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President George Weah has conceded defeat to his opponent with nearly all the votes counted in a tight general election in Liberia.
Former vice-president Joseph Boakai scored a narrow victory to see off the incumbent in the west African country’s run-off vote.
A presidential spokesperson confirmed the result early on Saturday. Isaac Solo Kegbeh said “yes, that is correct”, when asked if media reports of a call from Weah to the opposition candidate Boakai were correct.
Boakai secured 50.89 per cent of the vote to Weah’s 49.11 per cent, with 99.58 per cent of the results counted, according to data from the National Elections Commission, Liberia’s electoral agency. Final results are expected in the coming days.
“President Weah called Mr Boakai via telephone following the announcement of provisional results by the National Elections Commission on Friday,” a statement from the president’s office said later.
The second-round vote was required after neither man secured more than 50 per cent in the October election, a similar outcome to six years ago when Weah decisively beat Boakai at the second attempt.
The election was a referendum on Weah’s stewardship of the country of more than 5mn since he assumed office at the start of 2018 promising to fix the old ways of doing things. However, his government was dogged by allegations of corruption and economic mismanagement that frustrated citizens who had placed faith in the former football star.
Three senior government officials, including chief of staff Nathaniel McGill, a long-time Weah ally, were sanctioned by the US Treasury department for allegedly engaging in public corruption. Weah denied having any knowledge of the affair and suspended all three after the sanctions were imposed.
Weah was seen as an absentee president who spent too much time abroad instead of addressing pressing issues at home. At one point last year, the president was away for almost 50 days on a trip that included stops in Qatar to watch his son Timothy play for the US men’s national team during the World Cup as well as in Morocco and Washington to attend summits.
Liberia’s economy is small with an estimated GDP of about $4bn and is mostly dependent on agricultural exports. Many Liberians still lack access to services such as health and education and the country remains blighted by a ruinous civil war and the scars of the Ebola epidemic of 2013-16.
Boakai’s victory marks a stunning comeback for a man nicknamed “Sleepy Joe” for dozing off at public events during his time as vice-president from 2006 to 2018.
The 78-year-old looked set for retirement after his loss to Weah in 2017. However, he seized on growing anti-Weah sentiment to portray the incumbent as being incapable of steering the country in the right direction. Boakai ran on a platform of investing in the economy through agriculture programmes and infrastructure development.
“Boakai’s first task will be to reconcile the country after a contested election,” Amara M Konneh, a campaign spokesman and former finance minister, told the FT. “This is very important to let the country know that the politics of elections is over and we need to come together as one country to develop it.”
“He is going to focus on agriculture, road infrastructure and electricity generation. He’s also going to make health and education a priority,” Konneh said.