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LIBERIA: Former Warlord Backs Johnson-Sirleaf for Second Term

Robbie Corey-Boulet and Stephen Binda

MONROVIA , Oct 18 2011 (IPS) - Former warlord Prince Johnson, who placed third in Liberia’s election last week, has endorsed the re-election bid of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who was named a joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize just days before the vote.

The most recent results from the National Elections Commission (NEC), representing 96.7 percent of total votes cast on Oct. 11, show Johnson with 11.8 percent nationwide. Johnson-Sirleaf is in the lead with 44 percent – she needed more than 50 percent to avoid a runoff. The leading opposition candidate, Winston Tubman of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), is in second place with 32.2 percent. The results are, however, not final.

Johnson, most famous for overseeing the torture and execution of President Samuel Doe in 1990, said in an interview with a community radio station in his native Nimba County on Monday that he would be supporting Johnson-Sirleaf.

Johnson-Sirleaf, 72, will compete with Tubman in a runoff scheduled for Nov. 8.

It remains to be seen how much impact Johnson’s endorsement will have in Nimba, this West African nation’s second most-populous county. Johnson-Sirleaf’s Unity Party earned 25.5 percent of the vote in Nimba in the first round, while Tubman earned just 2.8 percent.

On Monday, Johnson said he believed his supporters were waiting for him to tell them who to vote for, referring to himself several times as a “king-maker”.


The build-up to his endorsement comes amid criticism from the opposition about the manner in which the results have been tallied. On Saturday, nine opposition parties – including the CDC and Johnson’s National Union for Democratic Progress – said they would be pulling out of the election in response to “massive fraud” and threatened not to accept the result.

“We direct all of our party agents assigned at NEC in all capacities to withdraw effective immediately,” the parties said in a statement. “If the process continues we will not accept the results.”

Tubman has since said he would participate in the runoff.

Johnson said Monday that he was convinced there had been widespread irregularities.

“There was cheating,” he said. “There was rigging. Many ballots were tampered with. We have several tally sheets in our possession that clearly indicate that something went wrong.”

NEC has denied allegations of wrongdoing, and a host of international observers have commended the voting process.

The Atlanta-based Carter Center described the vote as “peaceful, orderly, and remarkably transparent” in a statement released Thursday.

“Although the process of tabulating final results is ongoing and preliminary results have not been announced, the electoral process to date is a positive sign of Liberians’ commitment to democratic development,” the statement said.

The Carter Center cited “a number of minor procedural irregularities,” but said none would undermine the integrity of the vote.

“Observed irregularities included polling places where secrecy of the ballot was not strictly maintained, inking procedures undertaken out of order, and ballot papers folded improperly,” the statement said.

Despite his stated concerns about the process, Johnson said any resulting violence would be uncalled for.

“Whatever went wrong should not in any way allow any of us to be so angry to bring about any form of action that would destabilise peace in the country,” he said.

Johnson-Sirleaf delivered an address Monday condemning minor criminal acts reported since the vote, including the torching early Saturday morning of an office belonging to her Unity Party.

International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who was in neighbouring Ivory Coast over the weekend as part of an investigation into the post-election violence that followed that country’s disputed vote last year, issued a warning to Liberia’s political class.

“My office is closely monitoring election-related developments including in neighbouring countries such as Liberia, which could affect stabilisation throughout the West African region,” he said. “We will pay close attention to the actions and statements of the political class, and in particular to the presidential candidates, including after the elections. Resorting to violence will not be tolerated.”

Addressing the factors he would consider in making his endorsement decision, Johnson also raised the prospect of war crimes prosecutions – but he was referring to those covering Liberia’s 14-year civil conflict, which ended in 2003 after claiming more than 250,000 lives.

Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended in 2009 that the country establish a war crimes tribunal and listed Johnson among those who should be prosecuted.

The commission included both Johnson and Johnson-Sirleaf on a list of people who should be banned from politics for 30 years on account of their alleged ties to warring factions. The commission’s recommendations have not been implemented, and the political bans have been deemed unconstitutional by the country’s Supreme Court.

On Monday, Johnson criticised leaders of the CDC – including Tubman and his running mate, former international football star George Weah – for past statements indicating their support of prosecutions.

“When you start arresting people to prosecute you could be bringing us back to zero ground,” he said.

“Frankly speaking, I can’t have my people voting for them,” Johnson continued. “The thing we’re talking about here is nationalism, patriotism. That’s what we are talking about.”

He later added: “We’re not afraid of a war crimes court but we are afraid of bogus charges levelled against us.”

Johnson also said the opposition CDC had failed to promote residents of Nimba County into leadership positions; something he said could hurt its chances in the county.

 
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