By Lyndsay Barret
Analysts and observers on the ground in Liberia are predicting that former European footballer of the year George Opong Weah might win a landslide victory in the run-off of the country’s Presidential elections slated for Tuesday 26th December.
They base their predictions on the turn-out of large and excitable crowds of young followers of the sports celebrity in the final phase of campaigning over the last fortnight.
The sentiments expressed by those leading these crowds appear to have gained credence following controversial decisions of the Liberian Supreme Court in response to challenges to the first results announced by the Electoral Commission. Although the court appeared to question the competence of the Commission’s handling of the first round of the polls it instructed the body to go ahead with the run-off in order to fulfill constitutional requirements that are time-bound. As a result the Weah organisation has mounted a plethora of street marches and public rallies touting the slogan “It Is Time for Change” throughout the country.
While his opponent, the country’s sitting Vice President and candidate of the ruling Unity Party, Joseph Boakai, has appealed to the electorate to exercise restraint and reflection in making their decision on who to support, the Weah camp has promoted intimidating marches around various communities.
His supporters have made it plain that they are not prepared to accept defeat and many Liberians have expressed fears that if Weah loses there might be a breakdown of law and order. As a consequence many observers believe that these fears will fuel popular support for the sportsman’s ticket in order to prevent a return to the disorder that led to civil war in the past. This suggestion is borne out by the fact that the Weah support group includes hundreds of vocal supporters of former warlord and disgraced national President Charles Taylor whose ex-wife Jewel is Weah’s running mate. In recent days a number of events have roused suspicions reported in national media that the country’s President Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has recognised Weah’s ascendancy and the likelihood of his victory. When she recently visited the Vice President’s home constituency of Lofa County to perform the ground-breaking ceremony for a new highway it was George Weah who was the special guest of honour,
Throughout the entire campaign period, while Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf claimed that she supported her Vice President’s aspirations, she neither campaigned for him nor did she openly support the Unity Party’s platform.
Many knowledgeable observers of the Liberian polity attributed her reluctance to support the platform of the party on whose ticket she won two terms in office to internal wrangling which had led some party members to criticise her actions in government. As a result she pledged to remain above the political fray and to allow the electoral process to move forward without undue executive interference.
Ironically in the late stages of the campaign Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf’s support has emerged as a fundamental asset and many of George Weah’s supporters are publicly claiming that their champion has secured this all-important endorsement.