Liberia’s Boakai concedes defeat to former soccer star Weah

Joseph Nyuma Boakai, Liberia's Vice President and presidential candidate of the Unity Party (UP), speaks to Reuters during an interview in Monrovia, Liberia December 28, 2017. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon
Joseph Nyuma Boakai, Liberia’s Vice President and presidential candidate of the Unity Party (UP), speaks to Reuters during an interview in Monrovia, Liberia December 28, 2017. REUTERS

Liberia’s vice president Joseph Boakai conceded defeat in a presidential election run-off to ex-footballer George Weah on Friday.

Weah will succeed Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as president next month, the country’s first democratic transition in over 70 years.

Even though I will not be the captain of the ship, it is my fervent desire that the ship of state always sails smoothly,” Boakai, dressed all in black, told about 100 supporters at his party headquarters in the capital Monrovia, Reuters reports.

“I called George Weah to congratulate him as winner in the presidential contest,” he said, speaking softly to muted applause. “We must work to unite our people because Liberia is bigger than all of us.”

According to the National Elections Commission Chairman, Jerome Korkoyah, with 98.1 per cent of the vote counted on Thursday, Weah led with 61.5 percent to Vice President Joseph Boakai’s 38.5 percent.

Johnson Sirleaf’s 12-year rule cemented peace after Liberia’s 1989-2003 civil war and won her the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize but she has been criticized over high-level corruption scandals and persistent poverty.

Liberia ranks 177 out of 188 countries on the U.N. Human Development Index and nearly two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line. Development was also hit by the Ebola outbreak from 2014-16 and a drop in the price of iron ore.

A falling out with Boakai’s supporters, which saw Johnson Sirleaf’s own Unity Party accuse her of interfering in the first round of the election — charges she denied — has also left lingering bad feelings.

“Ellen corrupted this country,” said Victor Smith, an IT consultant and Boakai supporter, after the concession speech. “It is a bad thing that Weah was elected. He lacks the experience. He never gave a platform. He doesn’t have the skills to be a leader.”

On Thursday, Johnson Sirleaf announced plans to form a joint presidential transition team with the president-elect. It will coordinate the democratic transfer of power, Liberia’s first since 1944, and ensure Weah is provided with regular national security briefings.