December 20, 2014 / 9:43 PM / 4 years ago

Liberian voter turnout low as Ebola overshadows senate election

MONROVIA (Reuters) - Turnout for Liberian parliamentary elections on Saturday appeared to be low as concerns about Ebola kept many voters at home.

Bystanders read the headlines illustrating the battle over the holding of elections in Liberia amid the Ebola crisis at a street side chalkboard newspaper in Monrovia, December 2, 2014. REUTERS/James Giahyue

Polling stations were largely empty after voting began at 8 a.m. (3.00 a.m. ET) in the seafront capital Monrovia, with voters occasionally drifting in, despite precautions put in place by the National Elections Commission (NEC).

Staff with temperature guns at polling stations checked voters for any signs of the hemorrhagic fever, which is spread via bodily fluids. Voters were obliged to wash their hands with chlorine solution, to stand at least three feet apart in the queue, and bring their own pens to mark the ballot paper, officials said.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government had delayed the polls, originally due in October, amid concerns that campaigning might worsen the spread of the Ebola virus. The Supreme Court ruled this month that the election must go ahead.

“I am going to vote because it is my right. I do not want certain people (in power) who are not in the interest of the Liberian people,” said Ezekiel Togba, a resident of the Congo Town neighborhood of Monrovia.

“I am not worrying over the Ebola virus because I follow the necessary preventive measures and I think I am safe,” he said.

Some 1.9 million Liberians were registered to vote in the polls for 15 seats in the senate being contested by 137 candidates, according to the NEC.

In the most hotly contested race, for the Montserrado senate seat around Monrovia, former soccer star and 2005 losing presidential candidate George Weah faced off against Robert Sirleaf, the son of the president.

Vote counting began after polls closed at 6 p.m. (1.00 p.m. ET) and the first results were expected on Sunday, electoral officials said.

The death toll from Ebola in Liberia, neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone, the three worst-affected countries in West Africa, has risen to 7,373 from 19,031 cases, the World Health Organization said on Saturday.

Sierra Leone accounts for the most cases, 8,759, against 7,819 for Liberia, which has shown an improvement in recent weeks after the epidemic exploded there in August, the WHO has said.

Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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