Liberians are voting on Tuesday to elect a new president and legislators in a poll that will see the country’s first transfer of power from one democratically elected leader to another in more than 70 years.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the continent’s first female president, is leaving power after serving 12 years in office – the maximum allowed under the West African country’s constitution.
Polls opened at 8:00am (0800 GMT) and will close at 06:00pm (1800 GMT). Twenty candidates, including the current vice president, former world footballer of the year and a model, are running for the country’s top seat – with 2.2 million voters registered in the small country of 4.6 million people.
For a candidate to be declared a winner, they must get at least 50 percent of the votes cast, plus one. With no clear favourite, a second round of voting is likely. Liberians will also elect 73 members of the upper house, or House of Representatives.
The upper house uses a first-past-the-post system, where the representative with the highest number of votes is elected. No senators (lower house) will be elected this year.
Provincial results are expected within 48 hours, but the electoral body has until October 25 to issue its final confirmation of the results and to announce a runoff if necessary for the presidency.
President Sirleaf, 78, urged Liberians on Monday to respect the outcome of the hotly contested election regardless of who wins.
“Go to the polls peacefully, respecting every Liberian’s right to vote with dignity and pride. Embrace your neighbour, regardless of their political choice,” Sirleaf, popularly knowns Ellen Ma, said in a speech broadcast on state television.
“The future of the country is in your hands. Vote for the person and persons you believe will make Liberia a better place. The world will be watching. Let’s make them proud,” she said.
Liberia, Africa’s first republic, came out of a brutal 14-year civil war which left an estimated 250,000 million people dead in 2003.