Former soccer star George Weah is confident of winning the presidential election when Liberians go to the polls on December 26. He promised more jobs and a better future to voters at the final campaign rally in Monrovia on Friday night (December 23).
The only African ever to win FIFA World Player of the Year and the Ballon d’Or, George Weah of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) party won in the first round with 38.4 percent of the votes that put him 10 points ahead of Vice President Joseph Boakai who will face him in the Boxing Day run-off.
The result shows how support has grown steadily for the former AC Milan striker, who lit up television screens in Liberia in the 1990s with his mazy runs, briefly distracting fans from a 1989-2003 civil war that killed tens of thousands.
His running mate is Jewel Howard Taylor, the former wife of Charles Taylor, the former president and warlord serving 50 years in Britain for war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone. The choice has raised eyebrows.
Weah has served as a senator from the opposition CDC since 2015, after returning home from an international soccer career to immerse himself in politics. As a political novice in 2005 he lost to Johnson Sirleaf in a presidential election.
His supporters call him “King George” and at the rally, he promised to give the people of one of the poorest nations jobs through investments in agriculture, free schools and hospitals.
He is wildly popular among the youth and the disenfranchised, especially in the shanties of the rundown seaside capital Monrovia. Many of them feel they have not benefited from Liberia’s post-war recovery, a sentiment that has counted against Boakai.
Development has been hindered by an Ebola outbreak and a drop in the price of iron ore. Poor roads still leave most of rural Liberia stranded during the rainy season, often without electricity.
In Monrovia, where derelict buildings line the main highways, most live on pitted dirt streets with little access to clean water.
But Weah has so far been light on policy and will face a tough time meeting high expectations in a difficult economic climate of low prices for the commodities that are Liberia’s main exports.