Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is urging peaceful elections as candidates begin campaigning to replace the Nobel Peace Prize winner who has led the West African country through the Ebola crisis and recovery from civil war.
Among those running in the Oct. 10 election are her vice president and two of the men she faced during Liberia’s last vote in 2011.
In a radio broadcast late Monday, the 78-year-old Sirleaf urged political leaders to put Liberia first and control the emotions of their supporters.
“We hold them as political leaders who seek the highest office of our land to act with dignity and responsibility that befits that office – to live up to their commitments to ensure violence-free elections,” she said.
These are the country’s third presidential and general elections following the end of the 14-year civil war that devastated the nation and killed over a quarter of a million people. Fighting ended in 2003.
Anxiety is high over who will succeed Sirleaf, a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner who led the country through the Ebola epidemic that killed more than 4,800 people.
Among the top candidates is her vice president, 72-year-old Joseph Nyumah Boakai, who has been endorsed by Sirleaf and appears to be profiting from a divided opposition.
Former soccer star George Weah, a current senator who ran as vice president on the 2011 ticket that lost to Sirleaf, also is mounting a bid. It is his second attempt at the presidency after losing in 2005.
His running mate is Jewel Taylor, a fellow senator and the ex-wife of former President Charles Taylor. The former Liberian leader was convicted of crimes against humanity for his role in the violence in neighboring Sierra Leone.
Another repeat candidate is Prince Johnson, a one-time rebel leader who has long been involved in politics. Human rights activist MacDella Cooper is the lone female presidential candidate. She has said that as president she would reduce her salary to $1 a year.
While Sirleaf’s supporters point to the peace that has prevailed throughout her time in power, critics say her leadership has been undermined by allegations of corruption. The president has acknowledged that her war on graft has not been as successful as she would have liked, saying “corruption is endemic in society.”
Sirleaf also has responded sharply to accusations her government has disappointed Liberians.
“If building roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, etc., is nothing, I love to see those nothings,” she said while touring newly completed projects last year.