Former Football Star George Weah has won Liberia’s 25th presidential run-off election and will succeed incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf next month, the country’s first democratic transition in over 70 years.
With 98.1 percent of the vote counted, Weah led with 61.5 percent to Vice President Joseph Boakai’s 38.5 percent, National Elections Commission Chairman Jerome Korkoyah told reporters in the capital Monrovia on Thursday.
At his party headquarters outside Monrovia, tears streamed down Weah’s face as he greeted supporters from a balcony. Below, hundreds of young people sang and danced to a live performance of Hipco, Liberian hip hop music popular with the country’s impoverished youth.
“Success for George Weah is victory for the whole country,” a 47-year-old engineer named Randall Zarkpah said as he walked home with his young son through streets ringing with honking car horns and loud cheers as dusk fell.
“When you feel sick for some time and you receive proper medication – that is how I feel now. He will be good for our country. He is King George!”
Spontaneous celebrations erupted in the capital, Monrovia, a Weah stronghold. Supporters danced, clapped and sang “Olé, olé, olé” outside the electoral commission’s offices as the results were read out.
Weah wrote on Twitter:
“My fellow Liberians, I deeply feel the emotion of all the nation,” Weah wrote on Twitter after the results were announced. “I measure the importance and the responsibility of the immense task which I embrace today. Change is on.”
Weah grew up in Clara Town slum in Monrovia and went on to become the only African to win FIFA World Player of the Year, starring for AC Milan, Paris St Germain and Chelsea.
His popularity at home fueled a previous run for president, in 2005. He won the first round then but lost the second round to Johnson Sirleaf, whom he will now succeed.
His rags-to-riches story helped him tap into dissatisfaction with Johnson Sirleaf’s 12-year tenure. She drew a line under years of civil war but drew criticism for failing to root out corruption or persistent poverty.