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Supreme Court considers fate of Liberia presidential runoff

A picture taken on October 27, 2017 shows a leader of the MDR (Movement for Democracy and Reconciliation), ex-warlord Prince Johnson (R) waving to supporters on the top of a car with Liberian presidential candidate George Weah, whom he had endorsed, in Monrovia. Ex-warlord Prince Johnson on October 26 announced his support for former football star George Weah in the runoff for Liberia’s presidency next month.<br />Zoom DOSSO / AFP

Liberia’s Supreme Court on Friday said it would decide on Monday whether a runoff vote for the presidency will go ahead, after hearing arguments from an opposition party and the electoral commission.

Chief Justice Francis Korkpor said the court would issue a decision on Monday at 10am (1000 GMT) over whether the runoff between former international footballer George Weah and incumbent Vice-President Joseph Boakai would proceed.

However, most observers agree the scheduled date of November 7 now looks near-impossible.

Charles Brumskine, who came third in an October 10 election behind Weah and Boakai, is alleging “massive fraud and irregularities” marred the poll and is seeking a re-run of the whole vote.

The Weah-Boakai runoff was triggered after no single candidate gained more than 50 percent of votes, though Weah topped the poll.

Boakai has said he backs Brumskine’s legal complaint.

On October 31, the five-judge panel ordered the National Elections Commission (NEC) to temporarily suspend election preparations — a decision the NEC Chairman Jerome Korkoya says means November 7 is now a date it “does not look possible to meet”.

In court, Brumskine said allowing the election to go ahead before his allegations are resolved by an internal complaint lodged with the NEC, or in court, was “tantamount to denying… due process of the law”, representing his own party before the judges.

“This is not about winning or losing, this is about a system that has held the country hostage for years,” Brumskine said, following his assertion in an interview with AFP on Thursday that the NEC’s commissioners should all be sacked before any new poll.

Lawyers for the NEC argued the date and timing of the runoff was enshrined in the constitution and could not be altered for any legal complaint.

Liberia’s 2005 and 2011 elections also ended in disputes lodged by Weah’s CDC party, though only 2011’s reached the Supreme Court.

Liberty Party Chairman Benjamin Sanvee told AFP: “You can never tell because this is the Supreme Court, but we believe we presented our case well.”

The NEC was not immediately available for comment following the hearing.

A lawyer by training, Brumskine has urged Boakai not to take part in the runoff after the vice-president said he would go ahead regardless of his backing for the legal case.

Commentators describe the election — showcased as Liberia’s first democratic transition in seven decades — as a key test of stability after an estimated quarter of a million people died in back-to-back civil wars.

The country emerged from the bloodshed with the election in 2005 of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf — Africa’s first elected woman president.

She is stepping down after a maximum two six-year terms in which she helped to ease the trauma of conflict but struggled to tackle its grinding poverty

West African leaders met with all sides of the conflict on Wednesday in an attempt to ease the crisis.



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