Joseph Boakai on brink of Liberian presidency as vote count nears completion


By Carielle Doe and Alphonso Toweh

(Reuters) - Liberia opposition leader Joseph Boakai was on course to become president after preliminary election results announced on Friday gave him a slim lead over incumbent George Weah with nearly all votes counted.

Boakai, 78, a former vice president who lost to Weah in the 2017 poll, had campaigned on rescuing the West African nation from what he calls mismanagement by Weah's administration, whose first term was marred by allegations of corruption.

Boakai led with 50.89% of the vote over Weah's 49.11%, according to results from 99.6% of polling stations, the country's elections commission said on Friday. Final results are expected in the coming days.

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.

Boakai, a softly spoken career politician, was more than 28,000 votes ahead of Weah, according to the latest results.

He and Weah emerged neck-and-neck from 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.

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."

Supporters in the capital Monrovia danced, shouted and honked car horns in the rain after the near-final results were announced.

"We can safely declare victory – Boakai is the next president, but we will wait for the final result before celebrating," Boakai's spokesperson Amara Konneh said in an interview.

Reporting Carielle Doe and Alphonso Toweh;  (Reuters)