Liberians vote on whether to give football legend George Weah a second term as president, with peace among voters’ main concerns in a nation still scarred by back-to-back civil wars.
Incumbent Weah, 57, who won the 2017 elections, faces 19 presidential candidates and a likely second-round runoff in early November. But he has campaigned on the slogan “One round victory”.
“We must all cherish this peace and continue to preserve it, because without peace, our world will be difficult,” Weah told thousands of people gathered in Monrovia on Sunday.
“Without peace, development will not take place.”
The former international footballer came to power promising to create jobs and invest in education, but critics say he has failed to keep his pledges.
Healthcare, education roads, jobs and the cost of living all came up, but only after fears of a return to violence.
Between 1989 and 2003, the conflicts in Liberia left more than 250,000 people dead.
The authorities have vowed to track down troublemakers and the National Electoral Commission is seeking to reassure people it can organise fair and credible polls.
“Everything’s ready… We anticipate that all should go well,” said commission chairperson Davidetta Browne-Lansanah.
This election is the first to be held since the United Nations ended its peacekeeping mission in Liberia in 2018.
The European Union, the African Union, the West African bloc, ECOWAS, and the United States have deployed observers, in a region hit by a string of recent coups.
Development and corruption
Polling stations are open from 0800 GMT to 1800 GMT, with the 2.4 million voters also electing members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
First results are expected within 15 days.
Former vice president Joseph Boakai, who lost to Weah six years ago, is among the frontrunners for the presidency.
He has said that any vote cheating or manipulation will lead to “the end of this country”.
The 78-year-old has forged alliances including with former warlord and senator Prince Johnson, who has threatened a popular revolt if the ruling party manipulates the elections.
Boakai has pledged to restore the country’s image, develop infrastructure and improve life for the poorest.
More than a fifth of the population lives on less than $2.15 a day, according to the World Bank, and the price of staple foods has soared.
Boakai, who served as vice president between 2006 and 2018, presents himself as an honest alternative to Weah, whom he accuses of presiding over a corrupt system.
The United States has sanctioned five senior Liberian officials for alleged corruption in three years.
The watchdog Transparency International ranked Liberia 142nd of 180 countries in its 2022 corruption perceptions index.