Liberians largely support President George Weah’s plan to shorten presidential terms, according to partial referendum results announced Tuesday, although the under-fire president’s party appeared to be suffering in a simultaneous senatorial election.
The country went to the polls last week to choose new senators, in an election held alongside the constitutional referendum on term limits and allowing dual nationality.
First indications are that voters could have inflicted a serious setback on Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) party, however, with the opposition winning in four out of seven counties where results have been reported so far.
Many view the senate race and referendum as a bellwether of support for Weah, a former football icon who has faced criticism as president for poor living standards in the West African state.
The National Elections Commission (NEC) said the CDC won in only two of the seven counties which have reported results, out of 15 nationwide. An independent candidate claimed victory in one county while the rest were won by the opposition.
Crucially, the opposition saw a highly symbolic victory in Montserrado County, Liberia’s most populous, which includes the capital Monrovia.
Darius Dillon, a vocal Weah critic from the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), an opposition coalition, won 61 per cent of votes in Montserrado.
Weah’s popularity has waned in the face of persistent economic woes.
Liberia is still recovering after back-to-back civil wars from 1989 to 2003 and West Africa’s 2014-16 Ebola crisis. It also suffers from soaring inflation, and regular cash and fuel shortages.
Voters did, however, support Weah’s proposal to cut the length of terms for presidents and lower-house lawmakers from six to five years, and from nine to seven for senators.
The move has sparked suspicion in the region because other presidents have used constitutional changes to re-set the clock on their time in office, extending their grip on power.
In the five counties which have reported results on the referendum, Liberians also voted in favour of repealing a 1973 ban on dual nationality, a move which some hope could be an economic boon in the poor nation of 4.8 million people.
Final results for the senatorial election and referendum are expected in the coming weeks.