The former soccer star George Weah has been elected president of Liberia at his second attempt, defeating vice-president Joseph Boakai in a second-round runoff with 61.5% of the vote.
Weah, 51, will succeed Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the country’s first democratic transition since 1944 following two brutal civil wars which killed over 250,000 people.
In the first round of voting, Weah topped the polls with 38.4 percent of the vote, while Boaki obtained just 28.8 percent. However, neither candidate obtained the 50 percent necessary to win outright, meaning the contest was decided by a run-off. Turnout was at approximately 54 percent.
“My fellow Liberians, I deeply feel the emotion of all the nation,” Weah wrote on Twitter after his win. “I measure the importance and the responsibility of the immense task which I embrace today. Change is on”:
My fellow Liberians, I deeply feel the emotion of all the nation. I measure the importance and the responsibility of the immense task which I embrace today. Change is on.
— George Weah (@GeorgeWeahOff) December 28, 2017
Sirleaf, who is Africa’s first elected female president, confirmed she had set up a team “for the proper management and orderly transfer of executive power from one democratically elected president to another.”
The election took place without a single major incident of violence despite weeks of delays as a result of legal challenges by Boakai, who repeatedly went to the country’s Supreme Court claiming that Sirleaf was secretly orchestrating his defeat.
However, international observers have since confirmed that the election was both free and fair, with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailing the “peaceful conduct” of the vote and praising “the government, political parties and the people of Liberia for the orderly poll”.
On Wednesday, Weah also said that the Liberian people had “clearly made their choice” and he “remained very confident in the result of the electoral process”:
— George Weah (@GeorgeWeahOff) December 27, 2017
In his soccer career, Weah became the first African player to win the Ballon d’Or in 1995, which is just one of many achievements over a prolific 18-year professional career that included spells at AC Milan, Manchester City, and Chelsea.
Weah has also attracted skepticism from his opponents who claim he is inexperienced, despite having served as a Senator since 2014. Liberia remains one of the world’s poorest countries and faces major challenges including widespread corruption, infrastructure development, struggling agriculture, and an ineffective health care system.