Supporters of former soccer player George Weah, presidential candidate for the Coalition for Democratic Change, celebrate, in Monrovia, Liberia, Friday. The National Election Commission has declared George Weah president-elect and Jewel Howard-Taylor vice president-elect following the Dec. 26 runoff poll. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Supporters of former soccer player George Weah, presidential candidate for the Coalition for Democratic Change, celebrate, in Monrovia, Liberia, Friday. The National Election Commission has declared George Weah president-elect and Jewel Howard-Taylor vice president-elect following the Dec. 26 runoff poll. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Ex-soccer star Weah elected Liberia president by wide margin

MONROVIA, Liberia — Former FIFA World Player of the Year George Weah has been elected Liberia’s new president by a wide margin as the West African nation faces its first democratic transfer of power in more than 70 years.

Vice-President Joseph Boakai conceded on Friday, congratulating the ex-soccer star.

The National Election Commission later declared Weah president-elect and his running mate Jewel Howard-Taylor vice-president-elect.

Their Coalition for Democratic Change party received 61.5 per cent of the final tally, beating Vice-President Boakai’s Unity Party which got 38.5 per cent of the votes, NEC chairman Jerome Korkoya said.

Supporters at Weah’s party headquarters immediately erupted into celebrations that brought traffic outside to a complete standstill.

Africa’s first female president, Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is stepping aside after two terms at the head of the nation founded by freed American slaves. She led the country from back-to-back civil wars and saw it through a deadly Ebola outbreak that killed nearly 5,000 Liberians but was criticized for not better tackling corruption.

In his first public comments after his rival conceded, Weah said he was “honoured to join a new generation of heads of state.”

Tweeting in French in response to congratulations from French President Emmanuel Macron, he added that “we have a lot to do together to accelerate the building of tomorrow’s Africa.”

The 51-year-old Weah, a senator who entered politics after retirement from soccer more than a decade ago, led the first-round vote in October but didn’t receive enough ballots to win outright over the 73-year-old Boakai, who has been vice-president for 12 years. Sirleaf didn’t publicly support either candidate.

In his remarks conceding the election, Boakai offered a “hand of goodwill” to Weah and dismissed the idea of challenging the runoff results in court, alluding to past conflicts.

“I refuse to subject our nation to such an experience,” he said. “I reject any temptation of imposing pain, hardship and uncertainty on our people.”

Weah is expected to take office in January.

Though voter turnout for Tuesday’s runoff was low, he drew support from the younger generation, which makes up a majority of Liberia’s population of 4.6 million people.

“We are young people and have suffered in this country for so long,” said one supporter, Love Norrision.

The commission said 56 per cent of the country’s 2.2 million registered voters cast ballots in the runoff, which was contested twice in court amid claims of irregularities, with its original Nov. 7 date delayed.

This was Liberia’s first independently run election since the end of its civil wars. The United Nations has helped to oversee past votes.

Weah led the ticket for a coalition party, the Congress for Democratic Change, with Jewel Howard-Taylor as his vice-presidential running mate. She is a senator and the ex-wife of imprisoned former warlord and President Charles Taylor, which raised concerns among some Liberians.

Weah had run in the country’s last two elections, winning the first round of the 2005 vote that eventually went to Sirleaf. He ran as the vice-presidential candidate with diplomat Winston Tubman in the 2011 poll; they boycotted the runoff that granted Sirleaf her second term.

Weah’s rags-to-riches story has been an inspiration to many supporters who call him “King George.”

He was born in a slum of the capital, Monrovia, and showed early promise in soccer. He played for top local clubs before starting his international career in Cameroon, then moved on to AS Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain, where he became famous.

While with AC Milan, Weah in 1995 won World Player of the Year. He later played for Chelsea and Manchester City.

AC Milan on Friday tweeted its congratulations on “legend” Weah’s win. Macron invited him to visit, saying Weah had “a special place in the French’s hearts.”

