Liberia’s first elections since the end of civil war will take place as planned on 11 October after three barred candidates abandoned the fight to have their names belatedly put on the ballot papers, a top mediator has said.
The long-anticipated polls in this war-battered West African nation had been in doubt since last week’s Supreme Court ruling that the three men had been unfairly disqualified, and that new ballot papers should be printed to include them.
But Abdulsalami Abubakar, the chief mediator in Liberia’s peace process, flew into Monrovia for emergency talks to keep the elections timetable on track, and within hours had brokered a deal.
“The election is on course,” he said late Wednesday at a joint press conference with the three candidates. “These gentlemen have the interests of their countrymen and countrywomen in their hearts.”
Earlier in the day, one of the candidates, Marcus Jones, had vehemently dismissed all notion of backing down even after being whisked off on a Nigerian presidential jet to Abuja, where diplomats asked him to end his legal challenge.
Just hours later, surrounded by West African mediators, a stony-faced Jones told reporters about his sudden change of heart.
“The independent candidates are stepping aside at this time… in the interests of peace, in the interests of justice,” Jones said.
“To the suffering masses of this country we want to say that process should continue, but let us not be blamed for the consequences,” he added.
Had the three men not stepped aside, election officials had said the poll might be delayed beyond October, so that new ballot papers could be printed abroad, shipped into Liberia and redistributed across the heavily-forested nation where heavy rains have turned roads into rivers.
When asked whether any financial compensation had been made to the retiring candidates, the mediator Abubakar replied: “They agreed honourably to step down. Any other details are not for this place.”
With just five days to go until the presidential and parliamentary polls, international observers have begun pouring into Liberia, local police units have started to deploy to remote areas, and ballot papers are on their way to polling stations by air, sea and road.
Election posters now pepper the walls of Monrovia’s crumbling buildings, papering over the bullet holes, and trucks cruise the streets, blasting slogans through crackling loudspeakers.
There are 22 people vying to be president, including former World Bank economist Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf; George Weah, the soccer star who has abandoned the football field for the political arena; and well-known lawyers Varney Sherman and Charles Brumskine.
A whole country has been psyched up for October elections since a 2003 peace deal that put an end to 14 years of civil war, which killed hundreds of thousands of people and ripped apart the country’s infrastructure.
“We want someone who can bring us electricity and water, who can fix our roads and bring us jobs and food,” said Beatrice Sebo, a petty trader complaining about trade being slow. “We have suffered long and hard but hopefully the end is in sight.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions