President George Weah of Liberia ended a turbulent term clouded by accusations of graft on Friday by conceding defeat to opposition leader Joseph Boakai in a close contest. This helped to ensure a peaceful transfer of power in the formerly unstable African country.
Once almost all of the ballots were tallied, Boakai, 78, a former vice president who lost to Weah in the 2017 election, had a lead of 50.9% over 49.1%, according to the nation’s elections commission, which announced the results on Friday.
The result marks a stark turnaround from 2017, when global soccer legend Weah, buoyed by a wave of hope, trounced Boakai with 62 percent of the vote. Many have since grown disillusioned with the lack of progress: Poverty, unemployment, food insecurity and poor electricity supply persist.
“A few moments ago, I spoke with president elect Joseph Boakai to congratulate him on his victory,” Weah said on national radio. “I urge you to follow my example and accept the results of the elections.”
Weah’s concession paves the way for Liberia’s second democratic transfer of power in over seven decades – the first was when Weah swept to power six years ago.
His comments stood out in West and Central Africa where there have been eight military coups in three years, eroding faith in democratic elections. When elections do go ahead in the region, accusations of fraud abound and results are frequently contested in court.
Instead, Boakai supporters in the capital Monrovia danced, shouted and honked car horns in the rain after the near-final results were announced.
“We have a job ahead of us to do and I’m excited that the citizens have given us approval,” Boakai told Reuters shortly after the results were announced. “First and foremost, we want to have a message of peace and reconciliation.”
Boakai, a softly spoken career politician, emerged neck-and-neck with Weah in the first round of voting in October but below the 50% needed to secure an outright victory, leading to Tuesday’s run-off.
Liberia is struggling to recover from two civil wars that killed more than 250,000 people between 1989 and 2003, and from a 2013-16 Ebola epidemic that killed thousands.
Many felt that Weah did not follow through on promises to alleviate poverty and improve the country’s crumbling infrastructure.
Arkoi Sarkor, 43, told Reuters she supported Boakai because she was not able to get a job during Weah’s term.
“I am very hopeful because I know Boakai is… a man of principles and I know when he gets in here, he is going to bring changes,” she said. “Some things that were not done, that were not correct, he will put it in place, I am hopeful of that.”