Euphoria turned to nervous anticipation on Wednesday, with Reuters reporting that election officials used battery-powered lanterns to count ballots through the night from the country’s first postwar polls.
Many Liberians saw Tuesday’s elections – the first since the end of a civil war which ripped the West African country apart – as a historic opportunity for their country to emerge from a devastating cycle of poverty and violence.
The polls pitted Weah against former regional commanders, wealthy lawyers and a Harvard-educated economist who could become Africa’s first elected female president.
“I’m going to be real, real tense over the next few days,” said Claudius Broderick, 31, after voting just before polls closed late on Tuesday in the Paynesville suburb of the battered capital Monrovia.
Waiting for news
On street corners, groups of young men clasped portable radios to their ears, waiting for news.
The head of Liberia’s elections commission, Frances Johnson-Morris, said she expected to announce some initial results later on Wednesday, though it would take longer for information to come from outlying polling stations, some of which are more than two days walk from the nearest road.
Supporters of Roland Massaquoi,
Liberia’s 14-year civil war killed a quarter of a million people, uprooted almost a third of the population and left the country’s infrastructure in ruins. More than two years after a peace deal, even the capital remains without mains electricity or running water.
Squatters live in the burned-out concrete shells of government buildings while power cables slashed during the war hang lifelessly from pylons dotted along potholed streets.
Election observers, diplomats and UN officials praised the calm way in which Liberians voted. Many waited patiently for hours in the blazing sun to cast their ballots.
“Eighty per cent turnout would be my estimation,” Max van den Berg, head of a European Union observation team, told Reuters.
“I think the voters gave a lesson to their leaders in democracy and peaceful behaviour,” said van den Berg, one of more than 400 international election monitors who watched the vote.
In one dank Monrovia schoolroom which served as a polling centre, election officials counted ballots late into Tuesday night using battery-powered lanterns, 8000 of which have been supplied to polling stations around the country.
Observers from political parties watched as ballot papers were piled onto an improvised table made from a sheet of wood balanced on a carpenter’s workbench.
Freedom Alliance Party of Liberia
“I’m listening to the radio but it has given no results yet,” said 38-year old Harris Tarr on the street outside. “I’m feeling worried. I’m concentrating until I hear the results.”
Former AC Milan striker Weah and ex-World Bank economist Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf are seen as the frontrunners in the 22-strong presidential field. Both have said they are ready to work together whatever the outcome.
Diplomats say the make-up of the 30-seat Senate and 64-seat House of Representatives, being contested in parliamentary polls also held on Tuesday, will be key to the new leader’s ability to govern smoothly.
Weah, whose candidacy shocked Liberia’s political elite, said he would be sitting at home “relaxing and listening to classical music” while he waited for the results.