Weah’s limited educational background hurt his political aspirations, and he returned to school after the 2005 attempt for president. He obtained a high school diploma abroad and earned a degree from Illinois-based DeVry University.

“A personal story of sheer grit,” African Union Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat tweeted, pointing out that Weah earned the degree well into his 40s.

As Liberia grappled with the Ebola outbreak in 2014, Weah was elected as a senator, defeating Sirleaf’s son Robert for the seat.

Weah’s critics have argued that his lack of political experience makes him unequipped for Liberia’s top job.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta had 1,571 active COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta’s central zone now has 1,101 active COVID-19 cases

Provincial death toll has risen by nine

Dustin Mitchell (Coats) is wanted by police in relation to a homicide this past Wednesday. (Photo contributed by Red Deer RCMP)
Red Deer RCMP looking for man in relation to homicide

An arrest warrant has been issued for a Red Deer man in… Continue reading

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta reports 1,731 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday

The province’s central zone has 992 active cases

Collin Orthner, manager at McBain Camera in downtown Red Deer, stands behind the store’s counter on Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
A few Red Deer businesses happy with Black Friday results

While this year’s Black Friday wasn’t as successful as it was in… Continue reading

Le Chateau Inc. is the latest Canadian firm to start producing personal protective equipment for health care workers, in a July 3, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Hundreds of millions of dollars for frontline workers yet to be released, says Alberta Federation of Labour

Information recently released by the Alberta Federation of Labour suggests more than… Continue reading

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre speaks during a news conference Monday, Nov. 16, 2020 in Ottawa. Poilievre says building up the Canadian economy post-pandemic can't be achieved without a massive overhaul of the tax system and regulatory regime. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Conservatives attack Trudeau’s ‘reset’ but they have ideas for their own

‘We don’t need subsidized corporate welfare schemes that rely on endless bailouts from the taxpayer’

In this undated photo issued by the University of Oxford, a volunteer is administered the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
Moderna chairman says Canada near head of line for 20 million vaccine doses

Trudeau created a firestorm when he said Canadians will have to wait a bit to get vaccinated

There were 47 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta Tuesday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
Spread of COVID-19 in Brampton, Ont., linked to systemic factors, experts say

‘We’re tired. We’re numb. We’re overworked. We’re frustrated, because it’s not our rules’

The courthouse in Iqaluit is shown on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Three Nunavut judges, including the chief justice, are at odds over whether prison conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic should be considered when sentencing offenders in the territory. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Emma Tranter
Nunavut judges disagree on how to sentence offenders during pandemic

IQALUIT — Three Nunavut judges, including the territory’s chief justice, are at… Continue reading

A corrections officer opens the door to a cell in the segregation unit at the federal Fraser Valley Institution for Women during a media tour, in Abbotsford, B.C., Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. Independent reviews of the hundreds of inmates placed in segregation over the past year found only a handful were inappropriate, new government data indicate. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Few federal inmates moved from solitary after external reviews, new data show

‘There can be rare cases where the removal may not be immediate’

A couple embrace during a ceremony to mark the end of a makeshift memorial for victims of the Toronto van attack, at Yonge St. and Finch Ave. in Toronto on Sunday, June 3, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
‘I’ve been spared a lot,’ van attack survivor says as she watches trial alone

Court has set up a private room for victims and families of those killed in the Toronto van attack

Banff National Park. (The Canadian Press)
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

EDMONTON — A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths on railway tracks… Continue reading

Cows on pasture at the University of Vermont dairy farm eat hay Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Burlington, Vt. Canadian dairy farmers are demanding compensation from the government because of losses to their industry they say have been caused by a series of international trade deals. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Lisa Rathke
Feds unveil more funding for dairy, poultry and egg farmers hurt by free trade deals

OTTAWA — Canadian egg and poultry farmers who’ve lost domestic market share… Continue reading

Most Read