Chairman Jerome Korkoya had earlier hit out at false reports announcing an outright win for Weah and said his officials were doing their best to get accurate official results out as quickly as possible.

“This commission has not declared any winner,” he stressed.

International election observers said they had not identified any major problems with Tuesday’s voting.

However, parties supporting three of the 20 candidates have alleged irregularities and said they would contest the result, Reuters reported.

Ms Sirleaf, 78, who is stepping down at the end of two terms, hailed the election as a success.

“We believe that all Liberians are ready for this process. I thank them for participating in this process,” she said.

Liberia, which was founded by freed US slaves in the 19th Century, has not had a smooth transfer of power in 73 years.

Ms Sirleaf took office in 2006, after her predecessor, Charles Taylor, was forced out of office by rebels in 2003, ending a long civil war.

Taylor is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence in the UK for war crimes related to the conflict in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

Weah has chosen Taylor’s ex-wife Jewel Howard Taylor as his running mate.