Liberia President George Weah on Friday conceded election defeat to opposition leader Joseph Boakai after a tight race, ending a presidency marred by graft allegations but helping to ensure a smooth transition of power in the once volatile African nation.
Boakai, 78, a former vice president who lost to Weah in the 2017 election, led with 50.9% of the vote over Weah’s 49.1%, with nearly all the votes counted, the country’s elections commission said on Friday.
The result marks a stark turnaround from 2017, when global soccer legend Weah, buoyed by a wave of hope, trounced Boakai with 62 percent of the vote. Many have since grown disillusioned with the lack of progress: Poverty, unemployment, food insecurity and poor electricity supply persist.
The tumultuous campaign period resulted in several deaths, and incidents were reported between both rounds, causing concerns about the potential aftermath of the election, particularly in the event of a close result.
The election held significance as it occurred 20 years after the conclusion of the civil wars in Liberia, which claimed over 250,000 lives between 1989 and 2003. The memory of these conflicts remains vivid in the West African country.
Notably, this election was the first to take place without the presence of the United Nations mission in Liberia. The mission, established in 2003 and departed in 2018, was intended to ensure post-war peace.
Weah’s concession paves the way for Liberia’s second democratic transfer of power in over seven decades – the first was when Weah swept to power six years ago.
His comments stood out in West and Central Africa, where there have been eight military coups in three years, eroding faith in democratic elections. When elections do go ahead in the region, accusations of fraud abound and results are frequently contested in court.
Boakai supporters danced, shouted and honked car horns in the rain after the near-final results were announced, in the capital Monrovia.
The winner, Mr. Boakai, will take the helm of this English-speaking country of around five million inhabitants, one of the poorest in the world, for a further six years.
From 2006 to 2018, Boakai was vice-president to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female head of state. He has held a multitude of positions in government and the private sector.
Despite his age, he came out on top against an opponent 21 years his junior (aged 57) who remained popular with young people, but who had to defend a criticized record.
Mr. Boakai took his revenge against the man who had soundly defeated him in the second round in 2017 with over 61% of the vote, but whom his detractors criticize for not having kept his promises to fight poverty and corruption.
This time, the results were much tighter, and the two men went into the second round after coming neck-and-neck in the first, with just over 43% and a lead of 7,126 votes for Mr. Weah.