Ex-football superstar George Weah was announced the winner on Thursday of Liberia’s presidential run-off, beating Vice President Joseph Boakai in the first democratic transfer of power in decades following two devastating civil wars.
Weah is set to replace incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who took over at the helm of Africa’s oldest republic in 2006.
The National Election Commission (NEC) said Weah had won an insurmountable 61.5 percent of Tuesday’s vote, which was delayed several weeks after a legal challenge from Boakai.
The NEC said that with 98.1 percent of all votes counted, Boakai had only secured 38.5 percent support.
Ahead of Thursday’s results, armed and helmeted police deployed outside the poll body’s headquarters and some of Weah’s supporters were already rejoicing.
“The Liberian people clearly made their choice… and all together we are very confident in the result of the electoral process,” tweeted Weah before the official results were announced.
Weah topped the first round of voting in October with 38.4 percent of ballots but failed to win the 50 percent necessary to avoid a run-off. Boakai came second with 28.8 percent.
Weah is the only African ever to have won FIFA’s World Player of the Year and the coveted Ballon d’Or. The 51-year-old starred at top-flight European football clubs Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan in the 1990s before playing briefly in England for Chelsea and Manchester City later in his career.
Chelsea icon Didier Drogba from neighbouring Ivory Coast already sent Weah a congratulatory message.
“Is it President Weah?” said the New Dawn newspaper on Thursday, referring to a man who has the backing of heavyweights including former warlord Prince Johnson and apparently the covert support of outgoing president Sirleaf.
Her office said it had set up a team “for the proper management and orderly transfer of executive power from one democratically elected president to another”, adding that it included several ministers.
Sirleaf’s predecessor Charles Taylor fled the country in 2003, hoping to avoid prosecution for funding rebel groups in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Two presidents who served prior to Taylor were assassinated.
Taylor is serving a 50-year prison sentence in the UK for war crimes related to the conflict in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
His ex-wife, Jewel Howard-Taylor is the new vice president-elect having been Weah’s running mate in the election.