Liberia Nobel-winning president faces competition

Posted Oct. 09, 2011, at 9:55 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 10, 2011, at 9:16 a.m.

MONROVIA, Liberia — Africa’s first democratically elected female president, who was honored this week with a Nobel Peace Prize, will face stiff competition at Liberia’s presidential polls Tuesday against a fiery opposition candidate and his soccer-star running mate.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 72, won the country’s first postwar election in 2005 by a landslide vote. On Friday, she received a Nobel prize for her efforts to restore peace to Liberia after a brutal 14-year civil war that ended in 2003. She shared the award with two other women, a fellow Liberian human rights activist and a Yemen activist, for their commitment to women’s rights in regions where oppression is common.

International supporters called Sirleaf’s award “much deserved” for her work stabilizing Liberia.

Sirleaf said she was “pleasantly surprised,” by the timing of the award. “It sends a message to the Liberian people that peace must prevail as Liberians go to this critical event.”

Her political opponents, however, have questioned the merit of the award and criticized its timing. Following the announcement of the award Friday, opposition candidate Winston Tubman and his running mate, soccer-sensation George Weah, attracted one of the largest crowds in recent memory at their final campaign rally in Monrovia.

Sirleaf faces a total of 15 candidates at the polls Tuesday. If no candidate wins an outright majority, the vote will go to a second round run-off.

She has crisscrossed the nation in the run-up to the poll, and the ruling Unity Party has papered the capital, Monrovia, with campaign materials, including giant billboards that read “When the plane hasn’t landed yet, don’t change the pilots.”

“We have so much that has been achieved; and for us, the Unity Party, we will be running on our records; we will not be running on promises,” said the party’s secretary-general Wilmot Paye.

The Liberia that Sirleaf inherited lacked roads, water, electricity and a proper army. Sirleaf, a former finance minister, promised sweeping change — lighting up the capital, bringing back pipe-born water and putting children in school.

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