By Ayo Kehinde
Liberians now have a new president in George Oppong Weah, first African to win the Ballon dOr and World Footballer of the Year Award in 1994. He won 60 per cent of the votes counted as at Thursday, said National Elections Commission, Chairman, Mr Jerome Korkoya. He said that with 98.1 per cent of the run-off vote counted, Mr Weah had won 61.5 per cent of the vote while Mr Boakai was far behind with 38.5 per cent.
Becoming the first and only African to win the Fifa World Footballer of the year and Ballon dOr
Overcome with joy, Mr Weah wrote on his twitter handle: “My fellow Liberians, I deeply feel the emotion of all the nation. I measure the importance and responsibility of the immense task which I embrace today. Change is on…”
Mr Weah, 51, won the first round, but did not secure the required 50 per cent of the vote for an outright victory. Legal challenges delayed the vote to replace Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female president. More than two million people were eligible to cast their ballots. At a meeting before voting, Weah reportedly said he was prepared to accept the outcome of the election.
But he was so sure of himself and victory for his party. “If the Liberian people decide that the other side will have another twelve years in the Presidency, we will call and congratulate them. But as I said, if the election is free and fair, we are going to win. This is because we have worked so hard and our people want the change which we are offering,” he said.
The Main Challenger
Mr Boakai, 73, has been Liberia’s vice-president for 12 years but does not seem to enjoy the support of his boss, Sirleaf had described himself as being like a limousine idly parked for years in a garage and who is now ready to hit the road. Mr Weah, the former world footballer of the year, is hoping for a third time lucky.
Weah and Bokai
He defeated Ms Johnson-Sirleaf in the first round in 2005 but lost to her in the subsequent run-off. In the following election run-off, in 2011, when he ran as a running mate to the opposition candidate, his coalition boycotted the vote, citing irregularities.
A representative for the opposition Liberty Party, Charles Brumskine, who came third in October’s first round, challenged the result, saying it had been marred by “massive fraud and irregularities”.
But earlier this month the Supreme Court ruled that evidence of fraud was insufficient to merit a re-run of the opening round.
The verdict meant that the run-off – which had initially been set for 7 November – could go ahead on Boxing Day. Jerome Korkoya, president of the National Elections Commission, said the election was free and fair
Was the vote democratic?
Goodluck Jonathan, the former Nigerian president, who monitored the election as part of the National Democratic Institute Observer mission, told the BBC he was certain it would be free and fair.
“Liberia has, true, some challenges,” he said. “We’re witnessing a situation where the sitting president will hand over to another democratically elected president. That will tell the whole world that Liberia is now a stable country democratically and that the remaining thing is to grow the economy.”
This is the first time for many generations that Liberians witness a transfer of power from one elected leader to another. Outgoing President Sirleaf has praised a violence-free electoral process, saying that “the ballot box has replaced bullets and electoral disputes are settled through the courts”.
Ms Sirleaf took office in 2006, after her predecessor, Charles Taylor, was forced out by rebels in 2003, ending a long civil war.
Taylor is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence in the UK for war crimes related to the conflict in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
From Football Star To President
It is not for nothing that he is called ‘King George’ since he indicated interest in contesting for the plum job of the first citizen of Liberia. His rags to riches success story has endeared him to millions of his poverty stiffen compatriots who see him a model of the possibilities and the power inherent in an intention backed by will power.
On the way to football legend
For a man who grew up in the slum Clara Town of Monrovia, full of disease, hunger and unemployment, many of Liberians who witness similar hardships almost all year round see Weah as a model after he went to Europe and conquered its football world and come home with the prestigious Ballon’dOr and world footballer of the year award in 1995.
Thereafter, after retiring from football in 2002, he devoted his time to supporting causes dear to the heart of his countrymen and women, such as funding of the cash-trapped national team to travel abroad to honour matches, the Ebola outbreak that claimed many lives in 2014 in that West African country that was once ravaged by civil war that claimed an estimated 250,000 lives.
Mr Weah’s life changed forever when, aged 21, Arsene Wenger spotted him playing for a team in Cameroon. He had been playing for a local yeah after dropping out of school to exploit his talent
The manager brought him over to Europe, where he would play for AS Monaco. From there, it was on to Paris Saint Germain, AC Milan, Chelsea, Manchester City and Olympique Marseille.
Along the way, the Liberian would pick up a cabinet-full of accolades, winning both Fifa World Player of the Year and the Ballon d’Or in 1995. But he never forgot his home country, by then tangled in a civil war which would claim about 250,000 lives.
These small acts are still remembered today. “The heart George has for Liberia is unbelievable,” former teammate Thomas Kojo told Reuters in October. “He made sure the national team was always trying to bring [home] some pride.”
Mr Weah dipped his toe into the world of philanthropy, becoming a Unicef ambassador, and political networking before he hung up his football boots.
Twists and Turns to Victory
Former President Charles Taylor, who stepped down in 2003, suspected Mr Weah was after his job when the footballer refused to remove his sunglasses in the president’s presence – seen as a sign of the utmost disrespect. Today that incident may well have been taken care of as Taylor’s wife Jewel is Vice President elect with Weah
Perhaps he was right. Mr Weah formed the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) ahead of the 2005 election, and ran as their presidential candidate.
Up against the Harvard-educated Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Weah’s lack of a high school diploma, along with his political inexperience, made him an easy target.
With the world donors and Liberia looking for a messiah of sorts after years on civil war, Mrs Sirleaf was elected. That attack left its mark which Weah deliberately sought to erase from both personal and public memory. In 2007, he revealed he had finished high school. Four years later, he graduated with a degree in business management from DeVry University in Florida. The same year, he ran – unsuccessfully – for vice-president.
Success finally came in 2014, when he was elected as senator for the western province of Montserrado, which includes the capital Monrovia.
His April 2016 announcement that he would make a second bid for the presidency was met with cries of “George Weah is the man we want, George Weah is the man we want”.
Weah casting his vote during the poll, Tuesday.
Ever since, the father-of-three has inspired the crowds with talk of economic empowerment for the masses, drawing on his own, poverty-stricken background, and dismissing his opponents’ claims that, at 51, he remained too politically inexperienced to lead.
“When I embarked on my journey as a professional soccer player, I heard the same negativity,” he reportedly told a crowd in Monrovia in August. “Many critics said that I wouldn’t make it. Many suggested that I would be a failure, but I didn’t listen to them.
“I kept pushing and defying all odds until I succeeded as one of the greatest soccer legend the world has ever produced. Today, those that said I was going to be a failure are now calling me ‘Chief’.” These critics would soon be calling him “Mr President”. How true has his prediction come!