The preliminary tally in the Liberian presidential election gives former finance minister Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf victory with about fifty-nine percent of the votes. If certified by Liberia's national electoral council, Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf will become Africa's first elected female head of state. Her opponent was former soccer star George Weah.
Electoral officials are looking into charges that voters were intimidated by poll workers and that pre-marked ballots were used. Paul Risley, a United Nations spokesman in Liberia, says he met with a group of protestors:
"We had a long, frankly positive discussion about what democracy means and how fragile democracy is. I got the impression from the three representatives that they are sincere in insisting that their protest will remain peaceful."
Charles Taylor was Liberia's last elected president. During his six years in office, unemployment and illiteracy rates rose to above seventy-five percent. Little investment was made and the economy declined. Rather than working to improve the lives of Liberians, President Taylor supported rebels fighting the government in neighboring Sierra Leone. He is now in exile in Nigeria and is on Interpol's most wanted list for crimes against humanity.
When Taylor left in 2003 the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, sent a three-thousand-six-hundred member peacekeeping force to Liberia. ECOWAS also worked to bring together various factions to sign a peace agreement and accept a two-year transitional government in Liberia. The transitional government will serve until January, when the winner of this month's election will take over as Liberia's president.
U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli offered this comment on the Liberian election:
"We've seen protests, we've seen statements. But all in all, a very peaceful, a very orderly, and a very open process which is encouraging. . . .and we think that the Liberian institutions are handling the process well."
"There is a long legacy of violence to overcome." says Mr. Ereli. But he says with the installation of a new government, Liberia could be on "the path toward stability, democracy, and integration into the African and international community."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.