By Fidelis Mbah
Voting in Liberia’s delayed runoff presidential election has closed as the country looks forward to its first democratic transition of power in 73 years.
The day unfolded smoothly, with no reports of violence to puncture a mood of Christmas celebration.
Polling stations across the country officially closed at 18GMT. Official results were expected to start trickling out late Tuesday.
More than 2.1 million voters had registered to vote throughout Liberia, established by the United States in the 19th century for freed black slaves.
There were reports of low turnout of voters across the country as waves of people are said to have travelled to their home constituencies for the end of year festivities.
The vote took place after the Supreme Court ruling to end weeks of political wrangling over fraud allegations.
The Supreme Court had halted election preparations while it examined a complaint by the candidate of Liberty Party, Charles Brumskine, who placed third in the first round on October 10.
The two candidates, former football star, George Weah and Vice President Joseph Boakai, are waiting to succeed Africa’s first female president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who led the country’s recovery from Ebola and civil war.
Boakai’s chances have somewhat been affected by reported disagreement with President Johnson Sirleaf.
He has served as Johnson Sirleaf’s vice president since her inauguration in 2006 but she declined to endorse him and Boakai distanced himself from the last administration.
Weah’s selection of former rebel leader and President Charles Taylor’s ex-wife, Sen. Jewel Howard Taylor, as his running mate, has also not gone down well with a section of the country.
Boakai, who is the ruling Unity party candidate, had raised concerns over preparations for the vote. He’s however called for calm.
“We should make this country peaceful. We should think about our people and what they have gone through,” Boakai said.
Opposition candidate Weah took 39 percent of the votes cast during the first round of the elections, beating Boakai who scored 30 percent – short of the 50% barrier required to win outright.
Weah told journalists Tuesday in the capital Monrovia “my focus now is to win. From there, I am going to get on the drawing board with my team and then we’ll put a plan together to move our country forward,”
If Weah wins, he becomes the first professional footballer in the world to be elected a president.
Provisional election results are expected between three to four days after the vote, the election commission chair Jerome Korkoya said.
Former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan who is leading a team of observers says “in any election, there are winners and losers. Only one presidential candidate will be declared winner. The other should accept the election results to avoid a political crisis, especially if there are no good grounds to challenge the outcome,”
Liberia is Africa’s oldest modern republic founded by freed U.S. slaves in 1847. But its last democratic power transfer, defined as a peaceful handover at the end of a full term, was in 1943.
The presidential poll is more than a test of the country’s democratic credentials. It also suggests that a vibrant political scene is emerging in a country that was once notorious for rebel conflicts and protracted civil war.