‘Work to be done’ as Liberia’s Sirleaf anticipates second win

By Richard Valdmanis and Alphonso Toweh ,Reuters

MONROVIA — Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is hardly celebrating her impending election victory that secures her a second term in office as Liberia’s president. “What’s there to smile about?” she said, posing for a photograph in the presidential office on Friday just before the election commission results gave her an unassailable lead. “It just means there’s work to be done.”

The Nobel Peace laureate, whose landslide win was marred by violence and an opposition boycott, has set ambitious targets for her second term. It will start with an effort to reconcile with an angry opposition and end with a 50-percent reduction in poverty, years of double-digit economic growth, and job creation on the back of investment in Liberia’s resources, she said. The task is huge. Liberia still bears the scars of 14 years of intermittent civil war that claimed nearly a quarter of a million lives. Few people have access to electricity or running water, and more than half the population lives on less than 50 cents a day. But the foundation is there, she said. “The general prosperity of Liberians and the living conditions of Liberians will be sharply enhanced by the end of my next and last term,” she told Reuters in an interview. Johnson-Sirleaf became Africa’s first freely elected female head of state after winning elections in 2005 and has won international plaudits for maintaining peace and slashing the country’s debt burden during her first term. But her critics have said the pace of rebuilding the country from its 1989-2003 conflict has been too slow and that she has neglected the nation’s poorest, including its thousands of former fighters.

The criticisms grew harsher after security forces cracked down on an opposition protest on the eve of the vote, killing at least two people. The vote was also marred by an opposition boycott in protest over alleged fraud in the first round, which may have contributed to a less than 40 percent turnout in the run-off. Johnson-Sirleaf denied the violence and low turnout in the election was a threat to her ability to govern in her second term. “I think my credibility has been established over many years. What it does, is it did undermine the country’s victory,” she said. “The support I got from the elections demonstrated to me that I still carry a lot of popular support and I still have the confidence of the people.” Her efforts to reunite the country will include reconciling with rival political leaders — including, potentially, her chief rival, former U.N. ambassador Winston Tubman.

Tubman told Reuters on Saturday that it was his party’s position that he will not recognize Johnson-Sirleaf as president or work with her, but added his party planned to review its position.