Joseph Boakai has become Liberia’s new leader after his rival and sitting President George Weah conceded a tight election to mark a peaceful transfer of power in a region that has recently seen many military coups.
The country’s elections commission said on Friday that the 78-year-old Boakai, a former vice president, has managed to secure a narrow victory with 50.9 percent of the vote to Weah’s 49.1 percent, with almost all the votes counted.
“The Liberian people have spoken and we have heard their voice,” Weah said in an address to the nation.
“I urge you to follow my example and accept the result of the elections,” he said, adding that “our time will come again” in 2029 when Boakai’s six-year term in office ends.
The results mark a considerable shift compared with 2017 when former international football star Weah had succeeded in defeating Boakai comfortably by garnering 62 percent of the vote.
He had ridden a wave of public hope to the presidency, promising to combat poverty, develop the country’s ailing infrastructure and crackdown on injustice and corruption.
But voters grew disillusioned over time and the 57-year-old Weah was accused of failing to live up to his election promises to improve conditions in the West African nation.
Regardless of the results of Friday’s vote, the fact that the president conceded even before the final official tally was announced is significant as the region has seen eight military coups in the past three years, raising concerns about the fall of the democratic process.
Gabon, in Central Africa, earlier this year became the latest nation in the region to experience a coup as military leaders swept up power in the aftermath of a presidential election.
When elections are not overtaken by military commanders in the region, they usually are contested in court, with accusations of fraud abound.
But Boakai supporters took to the streets in the capital Monrovia after he was declared the winner to celebrate. Boakai told the Reuters news agency after the results were announced that “we have a job ahead of us to do and I’m excited that the citizens have given us approval”.
“First and foremost, we want to have a message of peace and reconciliation,” he said.
Boakai’s victory comes as Liberia is trying to recover from two civil wars between 1989 and 2003 that killed at least 250,000 people, and an Ebola outbreak in the mid-2010s that killed thousands.