MONROVIA – Nearly 2.2 million Liberians headed to the polls on Tuesday to choose a successor to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, marking the first democratic transfer of power since 1943 in this African country.
The 5,390 polling stations in the country’s 15 counties opened at 8:00 am will close at 6:00 pm so citizens can choose a president from a field of 20 candidates.
The day passed without significant incidents, even though the elections commission had to deal with the logistical difficulties of transporting ballots during the rainy season.
The election commission is set to announce the results on Oct. 25, but a runoff will be held if no presidential candidate wins an absolute majority.
The two favorites are Vice President Joseph Boakai, of the Unity Party, and former soccer player George Weah, who leads the Congress for Democratic Change party.
The latest polls suggest Boakai could edge the other candidates, as the current government managed to increase the gross domestic product by 248 percent since taking office.
The next president’s main task will be to maintain peace in a country that fought civil wars from 1989-1996 and 1999-2003, causing more than 150,000 deaths and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.
Among the other challenges facing the winner will be reducing a 50 percent poverty rate and expanding an economy that is still suffering from the effects of the Ebola crisis in 2014.
The election marks the end of a transitional period that followed the 2003 exile of former President Charles Taylor, who was condemned by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during his involvement in the civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone.