Liberia: Excitement, Frustration As Citizens Go to the Polls to Elect Their President

George Weah

Voters of the Lorma community in Monrovia, just a few blocks from the Hall of Justice, started queuing up in the small hours of the morning, as Liberia goes to the polls to elect a new president. The two lines outside of the Lorma Quarter Elementary school grew as polling station workers moved furniture around and checked the ballots before opening at 0800 local time. People are excited, but frustrated about organizational difficulties.

"After voting, I'm going to stay outside to observe the process, how it is run smoothly or not smoothly," Francis Flomo, 32, told RFI. He was the first in line at 0200 and says he's concerned about the free and fair process. He wants to protect his vote.

First-time voter Eunice M. Jallah, 26, stood outside the open sewer facing the school with her one-and-half-year-old daughter Moseline tied to her back while she waited for the District Eight polling station to open. Pregnant women, women with babies, the disabled and old people are allowed to go to the front of the queue.

"I'm going home afterwards to prepare food for myself and my baby and we'll stay at home to listen to the results on the radio," says Jallah.

Liberians are selecting their president from 20 candidates, including veteran politicians, businessmen and philanthropists. Vice President Joseph Boakai is in the running, along with ex-soccer star George Weah, former Coca-Cola executive Alexander Cummings, Charles Brumskine and Benoni Urey, both high-level officials in former president and convicted warlord Charles Taylor's government. Rebel-turned-preacher Prince Johnson, known for allegedly masterminding the killing of President Samuel Doe, is another contender.

They are vying to take the top job in the country as Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf steps down after serving two terms. Credited with keeping the peace after a 14-year civil war, the Nobel Prize winner called on Liberians to vote for the person they believe will better Liberia.

"No one is entitled to your vote, not because of party, ethnicity, religion or tribal affiliation," she said on an announcement that went out on the eve of the vote.

At one polling station at Paynesville Community School, 17 out of the 20 political parties had their observers in place as James Wallace, of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) supervisor for District Five, walked the party observers through the process as Beatrice L. Karobah, the presiding officer of the polling station, shouted out the number stamped on each plastic tie that secure the ballot boxes before she shut the ballot box.

Voting started on time in Paynesville. No major opening problems have been reported so far, although one polling station outside Monrovia reportedly opened at 0900, due to the late arrival of ballot boxes.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC) has pledged to make sure the vote is free and fair. Some voters in Gardnersville, just outside of Monrovia, the capital, came early to stand in the queue to vote, but confusion about what queue and where to stand has slowed the voting process.

Outside the polling station, Dominic T. Peleh stood with his mother, Anna Sieh, 55, who had a baby strapped to her back. Peleh says his mother asked him to take her to the polling station because she cannot read and needed help with the ballot.

"This morning, we went to one door of the polling station, they told us to go to the second door, who told us to go to the third door," he says, exasperated. "Then they went through the book and said her photo is not on the voter roll so she can't vote," he says.

"I shouldn't even be here, I have to go and vote in my own precinct," says Peleh. "But I had to help my mother," he adds.

Sieh was resigned to the fact she wouldn't be able to vote. "I'm not happy, but what can I do?" she says, disappointed that organizational problems have prevented her from casting her ballot.

Those who did go to vote were enthusiastic. "I am very proud to pick my leader because I am a citizen of this country, and I have my right to vote. Amenjor Senagah, 29, told RFI after voting, showing his purple-inked thumb.

"We pray to have the best person to rule this country, that we will all be peaceful, and that there will be no violence."

Voting continues until 1800 Liberia time, and preliminary results are expected within 48 hours.

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