- Liberian president leads in early election results
- She may be forced into a runoff
- Country has huge unemployment and quality-of-life problems
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf may be headed for a runoff election, early results released Thursday by the National Elections Commission indicate.
The newly-named Nobel Peace laureate, 72, received 44.5% of the votes in 737 of 4,457 polling places.
That puts her ahead of diplomat Winston Tubman, at 26.5%, and former rebel leader Prince Johnson, who at 13.5% may provide swing votes in the event of a runoff, which would likely be held in November.
The winner must receive 50% of the tally to win. Final results of Tuesday's election must be reported by October 26.
According to an unofficial tally by the Liberia Media Center, a watchdog group, Tubman has a better showing so far, at 35.8%.
The U.S.-based Carter Center said Thursday that the balloting was "was peaceful, orderly, and remarkably transparent."
The center's election observation mission has been in Liberia since September 1, at the invitation of the National Elections Commission (NEC).
"The NEC has been careful to not get ahead of itself and release results from any one region that may be seen as skewing the vote toward one candidate and jeopardizing the sense of legitimacy of the overall poll," said Alex Bick, the Carter Center's Liberia project leader. "The official numbers only show about 2.5% percent of the polls in Monrovia, so that will be something to watch. However, the results so far are broadly indicative of what we expect the final outcome to show."
After a 14-year civil war that devastated Liberia and left an estimated 250,000 people dead, voters are hoping for more peaceful and prosperous days ahead.
Johnson Sirleaf said she wants to preserve the peace.
"We've put in the fundamentals, the foundation -- the possibility to reach our accelerated growth and development, fix our infrastructure, the potential, and chances are so high," she said before the election.
Major problems are evident in the country, with up to 80% of Liberians unemployed and a majority living without basic necessities such as water and electricity.
The main opposition party -- the Congress for Democratic Change -- drew big crowds with its popular vice-presidential candidate: Liberia's most famous international football star, George Weah, Tubman's running mate.