*From the football pitch to the Presidential lounge?
By Jonathan Pwa, Monrovia
George Opong Weah is the former world footballer of the year who was not able to amass enough votes to have been elected as the new President of west African nation, Liberia. A run-off has been fixed for 7th November.
Weah was expected will succeed Africa’s first elected female president and Nobel Peace laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
The former football star George Weah and Vice-President Joseph Boakai were the main contenders in the race to succeed her.
Liberia, founded by freed US slaves in the 19th Century, has not had a smooth transfer of power in 73 years.
International observers said Tuesday’s vote went smoothly despite late starts in some counties. More than 2.1 million voters had registered to vote throughout Liberia.
Possibilities in the run-off: Weah is the leading opposition candidate and so he is more likely to pick up other candidates’ votes in the run-off which has been fixed for 7th November between the top two candidates. Pundits give the former World footballer of the year a 70-30 chance of winning the election.
If any of the opposition parties’ supporters give Weah their votes, that can determine the direction of the winner. A pundit views the fact that since the people are seeking for a change, they may be fused into going for the more humanitarian-directed Weah.
Results are expected from 5,390 polling units in 2,080 centres across the 15 counties that make up the country to determine the political direction of the tiny west African nation.
Sirleaf will step aside after two six-year terms in office. She led the country’s recovery from a 14-year civil war and guided it through the Ebola crisis in 2014-15 that killed nearly 5,000 Liberians.
Voters commended her leadership but said they were ready for change.
The election turnout was impressive, especially among younger generations, said Christopher Fomunyoh of the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute, which was monitoring the elections.
“All of these people are saying they want change and improvement, and that explains why almost all of the candidates are presenting themselves as candidates for change,” Fomunyoh said.
In 2014, he ran for election to the Senate as a Congress for Democratic Change candidate in Montserrado County. He was overwhelmingly elected to the Liberian Senate on the 20th December 2014.
Political career of a great footballer: Following the end of Second Liberian Civil War, Weah announced his intention to run for President of Liberia in the 2005 elections, forming the Congress for Democratic Change to back his candidacy. While Weah was a popular figure in Liberia, opponents cited his lack of formal education as a handicap to his ability to lead the country, in contrast with his Harvard-educated opponent, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Analysts also noted Weah’s lack of experience, calling him a “babe-in-the-woods”, while Sirleaf had served as minister of finance in the Tolbert administration in the 1970s and had held positions at Citibank, the World Bank and the United Nations. Weah’s eligibility to run for Presidency was also called into question as it was reported that he had become a French citizen in his footballing career at Paris St. Germain, but these complaints were rebuffed by the electoral commission in court and Weah was allowed to proceed.
Weah obtained a plurality of votes in the first round of voting on 11 October, garnering 28.3% of the vote. This qualified him to compete in a run-off election against Sirleaf, the second placed candidate. However, he lost the run-off to Sirleaf on 8 November, garnering only 40.6% to 59.4% for Sirleaf. Weah alleged that the election had been rigged through voter intimidation and ballot tampering and many of his supporters protested the results in the streets of Monrovia.
However, after assurances that the vote was fair several prominent African leaders called on Weah’s supporters to accept the result with grace and dignity, and Sirleaf became President. The African Union had characterised the elections as “peaceful, transparent, and fair”.
Weah’s lack of education became a campaign issue: He has been highly critical of those who say he is not fit to govern: “With all their education and experience, they have governed this nation for hundreds of years. They
have never done anything for the nation.” He initially claimed to have a BA degree in Sports Management from Parkwood University in London, however this is an unaccredited diploma mill which awards certificates without requiring study. Weah then pursued a degree in business administration at DeVry University in Miami.
Weah also remained active in Liberian politics, returning from the United States in 2009 to successfully campaign for the Congress for Democratic Change candidate in the Montserrado County senatorial by-election. Some analysts saw these moves as preparation for a repeat run for the Presidency in 2011 and Weah did indeed later announce his intention to challenge Sirleaf in the 2011 election.
After a series of failed alliances with other opposition parties, the Congress for Democratic Change chose Weah as its 2011 vice presidential candidate, running with presidential candidate Winston Tubman.
In 2014, he ran for election to the Senate as a Congress for Democratic Change candidate in Montserrado County. He was overwhelmingly elected to the Liberian Senate on 20 December 2014. Weah defeated Robert Sirleaf, the son of President Sirleaf, becoming the first Liberian international athlete elected to represent a county in the Legislature.
He won a landslide victory, receiving 99,226 votes, which represented 78.0% of the total votes from the 141 polling centers, while Sirleaf, his closest rival received 13,692 votes, which is nearly 11% in the election marred only by a low turnout.