Former world’s best footballer and presidential candidate of Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), George Weah, has won the Liberian presidential election after securing over 61.5 per cent of the vote, against his major opponent, Vice President Joseph Boakai.
The country’s electoral commission announcing the result on Thursday said Weah had taken 61.5 per cent of the vote from 98.1 percent of ballots cast, to defeat Vice President Joseph Boakai, who took 38.5 per cent of the vote.
With his election victory, Weah will succeed Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to become president next month, the country’s first democratic transition since 1944.
The 51-year-old Weah, who grew up in poverty in Liberia, was raised by his grandmother in one of the worst slums of Liberia’s capital Monrovia.
In spite of his poor background, Weah went on to have a flourishing football career in the 1990s, and later became world’s best footballer.
Weah is the first and only African player to have won both FIFA’s World Player of the Year trophy and the Ballon d’Or.
He played for a number of different teams in Africa before being transferred to Monaco where he was coached by Arsene Wenger.
He also played for Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan, Chelsea and Manchester City.
This is the second time he has run for the presidency in Liberia, the first being in 2005.
Weah rose to political prominence when he formed the Congress for Democratic Change but was defeated by current President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Then in 2011 he came second as a vice presidential candidate.
Currently, Weah is a senator for Montserrado County in Liberia after being elected in 2014.
In the first round of votes, Weah won 38.4 per cent of votes in the first round on 10 October, while his opponent Boakai came second with 28.8 per cent.
Earlier before the announcement of the results by the electoral commission, backers of the soccer star, Weah, had said he was poised to declare victory in Liberia’s presidential election after their data showed him winning more than 60 per cent of the vote.
Liberians voted on Tuesday in a run-off for a successor to outgoing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, meant to usher in the first democratic transfer of power in more than seven decades.
Liberian election officials began collating the votes from Liberia’s 15 counties on Wednesday but a possible announcement of preliminary results in the afternoon did not materialise, until Thursday it came out with final results.
Unofficial partial results announced on local radio stations earlier on Wednesday all showed Weah in the lead. Weah, the only African ever to be named FIFA World Player of the Year, lost to Johnson Sirleaf in a 2005 election as a political novice. He has served in Liberia’s senate since 2015.
A senior Weah adviser, Morluba Morlu, had told Reuters he expected Weah to win with about 70 percent of the vote based on precinct-level vote tallies he said were trickling in from across the country after Tuesday’s vote.
“It is clear. We are only waiting for the (election commission) to announce the results and declare him president,” Morlu said. “We are calling on … Boakai to concede defeat and congratulate George Weah.”
Armed and helmeted police were deployed outside the poll body’s headquarters and Weah’s supporters were already rejoicing, as the National Election Commission announced the results.
“The Liberian people clearly made their choice… and all together we are very confident in the result of the electoral process,” tweeted Weah.
Weah topped the first round of voting in October with 38.4 percent of ballots but failed to win the 50 per cent necessary to avoid a run-off. Boakai came second with 28.8 percent.
Weah is the only African ever to have won FIFA’s World Player of the Year and the coveted Ballon D’Or. The 51-year-old starred at top-flight European football clubs Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan in the 1990s before playing briefly in England for Chelsea and Manchester City later in his career.
Chelsea icon Didier Drogba has already sent Weah a congratulatory message.
The United States-based Carter Centre, assessing the voting situation said there were “notable improvements” in the handling of Tuesday’s vote from the first round in October, echoing positive assessments from other international observers.
“We are very confident. We have not heard from Mr. Boakai but we anticipate a call at some point,” the secretary-general of Weah’s campaign, Janga Kowo, told Reuters.
Kowo said his team’s figures were based on nearly 60 percent of ballots cast and showed him ahead in 14 out of Liberia’s 15 counties.
In an interview in the courtyard of his home on the outskirts of the capital Monrovia before results were officially announced, Weah’s opponent, Boakai said he thought he would win.
“I don’t have a sense of losing the election,” he said.
“What we wanted and all hoped for were free, fair and transparent elections. I doubt seriously if that is what we are going to get,” he added, without elaborating.
Weah, the only African ever to be named FIFA World Player of the Year, had been widely considered the favourite to succeed outgoing president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Liberia is Africa’s oldest modern republic and was founded by freed U.S. slaves in 1847. Its last democratic transfer of power occurred in 1944 and was followed by a military coup in 1980 and a 14-year civil war that ended only in 2003.
The ballot was delayed for seven weeks due to legal challenges lodged by Boakai’s Unity Party against the electoral commission over the conduct of the first round of voting, but many of the complaints appeared to have been addressed in the second round.
The Liberia Elections Observation Network, which had more than 1,000 observers stationed across the country, hailed a vote it said had passed calmly with better organisation than the first poll on October 10, as did observers from the European Union.