Thousands lined up at polling booths in Liberia’s capital on Tuesday for their first democratic transfer of power in 73 years in a vote haunted by a savage civil war that ended in 2003. Many Liberians on Tuesday praised 78-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for keeping peace since the dark days of the 14-year conflict when gangs of drugged child soldiers wearing ammunition belts marauded through the streets. Yet, while preparations have been peaceful, a former rebel leader Prince Johnson is one of the 20 candidates and an ex-wife of warlord Charles Taylor, now in a British jail, is the running mate of one of the favorites, former soccer player George Weah. Unlike neighboring Sierra Leone which had a U.N.-backed court for civil war crimes committed in both countries, Liberia has prioritized reconciliation over justice and some of those involved in the war that killed a quarter of a million people are still prominent public figures.
“I am just voting for peace. We want peace right now, peaceful country, we want a peaceful situation now and things to go fine,” said James Marthics, a voter in Paynesville, a suburb of the capital Monrovia.
Some had been waiting for hours before dawn to vote and brought small wooden chairs with them, forming orderly queues as vendors sold them soft drinks and palm wine.
“I have come to vote for a change. I want to be a part of history making today,” said Edward Cooper, a retired rubber plantation worker, shortly before the polls opened.