Liberia’s supreme court has ordered a halt to preparations for next week’s runoff election amid allegations of fraud in the first round.
The former footballer George Weah was to go head to head with Joseph Boakai, the country’s deputy president, next Wednesday, both vying to take over from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as her 12 years in power come to an end.
But after the first round, one of the losing parties lodged a complaint with the national elections commission, saying there had been late opening of polls and lack of queue control as well as outright fraud. The supreme court has issued a temporary injunction to delay the runoff while it looks into the allegations.
Officials of the national elections commission (NEC) were ordered to appear at the court on Thursday morning to respond to the complaint.
“The high court of the land has spoken and we will act accordingly in keeping with the laws of the country,” said the NEC spokesman, Henry Flomo.
The capital, Monrovia, was unusually quiet on Wednesday morning as Liberians woke up to the news. Police patrolled street corners across the city. There was a heavy police presence outside the court.
Police spokesman Sam Kingsford Collins said the deployments were just pre-emptive measures. “Especially when the supreme court is hearing matters tied to the conduct of the elections, it is good that we be there to respond,” he said.
Since the first round, Sirleaf and her Unity party have had a public falling-out after the party accused her of “interference” in the election because she met electoral officials before the vote.
Sirleaf, who was Africa’s first female president when she took over in 2005, hit back, saying the allegations amounted to “hate speech and inciting language” and that they were “an unfortunate attempt by agents provocateurs to undermine Liberia’s democratic process”.
Her refusal to campaign for or publicly back her deputy has fuelled much speculation in the country.
In a statement, the ruling party said her tenure had been accompanied by “corruption and waste, poverty, and selective application of justice and the rule of law”.
However, for her entire presidency, her deputy was Boakai, her would-be successor and the co-author of the statement.
In the first round, Weah won 38% of the vote, Boakai 29%, and Charles Brumskine of the Liberty party, the party that lodged the complaint, won 10%.
Weah’s running-mate is Jewel Howard-Taylor, the former wife of Charles Taylor, Liberia’s former warlord-turned-president who is in Durham prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
After the poll, he also won the backing of Prince Johnson, another former warlord, who famously had the ears of President Samuel Doe cut off on camera while he sat at a desk drinking beer. Johnson’s forces later killed Doe. Both Howard-Taylor and Johnson are powerful senators, who carry significant support in their respective counties of Bong and Nimba.
Both Weah and Boakai have promised to address issues of development, education and infrastructure in a country that is still recovering from the effects of the deadly Ebola outbreak, as well as its two civil wars.
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