MONROVIA (Reuters) - Former Liberian warlord Prince Johnson has endorsed George Weah for president before a Nov. 7 run-off vote between the former soccer star and Vice President Joseph Boakai.
The endorsement should help Weah, who won 38.4 percent of the vote in the first round this month, more than anyone else but shy of the 50.1 percent needed to win outright. It also puts pressure on Boakai to drum up support from other candidates.
Johnson’s endorsement of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2011 helped the Nobel Peace Prize winner get re-elected, though his influence has waned since then: he won 8 percent of votes this year, versus 11 percent in 2011.
“I am humbled to announce ... my full and unflinching support in collaboration with the Congress for Democratic Change party of Senator George Weah,” Prince Johnson said at his Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction party headquarters.
The announcement follows two weeks of political wrangling, during which the two frontrunners from October’s first round sought to gain support from a field of 18 other candidates.
Weah is popular and famous, mainly because of his star performances for Italian and French football clubs during the 1990s. But he lacks political experience, and his policies to alleviate widespread poverty and chronic under-development are vague, making extra support vital.
“This is historic and we welcome that,” said CDC chairman Wilson Tarpeh. Johnson is “reading the writing on the wall. It tells you that the people of Liberia are tired of one-party rule.”
Johnson’s attempt at playing kingmaker makes many in Liberia uncomfortable, given his role in the civil war that ended in 2003. In 1990, his band of troops took control of parts of the capital Monrovia to oust former president Samuel Doe, and he celebrated as the leader was executed.
Still, his supporters are loyal and are expected to listen to his call to vote for Weah.
“Johnson’s backing will not win the vote alone for Weah, but it will certainly boost his prospects, especially as other candidates are also likely to throw their weight behind the opposition leader, sensing his momentum,” said Roddy Barclay, director at risk-advisory firm Africa Practice.
Reporting By Alhponso Toweh,; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Larry King