Liberia's Sirleaf set for landslide, eyes reconciliation

MONROVIA Thu Nov 10, 2011 11:08pm EST

Incumbent Liberian President and this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf attends a news conference in the capital Monrovia, November 10, 2011. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

Incumbent Liberian President and this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf attends a news conference in the capital Monrovia, November 10, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Finbarr O'Reilly

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MONROVIA (Reuters) - Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who appears to have won re-election by a landslide, will seek to reunite the country by forming a government that includes her rivals.

The November 8 election, marred by violence and an opposition boycott, was meant to solidify the West African country's fragile gains since 14 years of war ended in 2003.

Instead it has deepened divisions in a way that could make the Nobel peace laureate's second term her most contentious.

Johnson-Sirleaf scored more than 90 percent of the ballots cast in the run-off with returns in from more than 86 percent of polling stations, the election commission said Thursday.

Opponent Winston Tubman, whose name appeared on ballot slips even though he dropped out alleging fraud, scored 9.2 percent.

More results from the National Election Commission are due Friday.

The provisional turnout figure was a mere 37.4 percent -- or about half of the turnout during the first-round in October when voters queued in the rain -- as Tubman supporters boycotted the poll in protest over allegations of rigging and in reaction to a deadly crackdown on an opposition riot on the eve of the vote.

Monday, police used tear gas, truncheons and live rounds to disperse hundreds of Tubman supporters who had spilled onto a highway near their headquarters to protest against the vote. At least two people were killed.

Johnson-Sirleaf called the election "totally legitimate" but added that she would seek to form a government that includes her rivals in a spirit of reconciliation.

"I will reach out to all the presidential candidates. What I will offer them is not yet known," she told reporters on Thursday. "I am confident we will be able to reconcile the people," she said.

She did not rule out offering a government post to Tubman.

Tubman, whose supporters include many unemployed former combatants from the civil war, was not immediately available to comment. Several supporters of his CDC party said they would not accept the results.

"The election is not correct. It is not correct because the turnout is poor. I am a CDC supporter and I did not vote," said Nora Wilson, 45, a used-clothing saleswoman.

The U.S.-based Carter Center said Thursday that voting in the run-off was generally free and fair despite the violence and the low turnout. But it added that the government had work to do to reunite the country, including completing an investigation into the deaths of the opposition protesters.

"The Liberian efforts for inclusion now must accelerate," John Stremlau, co-leader of the Carter Center observer mission said.

Liberia wants to put its conflict behind it and use its iron and other resource wealth to rebuild. Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa's first freely elected female head of state, reduced the nation's crippling debt and has maintained peace since the war, but her critics say progress in her first term was too slow.

(Additional reporting by Clair MacDougall; Editing by David Lewis and Louise Ireland)

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