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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Liberia elects new President today

Millions of  Liberians will today, Tuesday head to the polls to elect a new President. This will be the West African country's third election since the end of the civil war in 2003. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the continent's first female president, is stepping down after serving two 6-year terms in office (the constitutionally mandated limit). 

It will be the first time since 1944 that a democratically elected leader will hand over power to another elected leader in the country. Campaigning has been loud and colourful as the 20 Presidential candidates compete to get the support of the 2.2 million registered voters.

For a candidate to be declared winner they must win at least 50% plus ONE of the votes cast. There is no clear favourite and a second round runoff is very likely. The issues facing the 4.6 million Liberians are similar and candidates' manifestos appear in tune with that.

Some of the issues most pressing to voters include: 
- Corruption: 
Corruption is endemic in Liberia and one of the first pledges President Sirleaf promised after she came to power was to declare corruption a "major public enemy". 12 years later, Monrovia still ranks poorly in fighting graft with the country ranked 90 out of 176 countries in Transparency International's 2016 corruption perception index.

14 years of civil war left more than a quarter of a million Liberians (about quarter of the population) dead and hundreds of thousands of others seeking refuge in other countries. The scars of the brutal war linger on. Sporadic violence and inflammatory rhetoric from candidates in the run-up to the polls have not helped the fragile country.

Sirleaf's government has improved the country's non existent infrastructure since she came to power. But much more remains to be done. The construction of the motorway that leads to neighbouring Guinea has created local jobs and made the movement of goods easier, but many roads elsewhere in the country are either in bad shape or non-existent.

Youth unemployment: 
All the leading candidates have promised to create jobs for the unemployed masses, especially the youth, during their campaign rallies. According to the United Nations, young people make up more than 60 percent of the country's population, and youth unemployment is estimated to be as high as 85 percent.

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