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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Will an ex-footballer become Liberia's next president? 

A senior campaign official for George Weah said he is ahead, based on precinct-level vote tallies trickling in from across the country

George Weah, former soccer player and presidential candidate for the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) says he is set for vicotry as preliminary results roll in in the elections in Liberia on December 27, 2017. Thierry Gouegnon / Reuters
George Weah, former soccer player and presidential candidate for the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) says he is set for vicotry as preliminary results roll in in the elections in Liberia on December 27, 2017. Thierry Gouegnon / Reuters

Former soccer star George Weah's camp said he was set to win Liberia's presidential election run-off against Vice President Joseph Boakai in the country's first democratic transfer of power in more than seven decades.

Mr Weah's deputy campaign manager for operations, Morluba Morlu, said his prediction was based on precinct-level vote tallies he said were trickling in from across the country after Tuesday's vote.

Liberian election officials began counting the votes from Liberia's 15 counties on Wednesday and planned to announce preliminary results in the afternoon, with final results due on Thursday.

But unofficial partial results announced on local radio stations all showed the favourite Mr Weah in the lead, and Mr Morlu said he expected his candidate to win with about 70 per cent of the vote.

"It is clear. We are only waiting for the (election commission) to announce the results and declare him president," Morlu said. "We are calling on … Boakai to concede defeat and congratulate George Weah."

Officials from Mr Boakai's ruling Unity Party were not available for comment but his supporters at party headquarters were circumspect about. Mr Boakai's prospects.

"We are listening to the result that the radio is giving. At least we are satisfied with Lofa County results," said Jerry Mulbah, referring to Mr Boakai's home county in northern Liberia, where unofficial results showed him in the lead.

Liberia is Africa's oldest modern republic and was founded by freed slaves from America in 1847, but its last democratic transfer of power occurred in 1944.

Mr Weah and Mr Boakai are vying to succeed outgoing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whose 12-year rule cemented peace in the West African country after civil war ended in 2003.

Many Liberians have criticised Ms Johnson Sirleaf for not doing enough to root out endemic poverty and corruption and are eager for fresh leadership.

M Weah, who was named world footballer of the year in 1995, was runner-up to Ms Johnson Sirleaf in the 2005 election and has positioned himself as an outsider who will deliver tangible benefits to the country's young population.

There was great relief that the vote had gone smoothly, after allegations of fraud in the first round in October.

"It's free and fair and transparent," said Kamhdiggs Kemah, 48, of Tuesday's vote. "We saw the whole process, so I am very happy with it. And I know my next leader will be George Weah."