By Fran Blandy and Zoom Dosso | AFP
Liberia’s Nobel-crowned president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was poised to win a second term Tuesday in a run-off marked by low turnout following a deadly shooting and her rival’s boycott call. Amnesty International called for a shooting in which four opposition supporters were killed Monday to be probed, casting the shadow of Liberia’s bloody past over the west African country’s second post-war polls.
Sirleaf’s challenger Winston Tubman cried foul after trailing Sirleaf in last month’s first round but US President Barack Obama dismissed his fraud concerns as baseless and scolded him over his boycott call. Whether heeding Tubman’s call or shielding from a repeat of Monday’s deadly incident, voters turned out in small numbers for an election that looked certain to return the 73-year-old Sirleaf.
“I have come to vote but I am not happy for what happened yesterday, after all we are all Liberian and no one should be happy seeing other Liberians being killed,” said Rita Queegbay, 39, one of only about 30 people at the Duport Road polling station.
Sirleaf’s fellow Liberian Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee turned out to vote, saying the election was a “defining moment” for her country’s fragile democracy, just eight years after the end of a long and brutal war.
“Liberians lived in fear for so many years and today people, regardless of the number of people … have defied fear and intimidation and stepped out to vote,” she told AFP. During a protest called by Tubman on Monday, at least four of his supporters were shot dead following clashes that broke out with riot police when the rally was prevented from turning into a march.
Amnesty International said the deaths should be investigated and added that “politicians and the police must demonstrate that their main concern is protecting lives.” UN peacekeepers kept a strong presence around the city, and a UN helicopter circled in the skies. A small crowd of people remained gathered in front of Tubman’s Congress for Democratic Change headquarters where the clashes took place. “They have decided to kill us, we are ready to die, How can you shoot at people who are not armed and go justify by saying that we were armed?” said 21-year old Albert Doe.
Tubman, a Harvard-trained former diplomat whose running mate is 2005 runner-up and former football star George Weah, was confident of victory before the October 11 first round. He claimed the ballot was riddled with irregularities but hundreds of local and foreign poll monitors gave the vote a clean bill of health and his boycott call earned him little sympathy abroad. “This historic vote is an opportunity for Liberians to strengthen the country’s democracy, and to deepen its peace, prosperity and national unity,” Obama said in a statement issued after the election-eve violence. “Liberia has taken important steps to consolidate its democracy since the end of its civil war. Those gains must not be set back by individuals who seek to disrupt the political process,” he said.
A radio and television station owned by Weah and three other radios were shut down overnight following the violence. “Right after our evening broadcast police came and asked us to leave the premises of the station and closed it down,” said Samukai Dukulay, senior broadcaster at Power television and Power FM. Liberia’s opposition had complained that the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Sirleaf days before the first round was tantamount to foreign interference in the elections.
A darling of the West, Sirleaf is more of a controversial figure at home, where she has faced criticism over failed reconciliation efforts and what some see as a shady past. She has campaigned as the country’s best chance to continue rebuilding with the help of the international community and prevent a return to violence in a country almost entirely reliant on the UN for security. “I know that nobody in this country, no matter what the talk or rhetoric, nobody really wants us to go back to war,” she said before the vote.
The nation is still struggling to emerge from the aftermath of back-to-back civil conflict between 1989 and 2003 that left some 250,000 dead. ..